You may not be able to tell just from looking at their 1-3 record, but this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team is improving.
They are not the same team that got blown out nearly every week last season during their 10-game losing streak.
These Bucs have more fight in them, and that has allowed them to stay in every game. They are essentially just a few plays away from being a perfect 4-0.
Right now, things don't look to good for the Bucs to the casual fan. However, there is more to this team than their below .500 record and fans should be excited for the final 12-game stretch that lies ahead.
But lets take a look at how the Bucs have performed during the first quarter of the season.
While he certainly isn't playing at the level he was at during his breakout 2010 season, quarterback Josh Freeman is performing much better than he did last year. The turnovers are down, the big plays are up, and Freeman's confidence seems to be on the rise. That bodes well for Tampa Bay moving forward.
The running game though isn't up to par in the early going of the season. Rookie running back Doug Martin ran for 95 yards in the season opener against Carolina, but he has struggled to break any highlight runs since. LeGarrette Blount remains a virtual non-factor and has just a hand full of carries in four games. One of the coaching staff's main priorities need to be figuring out a way to jumpstart the run game.
Tampa Bay's big offseason acquisition – wide receiver Vincent Jackson – has been as good as advertised. Jackson has 304 receiving yards, is averaging 19.0 yards per catch, and has two scores in his first four games as a Buc. His arrival has also rejuvenated Mike Williams, who has played much better than he did last season. Look for that to continue as the year goes along.
At tight end, newcomer Dallas Clark hasn't made much of an impact yet – he has only 81 receiving yards – but the coaching staff says they want to get the sure-handed veteran the ball more after the bye week. Second-year man Luke Stocker caught the first touchdown of his young career against Dallas. Don't expect much more than that though, he is still mainly used for blocking.
The offensive line has played relatively well considering they are without Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph. Carl Nicks has been a beast despite a nagging toe injury and showing why he is perhaps the best interior lineman in all of football. Demar Dotson took Jeremy Trueblood's job at right tackle and the coaching staff likes his upside. Dotson has impressed so far. The line has only allowed Freeman to be sacked seven times in four games so they are pass protecting well. But they have to do a better job opening up lanes for the backs to run through after the bye week.
The D-line suffered a big blow when it lost defensive end Adrian Clayborn, last season's sack leader, to a knee injury against Dallas. The silver lining is that the pass rush doesn't appear to be lacking due to the play of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Michael Bennett. Both guys are playing at a high level and each has three sacks and a forced fumble. This is good news for team that finished last in the league last season in sacks.
Rookie second-round pick Lavonte David is already the team's best linebacker four games into his career. He is the NFL's leading rookie tackler and is reminding fans of some guy that used to wear No. 55 in this town. Mason Foster has progressed in his second year and appears to be a solid guy in the middle of the field. The play of the linebackers is a big reason why the Bucs have the fourth-best run defense in football.
The Bucs spent the seventh overall pick in April's draft on Alabama safety Mark Barron and he has lived up to the hype. Barron looks like a veteran on the field and looks like a star in the making. Ronde Barber has made the move to safety with mixed results. He won NFC Defensive Player of the Week with a great performance against Carolina, but has struggled a bit since then. Eric Wright has been a welcome addition to the secondary, while Aqib Talib has struggled with consistency and has given up too many big plays. The unit has a whole hasn't gelled together well yet and that is a major reason why Tampa Bay has the NFL's worst pass defense.
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