Todd Bowles is thought around the league by many to be a top defensive mind. Formerly a defensive coordinator leading some of the NFL’s best defenses during his time in Arizona with head coach Bruce Arians, Bowles is now running a Bucs’ unit that is allowing 293.5 passing yards and 31.5 points per game. Both those numbers are just shy of the league’s worst marks.
Despite a top-ranked run defense, a young secondary has once again been an Achilles’ Heel for Tampa Bay.
“I think they have a great attitude,” Bowles said about his young defensive backs. “It’s just the experience of the game and learning how to play it mentally. The faster that catches up the better they’ll be.”
Along with a rookie at middle linebacker in Devin White, Tampa Bay is overrun with youth in a defensive backfield that includes second-year cornerback Carlton Davis and three rookies, Mike Edwards, Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting, who have been thrust into prominent roles during their debut seasons.
“Obviously inconsistent,” Bowles said about the biggest problem facing the secondary. “We can play well for spurts of the game then there will be a spurt where we go haywire and then they make plays on us in the game. We’ve got to be more experienced in that regard and we’ve got to play the last quarter like we play the first three quarters”
Going off of that lack of experience, Dean was given the starting nod in Week 9 shortly before kickoff against the Seahawks as Davis suffered a pregame hip injury. It was a forgettable performance for Dean, allowing three touchdowns in coverage on the day, but Bowles believes that the experience taken from being put in that situation will last the rookie a lifetime.
“I think it’ll benefit him a lot mentally,” Bowles said. “Because when he did the right thing he did it well and as the game went on, and they got faster in the fourth quarter, he has some things that he’d like to have back that he can learn from, from an experience standpoint, that we’ve been working with him on. So I think that game will carry him for the rest of his career and probably fuel his career.”
As a coach with so much success leading formidably defensive units, you would think that Tampa Bay’s defensive production, or lack thereof, en route to a 2-6 start must be frustrating. But for Bowles, as the rest of the staff has echoed since walking through the doors at One Buc Place, the frustration begins and ends with the game’s final result.
“We’ve got to win no matter what,” Bowles said. “It’s frustrating losing, not so much being a top defensive coach, it’s about getting these guys experience and getting them to play together more than anything. For me, as far as losing, if we’re winning these ball games it’s not a factor but we’ve got to make sure we cut down on the mental mistakes that are beating us. Getting beat physically is one thing, but getting beat mentally and beating ourselves, that’s what we’ve got to stop.”
“We’ve got to keep the score down to one [point] lower than our offense scores, whether that’s 10-9 or 31-30. You want to play great defense, you don’t want them to get into the end zone but when they’re in the red zone we’ve got to [force our opponents to] convert more field goals to touchdowns and that’s where we’ve got to get better.”