Tampa Bay's run defense went from last in 2011 to first in the NFL last year. Part of the reason was the Bucs use of defensive line stunts, freeing up linebackers to clean up plays. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan explained the purpose of the line stunts that some have questioned the use of at times.
Watching the Buccaneers defense at times last season was beyond frustrating. The inability to get to the quarterback, the poor secondary coverage and the mistimed blitzes were something that caused many a Bucs fan to almost throw the remote through their television set.
But quite possibly the thing that most fans questioned in 2012, and even through the 2013 preseason, was the stunts and twists run by the defensive line.
At times in 2012 the frustration over the stunts boiled over to the linemen themselves, with some even going to the coaches and asking them to let them get up field and use more one-gap responsibility.
While it can be frustrating, the stunts do have a purpose – and can be effective – especially against the run.
PewterReport.com asked Bill Sheridan on Thursday to give a basic overview of why the Bucs run so many stunts and what is the thought process behind them.
“The main thing is you’re trying to get misses in the line of scrimmage from a blocking standpoint,” Sheridan explained on Thursday. “A lot of teams are zone-blocking or man-blocking plays, and when we move our guys horizontally – left to right – off an offensive linemen, you’re hoping you get some misses and penetration at the line of scrimmage.
“For the most part, it’s really called for run downs, especially on first and second downs. We’re doing that with the intention of disrupting the run. The way we do it, because our second level players - even though they have coverage on people - if those guys stay in and block, they end up becoming additional rushers. So a lot of times, especially on first and second down, when those quarterbacks are hanging on to the ball off the play action, we actually end up having additional guys rush in there, you can see that on the film. It’s normally called for a run down.
“Again, we’re trying to disrupt the blocking patterns and – not just be stationary where they know where we’re going to line up and this is how they’re going to block us. We might be moving inside or outside off the different shades we play. But, again, if they hang onto the ball, – the more guys they keep in, a lot of times we get additional rushers coming in.”
It is hard to argue with the effectiveness of Sheridan’s scheme – against the run. Tampa Bay went from last in 2011 to the No. 1 ranked run defense in the NFL in 2012, giving up just 82.5 yards per game.
Some have said the stat is misleading, as the porous secondary caused teams to not bother to run the football. But despite the poor pass coverage, not only were the Bucs best the NFL in giving up the least amount of total per game (82.5) and overall yards allowed on the ground (1,320), they also led the league in least amount of yards per carry at just 3.5.
The problems that sometimes arise with the run stunts is in the NFC – and NFC South in particular – is today’s NFL teams are nearly as likely to throw on first or second down as they are on third down. When the Bucs have a stunt called to defend the run, and Drew Brees or Matt Ryan run play-action and throw on those downs, the Buccaneers can be out of position and get very little pressure on the quarterback.
With an improved secondary, hopes from fans and most likely the coaches, is that the stunts and twists – along with the numerous blitzes – can be scaled back. It didn’t appear to be the case in the preseason, but the Buccaneers secondary was still missing a key component in cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Sunday the season starts for real and the proof will be in the number of stunts dialed up by head coach Greg Schiano and Sheridan.
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