It’s been 16 games since Raheem Morris took over the defensive play-calling duties last year. The Bucs are 9-7 in that span and Morris has the Bucs defense firing on all cylinders at just the right moment as the team in trying to make the playoff for the first time since 2007. Since their 27-21 loss to Atlanta three weeks ago, the Buccaneers have allowed just 16 points the last two games, and recorded their first shutout victory since 2004 when they blanked the 49ers 21-0 on Sunday.
“It was nice. It was my first shutout, those are hard to get,” said middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. “They are nice to have, and we are going to enjoy it for a day or two, and then move on to the next game.”
“A complete game is what we need to play. Not so much the yards or a shutout even but playing 60 minutes mistake free was what we needed to do. Before we played really well on defense but we gave up a few plays here and there. When you do that in the NFL they end up being touchdowns. Just playing for 60 minutes was the biggest thing for us I think.”
The Buccaneers defense allowed 189 total yards against the 49ers. San Francisco ran for 71 yards and threw for 118 yards. Like their game against the Panthers two weeks ago, the Bucs jumped out to an early lead, which benefitted the defense. The defensive line was able to pin their ears back with the 49ers being forced to throw and they brought down quarterback Troy Smith six times. The defense also created some turnovers with a forced fumble and an interception.
“Coach Morris was talking about playing more consistent because for some reason we weren’t starting games the way we wanted to in the early part of the season,” said free safety Cody Grimm, who’s seven tackles led the Bucs on Sunday. “But in the last two weeks we got out early and it really opens things up defensively so you can get a little more risky than you usually do.”
After 10 weeks, the Buccaneers have the 16th rated defense in the NFL. The Bucs have the sixth rated pass defense and are tied for second in the league with 15 interceptions. Tampa Bay has the 29th rated run defense, giving up 136.5 yards per game on the ground. After the six sacks yesterday, the Bucs now have 14 for the season.
The play of the defense in recent weeks has really inspired the offense. Center Jeff Faine explained how the tremendous play from the defense in recent weeks has translated into the offense being able to stay balanced in their attack.
“It’s huge, huge,” said Faine. “The old adage is that defense wins championships and I really believe that, especially if you have to go on the road and play in some hostile environments. For us to have the ability to stick with the run means our defense is playing well because we are still in games. When our defense is playing well we are able to have the best balance on offense so it’s really just a whole team picture. It all works together.”
Tampa Bay’s defense has improved drastically from 2009. Last year the Bucs had the 27th ranked defense and the 32nd rated run defense, while allowing 158 yards per game on the ground.
One of the major reasons the defense has been much improved lately has been the play of rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The first-round pick struggled early in the season, but has played extremely well in the last two Tampa Bay victories. Ruud noticed a dramatic rise in McCoy’s play in recent weeks and thinks the rookie is more comfortable now.
“Yeah he does [look more comfortable]. I think he probably was a little bit before too worried about being right all the time, being in the right spot, and the right gap,” said Ruud. “Obviously we put a big emphasis on that in our defense, but a three technique above all is a disruptor. I think that is the thing he kind of took to heart. He’s still trying and wanting to be right every time as far as responsibility. More than anything if you get up and disrupt something between the B-gap and the A-gap if it is two yards in the backfield it doesn’t matter. That is the thing I think he got the most comfortable with. He knows he’s not always going to be perfect. He just knows he is going to play with more reckless abandon.”
McCoy recorded one full sack on Sunday after he brought down Smith twice with a fellow teammate. He now has one sack, eight tackles, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble, and three passes defensed in the last two games. Morris was pleased with what he saw from the third-overall pick against San Francisco.
“McCoy was the key instigator for a lot of plays yesterday,” said Morris. “A lot of his plays don’t show up on stat sheets. But even when was playing decent at the beginning of the season, but you couldn’t see it… when he plays like he did yesterday – being active, shedding tackles, and making plays – then it starts to really show, and then you start to notice all the little things that are happening.”
When asked why McCoy has been able to be so disruptive the last few games, Morris had a simple answer.
“He is just getting better. That is the natural progression of a young defensive player,” said Morris. “It’s beautiful to see.”
~ by Wolf Heard and Charlie Campbell