The Buccaneers defense took some big steps in dramatically reducing the number of long runs and deep pass plays in 2010, and that undoubtedly helped play a role in Tampa Bay's surprising 10-6 record.
Statistically speaking, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense showed some marginal improvement in run defense in 2010 from a year ago when former defensive coordinator Jim Bates and head coach Raheem Morris split the play-calling duties. The Bucs’ run defense finished the 2009 season ranked dead last against the run, surrendering 158.2 yards per game.
Last year, Tampa Bay’s run defense improved statistically to 28th in the league, allowing 131.7 yards per game. That’s an average of 27 less yards per contest over the previous season.
Ironically, in both 2009 and 2010 the Buccaneers run defense allowed 70 long runs, which are deemed to be rushes of 10 yards or more. In each of the years with Morris as the head coach, Tampa Bay has given up five runs of 30 yards or more and four touchdowns of 10 yards or more.
Where the difference came last year was the runs between 20-29 yards. In 2009, the Bucs allowed 20 runs over that distance. Last season, Tampa Bay gave up just nine runs between 20-29 yards. Of course, the team surrendered 11 more runs between 10-19 yards, but that is far better than allowing between jaunts of 20-29 yards.
Tampa Bay also made some strides last year defending the pass. The Buccaneers finished the 2010 season ranked seventh, allowing an average of 201 yards per game, under new secondary coach Jimmy Lake, who took over the reins from Joe Baker after he was moved to linebackers coach last year. Tampa Bay had previously finished 10th in the league, allowing an average of 207.4 yards per game.
Yet at first glance there doesn’t seem like much improvement given that the Bucs surrendered 36 long passes, which are classified as 20 yards or more, in 2009 and wound up giving up 37 long passes in 2010. In fact, Tampa Bay allowed 21 throws between 20-29 yards, seven passes between 30-39 yards and eight passes between 40-49 yards last year. Compare that to 2009 when the Bucs gave up just 17 passes between 20-29 yards, eight throws between 30-39 yards and just four passes between 40-49 yards.
So where was the big improvement from Lake’s secondary last year? Defending the deep ball.
In 2010, the Bucs allowed just one pass of 50 yards or more, which was a 65-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap at Baltimore. The year before, Tampa Bay surrendered a whopping seven passes of 50 yards or more.
Dallas’ Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton caught touchdown passes of 66 and 80 yards, respectively, against Tampa Bay in the 2009 season opener. At Washington that year, Santana Moss hauled in a 59-yard touchdown pass. A week later, Jeremy Maclin snared a 51-yard TD strike at Philadelphia. Sam Aiken caught a 54-yard touchdown pass for New England over in London. The following week, James Jones hauled in a 74-yard touchdown against Green Bay. Carolina’s Steve Smith caught the last deep ball on the Bucs in 2009 – a 66-yard pass.
Not only had Tampa Bay improved over defending passes of 50 yards or more, the team also greatly reduced the number of touchdown passes covering 20 yards or more. In 2010, the Bucs allowed just seven compared to 16 from the 2009 campaign.
Morris’ defense has made some strides in reducing the amount of longer pass plays and runs, but more improvement is needed for the Buccaneers to reach the playoffs, which it failed to do in 2010. However, Tampa Bay capped off its 10-6 season on a high note with two victories over playoff teams Seattle and New Orleans, while not allowing a pass over 30 yards or a run over 23 yards in either contest.
With several starters ending the season on injured reserve, including defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, free safety Cody Grimm, cornerback Aqib Talib and strongside linebacker Quincy Black, Tampa Bay's defense should be even better in the future when they return to action.
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