As the NFL Draft draws closer, the debate on who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should select still continues. The debate focuses on Trent Richardson or Morris Claiborne and has been a great source of fan interaction for months. While either player will be a welcome addition and bolster the talent level on their side of the ball, Claiborne is the bigger need. A look at the Bucs schedule in 2012 validates that viewpoint. The NFL has clearly become a passing league. Both the New York Giants and New England Patriots were ranked among the top 5 teams in passing last season. Believe it or not, the Bucs themselves did not fare too poorly, ranking 16th, right in the middle of the pack. Yes, both teams also had poor secondaries, but what ultimately made the difference?
Though the Giants were among the worst secondaries, they played well when it mattered most; in the postseason. Against Atlanta in the Wild Card, the Giants only allowed Matt Ryan 199 yards passing. Against Aaron Rodgers they allowed just 264 yards. Against Alex Smith, they allowed only 196 yards passing before finishing their run by holding Tom Brady to 276 yards in the Super Bowl. Those Giants performances defensively resulted among the worst 5 passing games of the entire season for Brady, Rodgers and Ryan. While the front four had major impact in limiting the quarterbacks, it’s not coincidence the Giants 23rd ranked secondary was far better than the Patriots 31st ranked unit. Offense got teams there, but defense still wins championships.
The need for a solid secondary will especially be useful for the Bucs this season. Of the 16 matches on their schedule, 9 of those games will be against teams ranked in the top ten for passing last year. You can make that 10 however, given the Bucs will face the Peyton Manning led Broncos on the road as well. Then there is Carolina (13th) twice, Washington (14th) and Oakland (11th) which will all pose threats in the pass game. That’s 14 games against teams which averaged between 235 passing YPG and 346 YPG. Trent Richardson won’t be able to help in stopping these teams, Morris Claiborne can. The Bucs have already taken the steps needed to score more points per game. The importance now should be shoring up the league’s 30th ranked total defense.
Per a Pro Football Talk article which cited the J.P. Peterson show, Ronde Barber seems to believe this is the direction the team is going. When asked if the Bucs will draft Morris Claiborne, Barber reportedly answered “We probably will”. Per the article, he also add how Claiborne is “..a good kid. He looks good. He looks the part. Everybody is high on him”.
The Bucs need to focus on adapting defensively to the trends of the league. In the NFC South alone, the Saints, Falcons and Panthers each ranked 1st, 8th and 13th in passing respectively. No matter what this team puts on the scoreboard, it won’t matter if the opponent can continue to put up more.