When it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their 2012 defense, it was truly a case of a unit on polar opposites of one another statistically.
They allowed just two backs to rush for more than 100 yards against them—Alfred Morris (113) and Adrian Peterson (123)—on their way to surrendering a league-best 82.5 yards per game.
Conversely, on nine occasions last season, opposing quarterbacks threw for 300 or more yards, including five (Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers and Nick Foles) who threw for more than 350 yards in a single game.
All told, they allowed the fifth-most passing touchdowns (30) in the league and finished dead last in pass defense (297.4 yards per game) in 2012.
Which begs the question: Who on defense will step up for the Bucs to prevent a repeat performance in 2013?
The logical choice is none other than cornerback Darrelle Revis.
After all, the Bucs made it priority No. 1 to land No. 24 this offseason, resisting the urge to sign any of the numerous available CBs during free agency.
Instead, they shipped two draft picks to the New York Jets in exchange for the All-Pro, who is rehabbing his way back from a knee injury suffered early last season. Shortly after acquiring Revis, the Bucs announced a record-setting contract extension that will pay him $16 million annually.
But is Revis truly the only answer? What about the other notable newcomer, safety Dashon Goldson?
Tampa Bay snatched him up early in free agency, signing the former San Francisco 49ers All-Pro to a five-year deal worth $41.25 million.
The team is hopeful that Goldson will not only help in turning around the NFL's worst pass defense from a year ago but also serve as a mentor for fellow safety and second-year player Mark Barron.
There's also second-year linebacker Lavonte David.
All David did as a rookie was lead the team with 139 combined tackles. He also added five passes defensed, two sacks and one interception. Oh, and he was responsible for wearing the defensive headset, relaying plays called from the sideline to his teammates on the field.
David flashed everything the Bucs were looking for and more: great speed and equally impressive instincts, which tie in to his relentless work ethic. But while David showed he is a capable leader, can the Bucs expect more of the same from him this season?
Then, of course, we have to consider defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
Last season, McCoy started all 16 games for the first time in his young career, earning a Pro Bowl appearance and helping to shore up the league's best run defense in the process.
But given his injury history and the fact that McCoy has just nine sacks in 35 career starts, can the Bucs hang their hats on No. 93 this season? Because, quite frankly, he largely hasn't lived up to the hype of being the third overall pick in 2010. Is he capable of repeating his relative success in 2013?
We will soon find out.
Based on the moves the front office made—from adding Goldson and Revis to drafting Johnthan Banks—it's hard to imagine the defense as a whole not improving from their disappointing 2012.
That said, how much of an improvement is it fair to expect from them? Top 20? Top 15? Top 10?
If nothing else, the above-mentioned additions put the team in better position for success—this season and beyond. Think about it, Revis is 27 years old, Goldson is 28, Barron and David are all of 23, McCoy, entering his fourth season in Tampa Bay, is just 25.
Not to be forgotten, linebacker Mason Foster is only 24 and defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers are 24 and 23, respectively.
In other words, there's really nowhere else for this group to go but up. Speaking purely from a football perspective, many of them are really still learning how to play at this level. For most, their best football is still ahead of them.
All of which brings us back to the question at hand: Who amongst this group will step up and lead the turnaround? Simply, who puts the defense on their back and returns the unit to prominence?
Because I'm sure I speak for most when I say the days of blown fourth-quarter leads and heart-wrenching collapses has taken its toll.
For the Bucs to get where they want to go, they'll need to acclimate the new guys and lean on the veterans. They'll need to figure out the fourth quarter and solve the riddle that is rushing the quarterback. And maybe along the way, stumble into a timely turnover or two.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, they need a leader.
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