The Buccaneers finished the first quarter of their season with a 2-2 record. There was some good play and then there was some bad, but all in all an average start to the season. PewterReport.com breaks down each unit and offers up a grade. Take a look and see if you agree and give us your feedback.
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Last season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished in the Top 10 in sacks, tied for ninth, with 38 total. Gerald McCoy led the way with seven, Robert Ayers was next with six and a half and the rookie Noah Spence was third with five and a half.
After a pretty balanced and successful year, in that regard, the Bucs attempted to get even more production on the defensive line by adding defensive tackle free agent Chris Baker, and were also hoping to get Jacquies Smith back at some point as an “added” edge rusher.
In theory, the strategy wasn’t bad, but for whatever reason, the results have been less than ideal.
A quarter of the way into the season and the Buccaneers are dead last in sack production. Though they have played one less game than most teams, their average sacks per game wouldn’t get them out of last place, if you added another game on. The Bucs only have four sacks this year, all divided up by four separate players – McCoy, Spence and Clinton McDonald have one each, and linebacker Adarius Glanton has the other.
There is some tackle for loss production, especially with McCoy, who had three in one game against the Giants, but, as a whole, beyond McCoy, this defensive line had not been able to disrupt many of the quarterbacks they’ve faced.
Smith is no longer on the team. Baker has been fine, but not as explosive as they need him to be. Spence once again hurt his shoulder, but even before that, was being figured out by opposing offensive tackles. Robert Ayers looks like he’s lost a step, and William Gholston will never really be an edge rusher.
Perhaps they thought they could squeeze something out of their current guys one year too long.
Defensive Line Grade: C+
Though underrated, going into the season the Tampa bay Buccaneers had one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL in Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. However, the two have only been on the field together for one entire drive – in which Alexander recorded an interception.
Since then, Alexander has been dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him out for three games, and could keep him out for a few more. David injured his ankle at the end of the Vikings game, and has missed two games since.
In comes the rookie to save the day. Kendell Bekcwith, who was originally schedule to play the SAM linebacker position, has been playing middle linebacker instead to fill in for the injuries – Beckwith played middle linebacker in college. Since taking over, Beckwith has led the team with 36 total tackles.
To fill in around him, Ardarius Glanton and Devante Bond have had to step up. Glanton is fourth on the team with 23 tackles, and Bond, who got his first start against the Giants, has two.
With two All-Pro, cornerstone pieces out, all things considered, the fill-in players have performed very well.
Linebacker Grade: B+
It has been a rollercoaster ride for the Bucs cornerbacks so far this season.
In the preseason, things seems to be looking up for both Vernon Hargreaves and the learning Ryan Smith. Both players flashed during their time on the first team with some nice plays and some takeaways.
However, when the regular season rolled around, things started to unravel.
For starters, the team’s top cornerback, Brent Grimes, ended up missing the Vikings game due to a shoulder injury. That forced Smith to step in – it didn’t go well. Both he and Hargreaves were left gasping for air at the hands of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, and that has sort of spiraled things.
Even with Grimes back, Hargreaves struggles have continued. Whether it’s the scheme or whether it’s his own doing, Hargreaves is just not playing agressive enough, and is getting beat both short and long because of it. He’s clearly being picked on once again by each team that the Bucs face, and he’s allowed them to be right in their thinking, for the most part. He’s second on the team in tackles with 24, but you don’t really want your cornerback making a bunch of tackles – that means you’re giving up catches. Some are good, but not that many.
Robert McClain has been fine as the team’s slot cornerback. He’s yielded some catches, as all slot cornerbacks will do, but he does have one of the team’s three total interceptions, which he returned for a touchdown.
Cornerback Grades: C-
The safety position is the toughest to grade thus far in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ season just because there has been so much moving and changing within the first four games.
Keith Tandy and Chris Conte began the year as the team’s starters. They were fine as a starting tandem, not giving up too much, but not getting aggressive takeaways, either. However, then Tandy went out a game with a back injury. Conte is third on the team in total tackles with 21, and also has two passes defended in coverage.
Then there are the two new players to throw into the mix. The Buccaneers drafted rookie Justin Evans in the second round, and hope he is their athletic, playmaking safety of the future. Then throw in the fact that they traded for T.J. Ward right before the season began, and he was another piece to consider.
Ward has played sparingly, but not much. Evans was the same until last game against the Patriots, in which he started for the injured Tandy, recorded an interception and was second on the team that night in tackles. He appears to be inline for some starter consideration after a performance like that.
The grade for the safeties has been adequate, but the promise is on the rise with some shuffling sure to come.
Safeties Grade: B-
Though there have been plenty of injuries to blame, as well s the addition of new players, Mike Smith’s defense is still struggling as a whole.
They are currently third worst in the league for yards given up, fourth worst in yards per play and fifth worst in third down conversion percentage. They’re also in the bottom half of the league in terms of interceptions and are dead last in sacks.
On a positive, despite all that, they have been good at capping team’s in the red zone, as their points per game average is just outside the Top 10.
It’s not easy to lose two of your best defensive players, and even a few other key players around them in spots, too. For that, you can’t be too hard on them. However, the way the cornerbacks are playing and the lack of production from the defensive line are both major concerns. If they don’t figure those things out, injuries or not, this defense will not be able to hold the better teams.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: email@example.com