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: December 30, 2012, 12:30:41 AM

Unfinished business will haunt Bucs into offseason

Rams running back Steven Jackson dives over the goal line past Tampa Bucs free safety Ahmad Black to score a touchdown Sunday.

 By IRA KAUFMAN| The Tampa Tribune
Published: December 29, 2012


When the 2012 season ends Sunday in Atlanta, the defense of the Buccaneers will look back in anger.
The Bucs have been consistently undermined by unfinished business, unable to get off the field despite a fierce rush defense that has created favorable down-and-distance situations.
Key third-down conversions have tormented Tampa Bay's defense all year, but the nickel and dime schemes designed by coordinator Bill Sheridan have been especially vulnerable in the past two months.
"It's tough," safety Ahmad Black said. "We get teams in long-down situations and then they convert. It's a double hit on us and our offense because our job is to get the ball back in (quarterback) Josh Freeman's hands."
A year after the Bucs finished last in rush defense, they rank No. 1 heading into the season finale at the Georgia Dome. Opponents average only 3.5 yards per carry and the Bucs have registered 102 tackles for losses, indicating Tampa Bay's base defense owns the trenches on early downs.
But when opponents spread the field and the Bucs bring on extra defensive backs, the NFL's lowest-ranked pass defense is routinely exploited.
If Atlanta throws for at least 252 yards, the Bucs will finish with the most porous pass defense in the NFL's 93-year history.
The Packers set the record by allowing 4,796 yards through the air last year, when they finished No. 14 against the rush.
"It's frustrating for the players, too," Sheridan said. "We've done a good job on the run downs and put ourselves in position for the longer yardages that you'd think would give us an advantage, but we've been inconsistent."
When passing on third down, Tampa Bay's opponents converted at a 37 percent clip through the first half of the season. In the past seven weeks, however, that success rate has soared to 48 percent.
Some of the most critical failures of the season have come with the Bucs defending on third down.
With the Falcons leading 24-23 on Nov. 25, Atlanta faced third-and-5 from the Bucs 37-yard line with 1:55 remaining. Tampa Bay had two timeouts left and a stop likely would have forced a punt.
Instead, Matt Ryan flipped an easy 8-yard slant to Roddy White, who was being covered by Danny Gorrer, playing in only his second game with the Bucs after being claimed off waivers.
By the time Freeman got his hands on the ball, there were eight seconds left and the Bucs were out of timeouts.
"It's very frustrating for sure," said defensive end Michael Bennett, referring to Tampa Bay's third-down woes. "Teams have been game-planning us and we've got to do a better job of getting off the field."
On Dec. 9 at home, the Bucs led the Eagles 21-10 in the fourth quarter before rookie quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin hooked up three times on third down to extend Philadelphia's two late touchdown drives.
And on fourth-and-5 in the final seconds, with the game on the line, Foles found Jason Avant between rookie safety Mark Barron and cornerback E.J. Biggers for 22 yards, setting up the winning pass to Maclin.
The disparity between Tampa Bay's stout rushing defense and leaky pass defense is especially galling to head coach Greg Schiano, a former secondary coach with the Bears who can often be found drifting over to observe defensive back drills during Bucs practices.
Despite being shackled with one-dimensional attacks, opposing quarterbacks are thriving against the Bucs, posting a 94.1 passer rating.
Of the six NFL defenses that are allowing a higher passer rating than the Bucs, none ranks better than 17th against the run.
Shouldn't an elite rushing defense provide the pass rush and the secondary with a distinct advantage?
"Theoretically, yes," Schiano said. "You can look at it as half full or half empty. Part of our situation (run defense) has been improved immensely. Part of it hasn't. There is progress, just not as much as any of us would like."


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Posts : 13309
#1 : December 30, 2012, 03:12:40 AM

If schiano can balance out the pass defense to be just as effective as the run, Tampa will be in business.

Naismith was right about Revis. Everyone else is a dummy.
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