The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the season with high hopes of returning to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years after Tom Brady decided to return for one final season. However, things aren’t going according to plan on offense, as they are currently the 24th-best scoring unit through three games.
The Bucs reside at the top of the NFC South at 2-1, mostly due to their elite defense. While there is still a long road ahead, Brady and company are going to have to win games in a different way than ever before.
Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay offense is stuck in a rut
The Bucs offense has looked underwhelming across this past three-game stretch for the first time in the Tom Brady era. Since the seven-time Super Bowl champ joined Tampa in 2020, they have had a top-three scoring offense.
However, this season has been a different story, as Tampa Bay has put up 20 or fewer points in all three games. The passing game has been particularly weak compared to years in the past, as Brady ranks 22nd in the league in passing yards (211.3) per game. The 45-year-old has also thrown just three touchdowns, the only offensive scores the Bucs have had all season.
The offense struggling is not completely earth-shattering news, as the Bucs have had massive turnover among the offensive line and nagging injuries across the board. Brady lost both his guards this offseason — one to retirement and the other to the Cincinnati Bengals — and his Pro Bowl center, Ryan Jensen, was placed on injured reserve prior to the regular season with a knee injury suffered in practice. Left tackle Donovan Smith is also dealing with an elbow injury that has sidelined him for the past two weeks.
Then there are the countless injuries plaguing the receiver room. Chris Godwin is dealing with a hamstring injury that has a tendency to linger, Julio Jones has missed two games with a knee injury, and Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman are playing through injuries, as well.
The injuries haven’t impacted Brady’s individual play. He’s still just as accurate and making the most of what is around him, but the constant pressure and lack of weapons will start to take a toll.
Tampa Bay has one of the best defenses in the league
While the offense has been coming up short, the defense has cemented itself as the best in the league, ranking first in points allowed, fifth in rushing defense, and fourth in total defense. The Bucs also sit near the top in sacks, third-down defense, and takeaways.
With this versatility, it’s not just one player performing at a high level. The defense is headlined by a pair of All-Pro linebackers in Shaquil Barrett and Devin White, but the entire unit is swarming with confidence. Eight different defenders have recorded a sack; four separate members of the secondary have intercepted a pass, including safety Mike Edwards who returned one for a touchdown to spark the Bucs to victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 2.
The Bucs haven’t made many changes on defense. Todd Bowles was elevated to become the new head coach in 2022 but is still calling the plays on defense after serving as the unit’s coordinator for the past three seasons. They did lose Jordan Whitehead in free agency, but the core pieces of the defense are still around.
Bowles has adopted a relatively more conservative approach on defense after using a blitz-heavy scheme since arriving in Tampa. Even so, his players are still getting after the quarterback as if nothing has changed, as they are a top-six defense in pressures and pressure rate through three games.
The Bucs have always had a stingy defense since Brady came to Tampa, but they have cranked it up a notch this season. If everyone stays healthy, their defense will cause problems for any opposing quarterback for the rest of the season.
The Bucs defense will be the key to winning another Super Bowl
The Buccaneers are still Super Bowl contenders with a clear path to the playoffs in one of the weakest divisions in football. But with the current limitations on offense, the defense will have to step up throughout the season and will play a key part in the team’s success in 2022. If not, the Bucs’ season will likely fall short of a trip to Glendale, Arizona.
It’s not completely unheard of for a defense to carry a legendary quarterback to a Super Bowl in the twilight of his career.
Peyton Manning wasn’t the same quarterback he once was in his final season. He threw just nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions but won a championship with the Denver Broncos in 2015 thanks to a grueling and tenacious defense led by Von Miller.
It’s not that Brady is dipping toward that level of play. He still has three touchdowns and just one interception this season. But if the offense simply can’t score at the level they have the past two seasons, the Bucs defense will be the biggest reason Tampa Bay brings home another Lombardi Trophy.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference