If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last four months or so drinking, cursing and yelling your way through this highly disappointing 2017 Buccaneers season. We watched a young, talented, promising football team struggle to ever reach their potential and to find their identity. Injuries, failed free agent signings and poor coaching all contributed to one of the most underachieving performances of any team in the NFL this year. And now that the season is officially over, the dust has settled and my emotions have run their course, I wanted to look back at what exactly went wrong and right this season. Here’s what my research turned up.
PLAYER STATS FROM 2017
Jameis Winston threw for 3,504 yards despite missing 3 games this season. He averaged 270 yards per game in 2017 and using that number he would’ve thrown for a career-high 4,313 yards this season. Winston also broke Dan Marino’s NFL record for touchdown passes before 24 years of age.
Even though the Bucs run game appeared to struggle throughout the season, RB Peyton Barber rushed for 423 yards on 108 carries for a 3.9 yards per rush average. In comparison, Doug Martin only averaged 2.9 yards per carry this year.
RB Charles Sims averaged 6 yards every time he touched the football this season. He averaged 4.5 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per catch. He’s set to be a free agent this offseason.
WR Mike Evans finished the season with 71 receptions for 1,001 yards and 5 touchdowns. It was his fourth straight 1,000 yard season to start his career making him only the third player to do so including A.J. Green and Randy Moss.
The Bucs had 6 players with over 425 yards receiving this season including Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Chris Godwin, Cam Brate and O.J. Howard.
Patrick Murray came in to save the Bucs inconsistent kicking game. He did just that by making 17 of his 18 field goal attempts under 50 yards and 21 of his 22 extra point attempts. In comparison, former kicker Nick Folk was 5 for 9 under 50 yards and 7 of 9 on extra points. Murray finished with an 82.6% field goal percentage while Folk struggled making only 54.5% of his kicks.
The Bucs finished a disappointing 5-11 for the year, but things could have easily been very different. This team lost 7 games by an average of 4 points. In those 7 games, the teams that they played had a combined record of 67-45 and included 4 playoff teams. One more redzone score here or one more defensive stop there, and this could’ve been a 12-4 season for this team despite everything that they went through this year.
The Bucs were the only team in the NFL that only had one starter play all 16 games this year. That player was left tackle Donovan Smith. The Bucs finished the season with 14 players on Injured Reserve, six of those for the entire season. They had another 14 players miss games due to injury throughout the season including eight starters. The defensive line was hit worst with 10 players missing time, multiple games in most cases. The secondary was also hit hard with 8 players missing time including four starters. Bucs players missed 168 total games in the 2017 season. There were 12 players on the final 53 man roster that weren’t there to begin the season and there were 6 new players added to the final practice squad.
This Buccaneers team is young. There were only 21 players on this team this year who had over 5 years in the league and only 13 of those have more than 6 years experience. I have a feeling that those numbers will get even lower once free agency begins in March.
Coaching has been a hot topic for Bucs fans most of this season. I’m guilty of writing some not so friendly articles on the subject myself. However, the more I dissected this season and what went wrong, the more lenient I’m starting to be with this staff. As bad as this year seemed to be, the stats weren’t much different from last season. In 2016, the Bucs offense finished 18th in the NFL with 22.1 points and 346 yards per game. In 2017, the offense finished 9th with 20.9 points and 364 yards per game. Last year, they had 340 first downs, 5,542 yards, 1,616 rushing yards, 4,165 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and an average of 30:57 in time of possession. This year, they had more first downs with (352), more total yards (5,816) and more passing yards (4,607). However, they did have fewer rushing yards (1,450), fewer touchdowns (38) and less time of possession (29:43). All these stats prove is what we already knew, which was the Bucs moved the ball well between the twenties but had trouble punching it in inside the redzone.
It was similar for the defense. As bad as we all thought the defense was this year, the numbers were almost identical to last year. In 2016, the defense allowed 326 first downs, 5,887 total yards, 1,875 rushing yards, 4,246 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and a 29:52 average time of possession. In 2017, they gave up one more first down (327), about 150 more total yards (6,049), five more rushing yards (1,880), sixty more passing yards (4,306), three more touchdowns (44) and about 40 seconds more in time of possession (30:32).
Despite being hit hard by injuries, the team had nearly the same year statistically. I’m not saying that this coaching staff is off the hook by any means. There were still a ton of issues both on and off the field that need to be addressed if this staff has any chance to turn things around next season. Hopefully, they can get the job done. I’m still not quite convinced. In his 11 years as an offensive coordinator and head coach, Koetter’s offenses have finished as high as 5th and as low as 32nd for an average of 13th in the league. This season they finished 9th. They’ve also averaged 22 points and 350 yards per game. This year it was 21 points and 364 yards. Mike Smith has spent 14 years as a defensive coordinator and head coach with his defenses finishing as high as 2nd and as low as 32nd for an average of 19th in the league. They’ve given up 21 points and 325 yards per game over that span. This year, they finished dead last in the league giving up 24 points and 378 yards per game. Easily one of the worst seasons of any Mike Smith defense. Although I’m not too excited about the possibility of Smitty sticking around another year, I guess it could be a good thing for them to be in the same system once again.
Yes, this team underachieved. Yes, this team disappointed. Yes, this team had its issues. They had a hurricane. They had 16 straight weeks of football. They had a ton of injuries. They had a ton of young players. No, I’m not making excuses for them. I’m simply stating reasons why this season didn’t go quite as we had hoped. I’m trying to put a positive spin on a negative season. I’m trying to be optimistic here. I’m trying to give us all something to be excited about going into next season. As Bucs fans, you’d think that we’d be accustomed to losing seasons. We’ve lived through our fair share. This 2017 season was different though. Maybe it was the way the team finished up the 2016 season. Maybe it was Hard Knocks. Maybe it was the high expectations coming in. Maybe it was all of the above. In any case, it’s over. Finished. Done. Now we can look forward to the future. Free agency in March. The draft in April. Training camp in July. And the 2018 season beginning in September. So here’s to a new year. A fresh start. A clean slate. And hopefully a new and improved Bucs team.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!