It has been said many, many times that the NFL is a copycat league, and there is no better example than the rise to prominence of the Tampa 2 defense. The Cover 2 defensive scheme with a deep dropping middle linebacker that started with our Buccaneers and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was soon implemented by several other NFL teams. Coaches from the Tampa Bay coaching staff were brought in to teams all around the league to help run defenses and bring a bit of the knowledge and experience needed to set up a championship level defense. Since then, the Buccaneers have lost their edge on defense, and former Buccaneer coaches are losing more jobs than they’re gaining (Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith, etc.).
So who are the teams to emulate now? What’s the new blueprint? There may be no better place to look than the contestants of Super Bowl XLVII, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. The goal of any NFL franchise is to reach, and win, the Super Bowl as often as possible. So let’s take a look at one of the teams in the Super Bowl, the Ravens, and consider what the Buccaneers can learn from the AFC Champions.
Big Play Quarterbacks Can Work
Joe Flacco has a strong arm and a the confidence to throw the ball down the field. He threw 5 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions on passes that traveled over 21 yards in the air, and was at his best when his team was 20-50 yards from the end zone. He doesn’t have the most accuracy in the NFL, but he makes big plays and averages over 7 yards per attempt, which is just outside the top 10 in the NFL. What makes Flacco valuable is his poise in fourth quarters, and his big play capability.
Sounds a lot like “Good” Josh, doesn’t it? For as much as I’ve talked down on Josh Freeman, he’s capable of everything mentioned about Joe Flacco in the previous paragraph. The current Buccaneers offense uses the deep pass and the big play frequently, and if Josh Freeman is able to grow into a successful facilitator of Mike Sullivan’s offense, he could provide all the plays needed to help the Buccaneers make the big plays that the Ravens rode to the Super Bowl.
Hard to Tackle Running Backs Are Good (Especially When You Use Them)
The most obvious comparison between the Ravens and Buccaneers is the running backs, as Ray Rice and Doug Martin are very similar. They’re somewhat short, but well built, and very difficult to bring down. They’re shifty, smart, and use their blocking well. They also factor in to their teams’ passing games well, making big plays as a receiver and providing a check-down for their big play quarterbacks. The Buccaneers only need to keep doing what they’re doing in this area, and give Doug Martin between 300-360 touches per season, just as Ray Rice has received.
Two Good Receivers are Great, but Two Good Tight Ends Make It Better
The Ravens, like the Buccaneers, have two very good wide receivers. In fact, the Buccaneers duo of a strong, steady receiver (Jackson) and a quicker, more dynamic receiver (Williams) might be better than the Baltimore pair of Boldin and Smith. But the Ravens also have a solid duo of tight ends, as Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson provide a much bigger threat than Dallas Clark and Luke Stocker. The Buccaneers aren’t far from having the aerial arsenal that the Ravens have, but a pair of tight ends who can get down the seams and make plays in the flats would do wonders for Tampa Bay.
You Don’t Need an Elite Defense, It Just Needs to Be Good Enough
Rumors of the Ravens’ defensive demise have been greatly exaggerated. They aren’t the same defense that carried Trent Dilfer‘s average arm and “Elite 11″ ego to a Super Bowl, but they’re certainly still capable of putting opposing offenses into bad situations. They were in the top 12 in terms of yards per play allowed, and the top 15 in takeaways and fewest points allowed. They also logged 10 more sacks than the Buccaneers, which is one of the bigger differences in the two teams. The ability to contain the passing game and make plays in the offense’s backfield are a key difference between a Super Bowl team and a 13th draft pick team. The Ravens have a strong defensive backfield, which is an obvious area that the Buccaneers must look to upgrade.
Big Plays in Special Teams Make a Difference
The Ravens averaged 7 more yards per kickoff return, and had 3 more return touchdowns than the Buccaneers. With the hiring of a new special teams coach, hopefully the Buccaneers make a quick upgrade in this area. The ability to score points or gain valuable yardage before the offense takes the field means the Ravens keep the pressure on their opponents in all phases of the game, and keep the field position battle more in their favor.
The Ravens might not have the perfect NFL team, but there’s plenty that they do right that the Buccaneers can work to emulate. Going into the offseason, the Buccaneers will likely be looking to add to the defense and special teams, and will likely try to look more like the Ravens (either intentionally or unintentionally). So what do you think, Bucs fans? Can you see the Buccaneers improving enough in the next few years to look like the Ravens team that’s going to play for a Super Bowl title this year? Is this the kind of team you want to see the Buccaneers emulate? Let us know in the comments below.
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