Midway through his first season as coach of the Buccaneers, Greg Schiano has a smash hit on his hands. His offense is racing up the NFL statistical charts, coming in this week at No. 9 — with a bullet.
No one should be surprised.
Anyone who took the time to research this team during the preseason knew long before the opening-day kickoff that the offense had the potential to be one of the most explosive in the league. That was the whole idea behind the signings of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, tight end Dallas Clark and left guard Carl Nicks in free agency and the bold decision to trade up into the late first round to draft running back Doug Martin.
With what they consider to be a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman already in hand, the Bucs believed those additions finally would allow them not only to join the NFL's offensive revolution but take a lead role.
They clearly have achieved their objective. In the past four games, the Bucs offense ranks first in the league in points per game, total yards per game, rushing yards per game and passing yards per game. They also rank first over that span in rushing touchdowns, rushes of 10 yards or more, completions of 25 yards or more and yards per passing play, where they have outgained the next-most productive team by 1.5 yards.
What you have to wonder, though, is whether the Bucs can maintain this torrid pace and, if so, for how long? After all, their makeshift offensive line could collapse at any moment.
Long term, though, there is reason to believe the Bucs have entered into a new era in team history, one in which their offense develops a reputation similar to that of their defense around the turn of the century.
That defense was one of the most feared in the league. And with stars such as Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Ronde Barber leading the way, the Bucs won the Super Bowl after the 2002 season.
The current offense has a lot of similar traits, not the least of which is an apparent cache of rising stars, most of whom are still a season or two from reaching the prime of their careers.
Martin is only 23, and you'd be hard pressed to find an NFL insider who doesn't believe he has the potential to be one of the most productive backs in the league for years.
Freeman is only 24 and has all but proven this year that the way he played when he nearly took the Bucs to the playoffs in 2010 was not an anomaly but a standard he can maintain.
And wide receiver Mike Williams is only 25, still improving and surrounded by group of players just like him, such as Tiquan Underwood (25) and Arrelious Benn (24).
Even the guards the Bucs are building their line around — Pro Bowlers Davin Joseph and Nicks — are 27 and 26, respectively. Both were lost to injury this season, but they are expected to return to full strength.
Now, granted, Jackson will turn 30 before the 2013 season begins, but he has always been a sturdy player, so there's a good chance he'll be around for the final four years of his contract.
Of course, none of that guarantees the Bucs will continue to pile up points at the league-leading clip of 36 per game they have the past four weeks. But if you factor in the improvements Freeman, Martin, Williams and the rest are expected to make over the next few years, you can see why the past four weeks might have been just the start of something big.