Few things betray Roger Goodell’s unquenchable thirst for power like the NFL’s efforts to be a constant fixture in the sports calendar. It’s not enough that football dominates Sundays (and Mondays, and now Thursdays) between September and February. Now it wants March (free agency) and April (a four-day, prime-time broadcast NFL draft), too. For all of the league’s efforts, though, May is still a lull in the churn of NFL news. Post-draft headlines are reserved for rookie contract signings and mandatory minicamps — not exactly Darrelle Revis trade chatter.
Last week, tossed in with talk of outdated NCAA rules and Nick Fairley’s craziness was a seemingly simple news bit about Sean Lee and Dez Bryant being "ready to go" for the Cowboys in 2013. The headline was a reminder (not about Bryant, really, who had his best season as a pro and played in all 16 games) that even though most of the official transactions are done for the offseason, there’s one area left where some teams are set to quietly improve — the back-from-injury, de facto free agent.
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
The most fitting game of the 2012 Buccaneers season came in Week 2. Tampa Bay was visiting MetLife Stadium, where the Eli-era Giants have been known to give one or two away over the years, and it looked to be happening again. Early in the second half, the Bucs’ lead grew to 14 with a Connor Barth field goal, and the margin stayed that way until the final minute of the third quarter. That’s about when the wheels came off.
Eli Manning put together 21 unanswered points in less than 12 minutes, and when Tampa Bay did manage to tie things back up late, it took him less than 90 seconds to reclaim the lead and seal the win. There were games further down the schedule that better showed the promise for many of the young Bucs (Doug Martin had only 66 yards against New York), but none was a better way to understand their biggest shortcoming. Tampa Bay’s pass defense was a horror show.
In celebration of the NFL's release of the all-22 and end-zone film for the 2012 season, each week we'll be bringing you the best in offensive- and defensive-line play. For the winners of last week's Trenchie's, click here.
The John Hannah Award for General Road Grading
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line
Coming into the season, Tampa Bay’s offensive plan was clear. With Vincent Jackson, the Bucs added a new option on the outside for their young quarterback, but each of their other two major personnel decisions seemed like moves toward a more grounded attack. First, Tampa signed All Pro guard Carl Nicks away from New Orleans for $47.5 million — the hope being that the combination of Nicks and Pro Bowler Davin Joseph could replicate the Nicks–Jahri Evans tandem that gave the Saints the best guard combination in football. A month later, the Bucs traded back up into the first round to grab Boise State running back Doug Martin — a needed replacement for the ineffectual LaGarrette Blount. Nine weeks into the season, Tampa Bay has finally developed that devastating running game they envisioned this spring. It just hasn’t come about exactly as planned.
Joseph, lost in the preseason to a knee injury, won’t play a down this year. Nicks joined him on injured reserve last Tuesday following Martin’s breakout game against Minnesota. The thought was that, now missing its top two interior linemen, the Tampa running game would slow — both against Oakland and for the rest of the season. Then Doug Martin went and had one of the best rushing games in NFL history. The rookie’s 251 yards came on just 25 carries, and they came on a mix that seemed one part scheme, one part Doug Martin, and about three parts relentlessness.