The Bucs had their best regular season in team history in 2021. In Bruce Arians’ final season as head coach, Tampa Bay won a franchise-record 13 games. That 13-4 record was good enough to earn the NFC South title, which hadn’t been won by the Bucs since 2007. Tampa Bay also claimed the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

But all of that wasn’t good enough, as the Bucs lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Rams in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, 30-27. What made it worse is that it came at home at Raymond James Stadium, and Tampa Bay had clawed its way back from a 27-3 deficit to tie the game at 27-27. Yet, with just 42 seconds left in regulation, Matthew Stafford hit All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp with two big pass plays, including a 44-yarder to put Los Angeles in field goal range for the game-winner.

Bucs DC Todd Bowles and HC Bruce Arians

Bucs DC Todd Bowles and HC Bruce Arians – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The fact that the Bucs lost the game with the defense on the field has gnawed at new head coach Todd Bowles and his staff all offseason. Bowles, the team’s defensive coordinator, called an all-out blitz on the Stafford-to-Kupp bomb and it wound up backfiring on Tampa Bay.

Bowles will still be calling plays as head coach. But he promoted inside linebackers coach Larry Foote and defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers to the role of co-defensive coordinators. Foote will coordinate the back end of the defense, while Rodgers will concentrate on the defensive front.

All of the Bucs’ assistant coaches spoke to the media on Tuesday and that game is still fresh in their minds.

“We’re very close,” Foote said. “I know that was a rough game, but we got back in it. We’re very close. I know injuries played a big part in it. Hey, the time is now. The time is now with veterans, especially on the back end. We’re not young anymore. I mean we have a lot of four-year guys, so I’m expecting them guys on defense to make a big step and I’m looking forward to it.”

The Bucs defense weathered the storm of a lot of injuries in the secondary last year. And star linebacker Lavonte David played in the playoffs with a serious foot injury. He should be ready to go by training camp, and everyone else on the defense is back to full health.

Even though the Bucs won 13 games, it wasn’t good enough. The Bucs fell short of beating the Rams, a team that has now beat them three times in a row, and winning back-to-back Super Bowls.

For Foote, the Bucs need to improve their focus on defense in 2022. That starts in the meeting rooms during film study and on the practice fields during the offseason.

“I tell these young guys you have to focus, too,” Foote said. “That’s a muscle that you have to keep getting stronger and stronger. We live in a world with social media, so I have to give them guys breaks, but if you focus longer, you are going to make that play. It’s a game of inches.”

Jets RB Michael Carter and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Jets RB Michael Carter and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today

Tampa Bay had the league’s No. 1 rushing defense (80.6 avg.) in 2020 while winning the Super Bowl. The Bucs also ranked sixth in yards allowed (327.1 avg.) that year.

Last year, Tampa Bay slipped to the No. 3 rushing defense (92.5 avg.) and had the No. 13-ranked total yardage defense (332.1 avg.). That’s still really good, but the Bucs are aiming to improve across the board on defense this offseason.

“Attention to detail and fundamentals,” Rodgers said. “As we’re going through the cut-ups, it wasn’t us getting beat because we weren’t good enough. We were getting beat because we were making a mental error at the wrong time or we weren’t accountable, or technique or fundamentals. We’ve got talented guys. We just need to be better technically.”

Bowles blitzes more than any other defensive coordinator in the league. Tampa Bay blitzed on a league-high 40.8% of its snaps, and had a pressure rate of 28.6%. But there were too many missed sacks.

The Bucs finished with 47 sacks, which was the same amount they had in Bowles’ first year in Tampa Bay in 2019. The team had 48 sacks in the 2020 regular season and added another 10 in the postseason. But the defense fell short of its goal of 50-plus sacks during the regular season last year.

New outside linebackers coach Bob Sanders put together a reel of missed sacks to show the defense this past week. The message was to hone in on technique and fundamentals once the players hit the field.

“I don’t remember the exact number [of missed sacks] on the tape, but if it was close I went ahead and put it on there because they could see how close we were,” Sanders said. “Some of them, the ball came out, but we were close.

Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett

Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

What I always try to tell the guys is that I’m trying to find you that 1/1,000 of a second. That’s what I’m trying to find you. Whether it’s your stance or your start, your footwork or whatever it may be. I’m just trying to find you whatever time frame is [needed] to get you home. Can we come tighter? Is our angle tighter? Can we flip our hips? Can we come lower?”

If the Bucs can improve on sacks and pressure rate, then defensive stats improve and perhaps plays like Stafford’s 44-yard strike to Kupp don’t happen. The key to Tampa Bay’s improvement is already underway in the meeting rooms. Now, the coaches need it to translate to the practice fields and then carry over to game days.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 27th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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drdneast
drdneast
8 days ago

During one part of the Rams game you can here Devin White saying Stafford was getting way to much time to scan the field which meant the Bucs weren’t putting enough pass pressure on him. It;s hard to believe Kupp was able to shake loose on three long pass plays to mortally wound the Bucs. One of them was on a third and 20 where it appears Mike Edwards doesn’t know he is supposed to pick him up on back end zone coverage. Good gawd. Third and 20. We are paying Davis over 15 million a year play CB. Instead… Read more »

danielob
danielob
Reply to  drdneast
8 days ago

Sad part is the Mike Edwards got burned on the exact same play when we played them in the regular season! Guess he was sleeping during the film session? He’s a good player, just made a major mistake at the wrong time.

SenileSenior
SenileSenior
Reply to  danielob
8 days ago

By golly, Edwards must have to had it drilled deep into his skull by now. You know, third time is a charm and all that!

Horse
Horse
Reply to  SenileSenior
7 days ago

It’s our DL not putting enough pressure on the QB when he has that much time to throw. When Brady throws his passes deep it’s because our OL did their job; same for the Rams OL, but their DL does it with four rushers. We didn’t did get any better on the DL in the draft; we just eliminated two old guys. We’re still short of quality with DL. Also White isn’t going to improve in pass coverages; that’s a problem too.

Horse
Horse
Reply to  danielob
7 days ago

I saw it as a DL issue because their OL was better than our DL; that’s why we we are forced to rush five or more; which means, someone is going to be open. It’s simple math.

Eddie
Eddie
8 days ago

Maybe SMB did not get screwed into the ground by Kupp on one of the last plays the missed blitz would have to happen

danielob
danielob
Reply to  Eddie
8 days ago

SMB is my least favorite player on defense, he better get his stuff together this year. Donovan “the revolving door” Smith is my least favorite player on Offense. Watch the Rams game, he was getting beat like a rented mule and needed TE help alot, although the O line was pretty banged up and they knew it and were teeing off.

Horse
Horse
8 days ago

How can a defense go from a average at best performance in 202; now you expect them to be great is totally unrealistic is totally unrealistic!

Spitfire
Spitfire
Reply to  Horse
8 days ago

Come on man, the ungodly amount of injuries is pretty well documented. And as explosive as the Rams offense was we held the to only 3 points in the final seconds of the 2nd half. If we stay healthy this year, we will be back in the Super Bowl. This Offense is capable of amazing things and Brady is gonna light it up like never before this year, and our Defense is still capable of amazing things and will step up this year to make up for falling short last year.

scubog
scubog
Reply to  Horse
8 days ago

By being healthier. When the secondary was comprised of players who were literally taken off the street and lining up in a game, that ain’t a good thing.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Horse
8 days ago

5th in the league in the only stat that matters – points allowed – is great by any rational measure. The whiners and critics who claim they sucked last season are simply insane idiots.

Dman
Dman
8 days ago

our defense is far from a Super Bowl caliber group. There is no front 7 that includes JPP, VV, Shack, Gholston and Suh dominating the line of scrimmage. My guess is JL isn’t finished building that group.

SenileSenior
SenileSenior
8 days ago

I’m looking for the silver lining in those dark clouds. If we can win the big one after this coming season we just might be better off as a franchise than if we had won it last February. The GOAT probably would have moved on, into the sunset, after last season. We might have gone into the post TB era with a team that was somewhat smug and full of themselves. A dose of reality just might leave us a core of hardened veterans who get it and are able to maintain the culture with Trask or whoever has to step… Read more »

Captain Sly
Captain Sly
Reply to  SenileSenior
8 days ago

Lol. Looking for a silver lining sounds more like refusing to except reality. I think I’d much rather be back to back SB Champion if it’s alright with you.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  SenileSenior
8 days ago

WTF “dark clouds” are you hallucinating about? Fifth ranked defense in the league, on the team that had the best W-L record in the league and the best in Bucs history, that lost to the SB champion on the road by just 3 points after the offense failed to score for most of the game, and won the franchise’s first division championship in 13 seasons?

How the fuck does that equate to “dark clouds”?

SMH … you guys here including the writers just slay me.

Horse
Horse
Reply to  Naplesfan
7 days ago

You are right; that’s why we drafted at Spot 27; how do we get to spot 32 with our DL?

Captain Sly
Captain Sly
8 days ago

My opinion the Bucs lost two key pieces this off season and Nobody seems to be talking about it. Whitehead & Suh were important cogs in Todd Bowles wheel and Sure we signed Neal & drafted Hall the Rook but nobody really knows what impact they’ll make in yr 1. Really the same questions we have every offseason so we’ll see. Cheers

Dman
Dman
Reply to  Captain Sly
8 days ago

And JPP…. Whitehead, Suh and JPP were dominant in the Super Bowl run.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  Captain Sly
8 days ago

Every team loses key players every year. So what? Losing two, one of whom is clearly aged out and over priced, and the other was not our top player at that position is nothing. Both of the Bucs two Super Bowl teams had key losses from prior seasons. Somebody else stepped up. No team that is good is reliant on just one or a couple of players.

Spitfire
Spitfire
8 days ago

I think they will bring back Suh or bring a Vet in that will pair with Hall nicely. It was nice having so much experience on our Dline but we needed to get younger. JTS should take a step forward this year, hopefully Hall can contribute early. Losing Whitehead does suck, he did well what he did best, but he was not great in coverage, I feel like his loss should be possible to absorb. Let’s see what we look like by the time camp rolls around, I think our Offense is gonna be unstoppable this year and our Defense… Read more »

scubog
scubog
8 days ago

Perhaps some of you who think the defense “sucks” and is incapable of being stout enough to go to another Super Bowl should check out the defensive standings of the two recent participants. Too Familiar can look it up since he’s good at research.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  scubog
8 days ago

They’re idiots

fredster
fredster
8 days ago

Sorry, but I don’t agree Bucs defense is “good”. The offense was good enough to win 13 games imo. I agree with old Raheem saying “stats are for losers.” The defense was good in the post season in the Super Bowl run. The offense outscored lots of teams and put up over 30 points a game last year. That’s good. The defense did good job at stopping the run. Being first or 3rd run defense doesn’t mean much if you can’t cover guys or get pressure. They were middle of pack for yards allowed. They also had a quite easy… Read more »

Last edited 8 days ago by fredster
Naplesfan
Naplesfan
8 days ago

Meh … this is yet another one of those glass half full vs. glass half empty arguments that are meaningless and dumb. The people who want to criticize only the defense for one game – the division round game against the soon-to-be Super Bowl champion Rams, lost by just 3 points, on the road no less – are full of it. Firstly, the offense were the ones who could not score any points until the end of the game, and only just tied it on their last possession .. which if the offense had done a better job of managing… Read more »

Last edited 8 days ago by Naplesfan
Horse
Horse
8 days ago

My comment was about having to have our Defense to be great in order to win the Super Bowl; that was it! Having to expect a Defense be great when our Offense is very good, just doesn’t make sense, because they have proven if the Defense can just play good, we win the Super Bowl. Stats mean jack if you blow the big ones. I don’t see how this Defense can be great. Please enlighten me ole wise ones! Our DL is above average at best going into 2022. That’s my opinion! You’ve got yours, I respect it too! Injuries… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
7 days ago

Need to add two more veteran defensive players in the front seven to become a great defense IMO.