Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jason Pierre-Paul injury turns up pressure

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 18: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul #90 celebrates a sack of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning #10 during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 18, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 18: Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul #90 celebrates a sack of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning #10 during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 18, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

With Jason Pierre-Paul’s season in the balance, pressure has been amplified on Devin White and Todd Bowles to perform quickly for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a fractured neck in a single car crash on May 7 in South Florida. JPP and his passenger were released from the hospital after his car spun in the middle of Interstate 95 and alcohol was not a factor in the accident.

While his and the passenger’s overall health are the focal point of the accident, JPP may miss the upcoming NFL season for the Buccaneers as he sees neck specialists throughout the country to further assess his injury.

JPP is coming off a 12.5 sack season in his first season for the Bucs, the first time a Bucs defender has reached double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005. In the 2018 offseason where Tampa overhauled their defensive line, Pierre-Paul was the star and the most consistent player of one of the league’s worst defenses.

Once again, any injury has terrible timing, but coming after the initial free agency period and NFL Draft really puts the Bucs in a bind. Their moves this offseason haven’t addressed the pass rush like you’d expect a team with this gaping hole would. They signed Shaquil Barrett and drafted Anthony Nelson with a fourth-round pick, and that’s about it.

We’ll get to that pair later, but this injury will put more pressure on the Bucs selection with the fifth overall pick, Devin White. The LSU linebacker going to Tampa was arguably the most mocked selection based off need and fit within Todd Bowles’ defense, and there is always pressure being a top-five pick, especially with the hit-or-miss history of taking linebackers this high in the draft.

But now he has to develop into a star immediately. If he doesn’t, the hindsight will be brought up on how the Bucs selected an inside linebacker instead of a potential game-changing edge rusher in Josh Allen and a game-wrecker that can play all over the defensive line in Ed Oliver, and this is with the Gerald McCoy contract saga still unresolved.

It’s irresponsible to judge this pick off of one season, but the Bucs needed to win now. There is organizational pressure to take a step forward this season with Jameis Winston in his fifth-year option and general manager Jason Licht’s seat growing in warmth after plenty of underwhelming seasons.

Nobody could plan for injury, but White will now have a larger microscope on him because of JPP and the glaring need he filled that has plagued the Bucs for seasons. The Bucs will now lean heavily on the aforementioned Barrett, who took a major step backwards in 2018 after a very solid 2017 with the Denver Broncos.

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According to Pro Football Focus’ free agency profile, Barrett generated 43 total pressures (4.0 sacks) on 347 pass rushes in 2017 with a 82.6 grade. He has topped out as the 26th best edge defender on PFF’s grading scale, but fell behind the pecking order to fifth overall pick Bradley Chubb in 2018. The Bucs will be counting on the still only 26-year old to regain his form and hope that a decrease in opportunity was the main part of his downtick.

Anthony Nelson, the Bucs fourth-round pick out of Iowa, will be thrust into the edge rotation from the start. Nelson has some positive athletic traits and plays with a high motor, but refining and growing his pass rushing repertoire is needed at the NFL level. Him, Carl Nassib, Barrett and Noah Spence will now be the players counted on off the edge to generate pressure, which isn’t exactly a dominant line of rushers.

This places more pressure on defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who blitzes as much as any play-caller in football yet doesn’t have the sack rate to show for the aggressiveness. His 2017 Jets blitzed at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL, yet ranked 18th in pressure rate among blitzing teams. His 2018 Jets blitzed the sixth-most times in the NFL, yet ranked tied for 16th in sacks.

Bowles himself had one pass-rusher top seven sacks in a season, and that was all the back in 2015 when Muhammad Wilkerson had 12.0 sacks. His aggressive defenses haven’t translated to pressure and takeaways as much as you’d expect, and now he finds himself with a Bucs defense that isn’t super talented with the young players all over the field.

Maybe him focusing solely on the defensive side of the ball and not having the head coach responsibilities of overseeing every aspect of the team will see him revert to creating dominant defenses. But it will be on him to create pressure and havoc through schemes and creative blitz packages.

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Outside of schematic brilliance, taking a one-year flier on one of the remaining edge rushers in the free agency market, such as Nick Perry, could be their best option now. They have been disappointing as of late, but signing one of them to a cheap $1.6 or $2 million deal is a chance worth taking if JPP is indeed out for the season.

The Jason Pierre-Paul potential season-ending injury really puts a hole in the Bucs defense as he emerged as their best defender and a leader for the team. It will add pressure to the selection of Devin White and his sideline-to-sideline abilities (as well as pass-rushing chops), and put a microscope on Todd Bowles ability to scheme pressure.