Tampa Bay has the league's top-ranked run defense thanks to 69 tackles for loss this season. Through 10 games, the Bucs already have more tackles for loss than they did a year ago, and are on pace to set a new team record.
The Buccaneers have made an astonishing turnaround when it comes to stopping the run. After finishing dead last in the NFL last year by surrendering 156.1 yards per game, Tampa Bay has gone from worst to first and now leads the league in run defense, allowing teams to rush for just 81.8 yards per carry.
The key to stopping the run in Tampa Bay has been registering tackles for loss, and with 10 more stops behind the line of scrimmage on Sunday in Carolina, the Buccaneers now have 69 TFLs in 2012. To put that accomplishment in perspective, Tampa Bay had just 66 tackles for loss a year ago and there are six games remaining.
“The TFLs are huge,” Bucs head coach Greg Schiano said. “When you have those TFLs it gives you a chance to get ahead of the sticks. And that’s what we did [at Carolina].”
The Panthers rushed for just 10 yards on 13 carries in the Bucs’ 16-10 victory in Week 1. While it was more diligent about establishing the run in Sunday’s 27-21 overtime win by Tampa Bay, Carolina only averaged 2.9 yards per carry and didn’t have a rusher reach 50 yards against the Bucs’ stingy defense.
“When you hold someone under three yards a carry per game you’re playing good run defense and we were able to do that against a team that was committed to running the ball. Remember the first game, they ran it a dozen times or 10 or whatever it was. It wasn’t a lot. This time it was clear they were going to try to run it. Our guys did a good job stopping the run and we made enough plays to give us a chance to win.”
Defensive end Michael Bennett led the way last year with nine tackles for loss, followed by linebackers Quincy Black and Geno Hayes, who had eight and seven stops behind the line of scrimmage, respectively. In 2012, the Bucs already have three defenders with double-digit tackles for loss, led by linebacker Lavonte David, who has 13. Middle linebacker Mason Foster, who only had four a year ago, has 11 this season, as does Bennett.
“That’s the key. The whole key is the tackles for loss,” Bennett said. “Our tackles for loss are up higher than every other year. We’re off to a great start.”
Thanks to a new attacking defensive scheme deployed by Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan that stresses gap penetration, the Bucs are on pace to record 110 tackles for loss in 2012, which would be a new team record. Tackles and tackles for loss are not an official NFL statistic, and are kept by the clubs. In 1999 when the Buccaneers defense was second in the NFL, the team only generated 79 tackles for loss, and during the 2002 Super Bowl season in which Tampa Bay had the NFL’s top-ranked unit, the defense generated 88 tackles for loss.
“I really believe in the scheme we have, and if everybody does that and does their job, we have the personnel to make TFLs happen,” said Bucs defensive tackle Roy Miller, who has two tackles for loss this season. “With the scheme and the type of players we have – we have guys that are very athletic and when they move they make people miss – I think the two work real well together.
“Our number one goal is stopping the run. If you can’t stop the run it makes the game a lot harder. If they want to run they can make the play-action passing game work, too.”
Tampa Bay’s defense struggled to rush the passer last year because it couldn’t stop the run, and the team posted just 23 sacks as a result. This year, the Bucs have recorded 17 sacks through 10 games – led by Bennett’s seven – and are on pace to post 27 this year despite losing last year’s leading sacker, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who had 7.5, to a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has a three sacks and a career-best five tackles for loss in 2012, said that stopping the run has created more pass-rushing opportunities.
“Our initial philosophy as a defense is to stop the run,” McCoy said. “That’s the first thing on the board when we walk – our philosophy is to stop the run. With all of these dynamic pass rushers we have you can’t rush the passer if you don’t stop the run. That’s limited people’s game plans now with us coming in each week and playing well against the run. It’s making people have to throw the ball. Now we have to come together as a defense and make sure we can defend everything. Initially stopping the run should be any defense’s first goal.”
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