The Buccaneers made changes to their defense this offseason so that 2012's performance didn't repeat itself. It seemed to have been heading down the right path in the first four weeks of the season but it has been quite the opposite as of late.
Before the bye week, Tampa Bay recorded 13 sacks on opposing quarterbacks. They have just four since. Instead of making improvements during the bye it appears as if the Bucs took steps backwards. Out of their 17 total sacks, 13 of them came in man coverage while the other four were in zone.
Head coach Greg Schiano and the coaching staff have been under a lot of heat lately for decisions that have been made on defense. Decisions like the types of coverages played in certain situations have hurt the team on the field rather than help. Schiano talked about some potential changes coming on defense.
"Without going into details, because I think that would put us at a schematic disadvantage, we examine third down, we examine first and second down, what are we doing? Where are we really the most successful,” Schiano said. “I think there are some things that we need to play upon more and there are some things we need to cut back a little on. The biggest thing defensively in my estimation is precision. We had free blitzers to the quarterback and we were on the wrong shoulder and he escaped out. As a coach when you create a free blitzer, meaning that no one blocked him, you can't do more than that. We have to make that play. When you have a guy that's supposed to contain and he doesn't, you can't do it, you have to do the scheme and then the plays come to you. That part of it, that's got to be accountable by the player.
“The coaching part I look at is, defensively, we need to make sure we're accentuating our best players. Putting them in a position to make plays better than we have. That's something that I have looked at hard and I know our coaches have as well."
Cornerback Darrelle Revis is a player that many have argued is not being used to the best of his ability. One of the best shutdown corners in the last decade has been instructed to worry about a section of the field as opposed to the opposition’s best receiver. Leading the league since 2007 with 104 passes defensed, Revis has six this season which have come in man coverage. Of those six, four were in the first four weeks before the bye week which is another example of the Bucs doing things differently after the bye week.
In Weeks 1-4, Tampa Bay had virtually an even ratio of zone to man coverages called on passing plays, 51 percent zone and 49 percent man after breaking down each game. Since then, almost 70 percent of defensive plays by the Buccaneers have been some type of zone coverage. This too illustrates the problems with not utilizing the skillsets of their players when you look at the sack totals pre and post bye week as well as passing yardage given up – 238 yards per game before the bye week, 263 yards per game after the bye. This too has led to more points as a once physical Bucs defense was giving up just over 17 points per game but have given up 31 in each of the last three games. The rushing defense has also regressed giving up a 126.0 yards average in the last three contests, compared to just under 90 yards before the bye.
Another noticeable difference has been the play of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. His motor and high energy is not the issue, but the production is not the same. The 2012 Pro Bowler was seen countless times in the opponents backfield in the first four games of the season disrupting plays and getting to the quarterback. Since Week 6, McCoy has seen lots of double teams and registered just one tackle for loss and two hits on the quarterback. A lot of that has to do with those around McCoy no longer doing their part in the defense – whether that is due to scheme or player miscues. Schiano touched on McCoy’s frustration.
"I think Gerald's general frustration is that he's such a competitor and he's playing at such a high level,” Schiano said. “The guys around him aren't all playing at his level and that I think is generally frustrating for Gerald, but he is such a team player and he wears it all on his shoulders. One of the things I've told him is 'You're doing a great job.' He's beating guys one-on-one rushes over and over again but if you get the quarterback off the spot and the other guy isn't there, usually when you get a sack it's because [the quarterback] has nowhere to go and you sack him. We need to play to our strengths better and making sure we are more precise when we do get a chance to isolate our strength. Gerald's done a very good job and I think the coaches [defensive coordinator] Bill [Sheridan] and his staff have done a great job of getting Gerald in position to get one-on-one blocks. There's not many guys in the National Football League that can block Gerald McCoy one-on-one, it just doesn't happen. If we can create those one-on-ones then we have to help him and he's got to finish which he's done but we also have to help him around it.
“One thing I don't worry about at all is Gerald McCoy; he is through and through a team player. I know he's got my back, he knows I got his back and he's playing at a very high level. I really believe as we do a better job around him his stats are going to show. I tell you every coach that we play against, they game plan for him because he's that good."
It’ll be interesting to see if the coaching staff turns the defense around . The offense has scored 20 or more points in two of the last three games and if the defense was still allowing just under 20 points a game still, theoretically the Bucs could have had at least two wins in the last three games.