Sorely lacking in 2011, Bucs hope Vincent Jackson brings big plays to Tampa Bay
For as much as their offense was criticized last season, the Bucs in 2011 hardly had the worst passing game in the NFL. Statistically, the Josh Freeman-led effort ranked 16th of 32 teams, smack in the middle.
On paper, that’s better than several playoff teams, including the Ravens, Bengals and Texans. But football isn’t played on paper, is it?
What those numbers don’t tell you is that the 4-12 Bucs had all kinds of struggles putting the ball in the end zone and, just as important, had way too few big passing plays.
With the acquisition of quick-strike receiver Vincent Jackson, the Bucs feel like they have addressed that latter issue in a big way. If it isn’t obvious to you why the Bucs were willing to beg Jackson to sign that $55 million contract, the following should make it pretty clear.
Although Freeman threw for career-high yardage in 2011, he did it the hard way – via short and intermediate throws. The Bucs ranked 27th in completions of 20 yards or longer, with 37. Last season, playing for the Chargers, Jackson had 21 such receptions by himself. And when you think about how often other receivers in the Chargers offense – like Malcolm Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates – were also targeted on deep balls, you realize that Jackson is, perhaps, capable of much more (the Chargers had 69 as a team).
Jackson doesn’t necessarily like being seen as a guy who only catches deep balls. He said this week when introduced in Tampa that he is willing to run short routes, routes in the middle of the field, basically whatever is asked of him. It was a noble thing to say, really. But notice it was Bucs coach Greg Schiano who quickly chimed in and said, effectively, forget that.
“We’re going to throw the ball up over the top,” Schiano said. “(Jackson) said he’s going to be multi-dimensional, but you watch the tape, he catches a lot of balls up over the top and stretches the defense.”
So, you see, the addition of Jackson isn’t merely about adding talent to the receiving corps, although it unquestionably does that. This move is about putting a little fear in defenses, about changing coverages and opening things up in the running game.
If it has its desired effect, the Bucs should have more success finishing drives because – they hope – those long, sluggish, 12-play drives that end in field goals now have the potential to have a happier ending.