WELCOME BACK: Pass rush (maybe). Bigger names than JASON PIERRE-PAUL and VINNY CURRY changed teams this offseason, but few will mean as much to their new clubs. Last year Tampa Bay had a league-low 22 sacks and the NFL's 32nd-ranked pass defense. True, the Bucs' new defensive ends are not saviors: They were available because they didn't have the edge-bending prowess to justify big contracts from the Giants and Eagles, respectively. But they both have good lateral movement and sound technique, and they can be highly effective on stunts, slants and twists, where they attack blockers at angles and create pass-rush lanes for others.
The downside of running a pure zone D is that an offense can easily dictate matchups through its formations. Last year opponents were consistently able to force Tampa Bay safeties CHRIS CONTE and JUSTIN EVANS to cover their top wide receivers downfield. It's critical that the four-man rush gets home before these mismatches can unfold.
The defense's strength: Linebackers KWON ALEXANDER and, especially, LAVONTE DAVID are sensational run defenders. They have sideline-to-sideline speed and, more important, they play downhill, aggressively attacking blockers who try to double-team a D-lineman.
JAMEIS WINSTON, who will miss the opening three games of the season for inappropriately touching a female Uber driver in 2016, has to mature on the field as well as off it. He has a rich understanding of defenses, but because he has one of the league's strongest arms he takes too many chances, attacking the smallest of openings when he would be better off throwing the ball away. Winston can be especially reckless when plays break down. If he doesn't correct this he won't be back in 2019.
DESEAN JACKSON had just 10 catches of 20 yards or longer last season, which ranked 37th in the NFL. That's unacceptable for a player with his skill set and speed in a system built on deep corner, post and dig routes. Plus, MIKE EVANS attracts most of the attention from opposing defenses. Jackson had 668 receiving yards in 2017; he should have between 800 and 1,000 this year.
2017 RECORD 5W 11L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 5W 11L
24th STEELERS [Monday]
THE BUCCANEERS hope that 5'11", 205-pound RONALD JONES II, a second-round rookie from USC, can provide a spark in the ground game. The Tampa backfield has been wanting since 2015, when Doug Martin rushed for 1,402 yards.