Can The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sustain Their Strong Start?

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Mayfield shines again, Buccaneers stay unbeaten with 27-17 victory over struggling Bears - MIKE EVANS -AP-PHOTO

Entering their bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 3-1 and sit atop of the NFC South. This comes as a surprise to many, as the Bucs were consistently projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL by most national media outlets. However, to this point in the season they have been one of the best. 

So now the question has to be asked; are the Bucs for real? With so many people expecting the Buccaneers to struggle this year is it really possible that so many were wrong about this team? Or is this the product of a flash in the pan due to a small sample size?

We won’t really know for certain until they sustain this success over a longer period of time. With that said, there is no reason to believe that the Bucs can’t do that. Here’s why I believe this Buccaneers team is here to stay.

Offensive Line Growth

So far, the Buccaneers offensive line has been surprisingly good. They have been one of the best pass blocking units in the NFL this season. This despite playing against some formidable defensive lines. That was not the expectation coming into the year.

The Bucs had no returning starters in their same positions from last year. Tristan Wirfs moved from right tackle to left tackle and Luke Goedeke moved from left guard to right tackle. Cody Mauch was drafted in the second round of the most recent draft and is making the jump from division two college football to starting in the NFL. And while Robert Hainsey is returning at center, it has been due to injury the last two seasons with the loss of Ryan Jensen.

There was no reason to expect that this inexperienced group would hit the ground running like they have. Regardless of expectations, that is exactly what they’ve done. Now the question is, can they maintain this level of play.

The honest answer is that I don’t know. With a first year starter at right tackle and right guard and a backup at center, I have to assume that there are going to be ups and downs this season. However, I also have to believe that these young players will only continue to improve with more experience.

If this was a veteran group that was playing above their heads, then I would probably be skeptical of them in the long run. However, because this is a young group who is still learning and developing, I think they can continue to build on their strong start.

Baker Mayfield

Many people looked at the starting quarterbacks around the league and quickly wrote off the Buccaneers. Afterall, Baker Mayfield was joining his fourth team in a calendar year. Most wouldn’t have expected him to be one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFC.

Who would have guessed that playing with one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL and an offensive coordinator that helped revitalize Geno Smith’s career would be able to turn Mayfield around? The answer to that would be anyone who was paying attention.

Going back to the offseason, I had projected that Mayfield would have a career year in this new Buccaneers offense. Based on what he did with the Los Angeles Rams last year, who run a very similar style of offense, it was easy to see a positive transition to this system. Add the talents of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and success was easy to predict. 

Keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg for the Bucs offense. This is still a system and a playbook that the team is trying to master. As the team gets more familiar and comfortable with the playbook it will only open up more opportunities for Mayfield and company.

Defense

Despite any criticisms I may have of head coach Todd Bowles, he has always been one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. The way he schemes pressures and how he develops talent, particularly defensive backs, are among the best you’ll ever see. This is where he wants this team’s identity to be built.

So far, the Bucs have done that. Right now the Bucs rank 7th in points allowed, 9th in rushing yards allowed and 2nd in forced turnovers. This Bucs defense is still very good, as it was always expected to be with eight starters still on the roster from their Super Bowl team.

However, the Bucs have consistently been down a few starters on defense this year. First round pick Calijah Kancey has only played 11 snaps due to a calf injury in the first game of the year. Both the Bucs starting cornerbacks have missed time as well. On top of that, the likes of Devin White and Vita Vea have been playing through injuries for most of the season.

While injuries are always going to be a part of the game, it will only make this team that much better when they are finally at full strength on defense. The early bye week might turn out to be a blessing in disguise as it gives these key players a chance to heal early in the season. I expect this already strong unit to only get better after the bye week.

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