It was quite a successful season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — that much is hard to argue. But was that who this team really was, or did they overachieve en route to a divisional playoff appearance?
Those are questions that many will try to answer this offseason, and of course, those answers will be opinions. Naturally, we thought we would try our hand at it — we’ve done a Bucs Report Card for almost every game in the 2023 season, and now it’s time for our season-end review.
We took a look at the offense, defense, special teams and coaching in Tampa Bay and assigned them a grade each. Check out how we graded out the Bucs for their 2023 campaign below:
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense is hard to discuss, simply because how it looked in some games is wildly different than how it looked in others. And it wasn’t just a matter of growing pains, either.
Tampa Bay’s offensive statistics are quite middling when taken from the regular season. They finished 18th in points per game, 20th in yards per game and 19th in touchdowns per game. Their third down conversion rate was very good, at 10th in the league, and they operated very well on fourth down, sitting at No, 2, but there were also a few notable hitches that prevented it from being productive offense.
The Bucs were simply awful in the red zone, coming in at 27th in the league with a 48.08% conversion rate. Similarly, the team was one of the worst running teams in football, finishing bottom three in yards per rush (32nd), rush yards per game (31st) and rush TDs per game (29th).
On the flip side, the passing game did well for Tampa Bay. The team took care of the ball overall with 1.1 turnovers per game (8th) and finished 11th in yards per pass and 12th in pass yards per game. Baker Mayfield had a good year at the helm, throwing for 28 touchdowns to 10 interceptions and throwing six more touchdowns in the playoffs. When that version of the Bucs offense came out, they scored big — games like the Jaguars and the Packers matchups showed what this offense could be, but other games, like the second Panthers and Saints games, were brutal.
Overall, Tampa Bay’s offense was a microcosm of their season — sometimes it was up, and sometimes it was down. While it could improve in Year 2, we’ll settle and put it right in the middle.
This is another tough one. Because it’s an undeniable fact that Tampa Bay kept teams out of the end zone — they were fifth in points per game, seventh in touchdowns per game and were a top-three team in the red zone. The team was also stellar against the run, finishing fifth in rush yards per game.
That being said, there was plenty they were bad at.
Tampa Bay was abysmal against the pass all year, and it ended up being their undoing in the last game of their playoff run. The Bucs finished 28th in opponent pass yards per game and did not get many interceptions, either, finishing 20th in opponent interception percentage. On top of that, the team had a lot of trouble pressuring the quarterback, and finishing 17th in sack percentage is perhaps too kind to how often their pass rush was entirely invisible.
Overall, the team did a decent job with preventing opponents from scoring points, but their horrible pass defense and lack of pressure was a sore spot on the unit. That’s either due to poor personnel or poor defensive playcalling and scheme — for Bucs fans’ sake, they’d best hope it’s the former.
Special Teams: B+
Bucs kicker Chase McLaughlin was phenomenal in 2023, missing just one kick on his own and having two blocked in the regular season but nailing every other kick for over 91% of his tries — he also hit his season-long of 57 yards three times. Punter Jake Camarda was also decent, but he’s also a tad overrated. For every punt he booms, he often outkicks his coverage and also had some rough showings when the team was in high-pressure situations.
This is perhaps a more concerning trend going forward for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Because while the team had an overall great season given the circumstances, there’s a very good argument that they overachieved — did Todd Bowles and Dave Canales coach this squad to success, or was it successful despite them?
While many will have opinions here, I think it’s the latter. We talked about how awful Tampa Bay’s passing defense was, and I think defensive playcalling and scheme have as much to do with that as personnel does. Bowles is one of the most frequent blitzers in the NFL, and yet he has an inability to generate pressure at a high rate. This causes numerous soft zone schemes to go punished, and it was a huge reason why the Bucs lost the games they did in 2023. Additionally, his clock management and usage of timeouts is decidedly conservative, as is his playcalling — there were two times in the season where he punted at the 41-yard line, a place from which kicker Chase McLaughlin has hit a field goal from multiple times this season.
Offensive coordinator Dave Canales showed some great potential in 2023, and another year as an offensive playcaller (and not the head coach of the Carolina Panthers, perhaps) would do him very well. His passing play concepts are often excellent and he’s done much to open up the pass game from last year, but his shot selection can often be confusing (especially if something isn’t working) and his run playcalling left a lot to be desired. While he wasn’t perfect, Canales remained a bright spot for 2023 and some experience as a playcaller heading into next year could be quite the boon for the Tampa Bay offense.