Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/19/12
Before Week 15, there were eight victims of the NFL grind, and with arguable exceptions, they were all declared 'dead men walking' quite some time ago.After Week 15's slate of games, there would be another quartet of lifeless masses heaped upon the Football Nation Morgue, all with just a smidgen more optimism than that original group of tagged-and-bagged cases.As these final weeks play out, the air of frustration surrounding the final batch of departed souls will be thick enough to cut with a Ginsu knife, as that group will have collapsed at a critical pass.Quite a stark contrast to the first few to get wheeled in here.As for this week's collection of cadavers, they fell somewhere in the middle: optimistic at times, but never with blinders.And speaking of blind, maybe a few of em checked off the 'eyes' box on their organ donor cards....Subject: Tampa Bay BuccaneersDate of Death: December 16, 2012Record at Time of Death: 6-8Contributing Factors to Death: 1. Awful Pass DefenseWith the hiring of head coach Greg Schiano, the Buccaneers' new emphasis was 'discipline'. This was evident by defensive players praising Schiano's drill sergeant routine during OTAs, and Kellen Winslow being weeded out after he complained about doing basic exercises.With this new mindset, Schiano's managed to create half a defense.On the one hand, the run defense improved by leaps and bounds. The team that gave up 5.0 yards a carry in Raheem Morris' final year reduced that average to 3.5 yards a carry this season.Only two players have broken the 100-yard mark against Tampa this season: Adrian Peterson (123) and Alfred Morris (113).As for the pass defense, it's a work in progress.Opponents in 2011 averaged 247.6 yards a game, almost two touchdowns, and a 97.2 passer rating per game against the Bucs.2012 comparison: 322.6 yards per game, a 66.4 percent completion percentage, and a 94.7 passer rating.Amazingly, for having such a high yards per game average, opponents have only topped 400 passing yards twice: Eli Manning (510) and Carson Palmer (414).Digging deeper, nine opposing quarterbacks have topped 300, including rookies Robert Griffin III (323) and Nick Foles (381). 2. Freeman Peaks, Then FadesIn 2010, Josh Freeman quietly put together a damn fine season: 25 TDs, six INTs, and a 95.9 rating.In 2011, Freeman would take a few steps back, regressing to the tune of 16 TDs, 22 INTs, and a 74.6 rating.SchizoFreeman would demonstrate both his Jekyll and Hyde sides in 2012.After being embarrassed by the Cowboys in Week 3 (35.7 completion percentage, 45.2 passer rating), something apparently snapped inside of Freeman, as his passer ratings for the next six games looked like this: 83.2, 124.7, 115.2, 104.2, 108.6, 137.5.At this point, the Buccaneers were 5-4, and Freeman had thrown 18 TDs and 5 INTs.Now here are Freeman's ratings over the last five games: 73.5, 90.4, 72.8, 79.2, 37.5. He's thrown seven touchdowns against seven picks (remember, just five in his first nine games), and Tampa went 1-4 over that stretch.Granted the offensive line has been disappointing with Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph going on IR, but the running game (read: Doug Martin) hasn't suffered. Freeman's only been sacked 21 times as well, so something else went haywire along the way. 3. Collapsing at the EndAs I alluded to, Tampa lost four of their last five games. To make that a bit clearer, they lost their last four games, after starting 6-4.Who were their conquerors?It makes sense that they lost to the 12-2 Falcons and 11-3 Broncos, but at least the Bucs made them close contests. Atlanta bested them 24-23 thanks to a late Michael Turner touchdown and missed Connor Barth rebuttal field goal.The Broncos won their outing 31-23, but Tampa fought them bitterly to the end, literally (another kneel-down skirmish ensued).But from there? What the hell happened?The Eagles knocked them out on the final play with a Jeremy Maclin touchdown, winning 23-21 at Raymond James Stadium. That was after the Eagles endured eight straight losses, not winning since the last day of September.A week later, five turnovers led to the inconsistent Saints beating them 41-0.(For other autopsies of eliminated teams, like the Eagles, Chargers, and Raiders, click here)
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