The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have just entered their bye week exceeding everyone’s expectations so far with a 3-1 record and sole possession of first place in a tough NFC South division. After losing NFL legends Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to retirement, wide receiver Julio Jones to free agency, and cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting to Tennessee, it looked like the Bucs’ 2023 season would be one to forget. However, after four weeks of solid football, we might be set up for a strong campaign by the Tampa Bay squad.
Let’s see what we could expect from the Bucs after their Week 5 bye.
What’s Next for the Buccaneers?
The Offense Needs to Turn Things Around
The addition of sixth-year quarterback Baker Mayfield as Brady’s replacement raised many concerns regarding his performance on his former teams. Despite the criticism, Mayfield has managed to perform fairly on the field, recording 882 passing yards with seven touchdowns and a 101.48 passer rating while throwing only two interceptions over the first four games of the season.
However, this isn’t enough to help the Tampa Bay squad compete for a playoff berth. Their offense ranks 27th in the league in rushing yards with 348, 17th in total points with 84, and 29th in first downs with a mediocre 15 first downs to show for it.
Rushing performance has been non-existent so far. Second-year running back Rachaad White has averaged under three yards per carry in two of the first four games of the campaign and has scored only one touchdown as the lead back under Dave Canales’ directions.
Veteran wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are among the Bucs’ most important pieces on offense, which is why it’s vital for the team that they find their form and lead the offensive corps. They lead the team in receiving yards with 337 and 255 respectively, but the team ranks 20th in the league in that same department. It’ll be up to them and Mayfield to step up and get the offense going heading into the halfway point of the season.
The Defense Will Keep Rolling
On the other hand, the defense has produced above-average performances to start the season. They rank third in interceptions with six including a pick-six, tied for 10th in forced fumbles with four, and have allowed just six yards per passing attempt and 4.1 per carry while holding the opposition to a 64.4 completion percentage.
The offseason re-signing of cornerback Jamel Dean and the signing of linebacker Lavonte David has been a huge help, but we have to give credit to the whole unit for not relying entirely on them. Players like Vita Vea, Antoine Winfield, Ryan Neal, Devin White, and Shaquil Barrett have also been a great support for this talented Tampa Bay secondary.
Injuries Will Eventually Start Piling Up
A healthy roster is always critical for success in the NFL. Because injuries are so common, the teams who manage to keep their star players healthy usually have an advantage over their injury-riddled opponents and make it to the postseason. In this sense, injuries have not been a problem for the Bucs so far. Through four weeks of play, there has not one starter has missed a game due to injury. However, we cannot expect it to stay like this for much longer.
Naturally, we should expect a decrease in offensive performance when the injuries do start piling up. Backup quarterback Kyle Trask has not yet proven himself as a reliable option out of the bench, as he has not had the chance to play much with far more talented quarterbacks on the roster over him. The same could be said for rookies Sean Tucker and Trey Palmer, who have combined for only 21 ball touches, 65 yards, and one touchdown so far. It’s of critical importance that they step up when it matters and minimize the decrease in performance as much as possible.
Wins Won’t Come Easy
The rest of the road is by no means easy for the Buccaneers. They will have to face the red-hot Detroit Lions in Week 6, the always-dangerous Buffalo Bills in Week 8, and arguably the best team in the league, the San Francisco 49ers in Week 11. If their one loss against the Philadelphia Eagles tells us something, it’s that they might not be prepared to face the top teams in the league at this moment.
The 3-1 record may be a good thing but don’t get your hopes up just yet. This is a team that has struggled on the offensive side of the ball, and that might be reflected when facing the league’s top teams. Miracles do happen, though. Keep an eye on this team.
Main Image: Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports