While teams would love their bye week to come at the true midway point of the season, after a 48-10 shellacking by the Bears last Sunday, the 2-2 Buccaneers could use some time to clear their heads.
The Bucs’ bye week also gives PewterReport.com the time to dish out some first quarter grades for each unit on Tampa Bay’s defense. Take a look and see if you agree, and add your thoughts in the comments section.
DEFENSIVE LINE To put it simply, the start of the season for Tampa Bay’s defense has been just plain poor as the unit ranks last in the league allowing 33 points per game, but if there is a relative bright spot on that side of the ball it may be on the defensive line.
Injuries to Mitch Unrein, Beau Allen and – the team’s first round draft pick – Vita Vea have left the defensive line decimated for much of the Bucs’ first four games, with defensive end Will Gholston even starting at defensive tackle last Sunday, but the unit has shown isolated examples of the potential they have on paper when healthy.
On the bright side, Gerald McCoy has been his usual self, accumulating three tackles for loss and a 1.5 sacks through four games and new defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has been a consistent threat in both the run game and the pass game with a team-best four sacks, nine quarterback hits and five tackles for loss. Tampa Bay had a league-low 22 sacks last year, and the defensive line already has seven out of the team’s eight thus far and the Bucs are on pace to hit 32 sacks this year.
Pierre-Paul also ranks third on the team with 17 total tackles and his four sacks are good for sixth in the league. Newcomer Vinny Curry has been solid so far on the left side of the line and has 1.5 sacks. The Bucs are hoping that Vea will make his impact known in the next few weeks as he works his way into the rotation after coming back from the leg injury he suffered in training camp.
As a unit, the Bucs defensive line is surrendering just 87.8 rushing yards per game, a number good enough for sixth in the league, on a mere 3.9 yards per carry. Of course you could say teams aren’t running the ball due the the ease to throw it all over the field. GRADE: C+ BEST OF THE BUNCH: Jason Pierre-Paul
LINEBACKERS The Bucs’ linebackers have been the epitome of serviceable. The unit has done well in the run game, but they’ve struggled often when forced to play in coverage and they’ve had next to no luck putting pressure on the passer, although they have rarely been asked to blitz in Mike Smith’s 2018 scheme, which is somewhat puzzling.
Lavonte David and Alexander lead the team with 34 and 26 total tackles, respectively. Adarius Taylor has filled in for the injured Kendell Beckwith, but hasn’t really provided any splash plays in limited action.
While Alexander and David have been solid, Alexander continues to over-commit on reads and run fits at times, and both players have struggled when trying to flip the field and force turnovers with impact plays. The duo has just two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two quarterback hits, one sack (Alexander) and no interceptions between the two of them through four games.
Rookie Jack Cichy and Cameron Lynch sit behind the three aforementioned starters on the depth chart, but rarely see the field outside of special teams. GRADE: C+ BEST OF THE BUNCH: Lavonte David
SECONDARY The key word for the Bucs’ defensive backfield is experience; most of them don’t have it and the players that do have struggled.
Tampa Bay’s defensive backs been beaten time and time again and have often shown a lack of awareness, being caught out of position and letting receivers find huge holes in coverage repeatedly.
With cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and strong safety Chris Conte on injured reserve, the Bucs’ only have two players in their defensive backfield with more than three seasons in the NFL: cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Marcus Williams who was signed in mid-September. It shows.
Here are the defensive categories where the Bucs are the league’s worst:
Passing yards allowed (1,432)
Yards per game allowed (358)
Passing touchdowns allowed (13)
Opponent completion percentage (77.1)
Opponent passer rating (130.5)
Cornerback Brent Grimes was supposed to be the anchor in the defensive backfield, but after missing the season’s first two games with a groin injury his return has been far from spectacular. He’s logged 10 tackles in two games but has had critical missed tackles in the open field and hasn’t played the ball well.
Rookies cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart have been baptized by fire with Davis being thrust into a starting role and Stewart forced to fill in for Hargreaves at the nickel corner position.
Davis has shown flashes, using his long frame to impact his receivers routes and even keeping Antonio Brown largely in check throughout a shootout against the Steelers. Yet he is part of a secondary that have been victimized often due to what coaches call communication issues. Stewart has struggled to keep up with faster receivers out of the slot.
Rookie Jordan Whitehead and Isaiah Johnson have been filling in at the strong safety position in Conte’s absence. Free safety Justin Evans has been the most consistent player in the defensive back’s room and really one of the few bright spots in a dismal first four games, although he had his worst game of the season at Chicago in the team’s 48-10 loss.
Evans has two pass breakups, a fumble recovery that he returned 68 yards for a touchdown against the Saints and the team’s lone interception. GRADE: F BEST OF THE BUNCH: Justin Evans
Fingers crossed, the Bucs may have solved their placekicking woe with Chandler Catanzaro who is five-of-six on field goals attempts and 13-of-14 on extra points. Catanzaro has also done well in kickoffs, putting 18-of-23 into the end zone for touchbacks.
Punter Bryan Anger has also played well and is averaging 42.8 yards per punt, with four inside the 20 yards line. GRADE: B BEST OF THE BUNCH: Chandler Catanzaro