By Eric Schmidt

At the mid-season mark of the 2011 NFL regular season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves with a 4-3 record, 1/2 game behind the New Orleans Saints and in second place in the NFC South. The league’s youngest team has taken a step back this season as the team remains a work in progress. The offense is not hitting on all cylinders and the young defense has shown flashes but has to play with more consistency if this team is going to make a playoff push.

Team Rankings-

Offense- 12th ranked passing offense (240 ypg) 23rd ranked rush offense (100 ypg)

Defense- 26th ranked pass defense (267 ypg) 23rd ranked run defense (123 ypg)

Offense- QB Josh Freeman has struggled early on this season, currently ranked as the NFL’s 29th best quarterback statistically. In seven games, he has thrown 10 interceptions and is coming off perhaps his worst game in his young career, tossing four picks against the Chicago Bears in Week Seven. Tampa’s running game has struggled due to various injuries, Earnest Graham is gone for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon and LeGarrette Blount has missed a pair of games with a knee injury.

Second-year wide receiver Mike Williams has been perhaps the greatest disappointment on offense for the Buccaneers. Williams posted an impressive rookie season but has struggled this season. Williams has been targeted 63 times but has only 31 receptions for 317 yards, scoring only once this season. Preston Parker and Dezmon Briscoe have emerged as Josh Freeman favorites early on this season.The Buccaneers have struggled without a speedy, play making wide receiver.

The offensive line play has been spotty at best this season. Freeman has only been sacked 9 times this season, but that is due in part to his mobility. Penalties have plagued this unit.

Overall mid-season Grade- C

Defense- The Buccaneers have spent the first two rounds of the last two NFL drafts rebuilding their defensive line problems. The youthful defensive unit has shown glimpses of improvement this season, but the Buccaneers are still struggling at stopping the run. DE Adrian Clayborn leads the defense with three sacks, but Tampa has had little time to unleash their pass rush because the team is seemingly always playing from behind. The Buccaneers finished last season with only 26 sacks and after seven games, Tampa has only recorded 12.

S Tanard Jackson was reinstated by the NFL after serving a one-year league imposed suspension and after only one game in the books this year, he leads the Bucs defense with two interceptions. Veteran CB Ronde Barber has posted another strong effort this season, ranking third on the roster with 32 total tackles. The young Buccaneers linebacker corps have played well this season. Geno Hayes is second on the team with 40 tackles and a forced fumble. Rookie LB Mason Foster has shown some explosiveness this season with 32 total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

Overall mid-season Grade- C

Special teams- K Conner Barth has posted a solid early season converting on 13 of 15 attempts and remaining perfect on his extra point attempts. P Michael Koenen was one of the Buccaneers only acquisitions in free agency and he has demonstrated why Tampa pursued him. He has a 46.3 average punting and has dropped 15 of his 35 punts inside the 20. Tampa has not returned any kicks for touchdowns this season averaging 22.6 yards per return on kickoffs and 7.4 yards per return on punts.

Overall mid-season Grade-B

Tampa Bay has a rough start to the second half of the season and the next three games are critical to determine their season. Because of the fact that Tampa played a ‘home’ game in London, the Buccaneers only have three home games remaining in their final nine. In the next three weeks, Tampa will play at New Orleans, host the Houston Texans and then travel to Green Bay.

The Bucs are going to have to step up their play on the defensive side of the ball and conversely, the club has to find a way to get off to faster starts.The franchise has to find a way to limit the penalties as well.

Final season record prediction at the mid-season- 7-9 as the Buccaneers look to take a step back this season. Tampa needs to add speed on offense and is going to have to make some additions in their secondary next season.





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