As head coach Lovie Smith said Monday, it was the tale of two halves. That statement couldn’t be more true for Sunday’s 24-point come-from-ahead loss to the Washington Redskins, and it starts and ends with the defense. All 11 guys, as well as a few reserve players, were hot through the first two quarters, but things took a rapid turn for the worst. From soft coverage, to critical penalties to a surprise onside kick, this was one of the worst collapses in franchise history and one that makes you wonder if the team can recover from. Find out how each defensive position group graded out according to PewterReport.com and share your thoughts.
For the front four, it was the tale of two phases of the game.
Against the run they were stout all afternoon, holding Matt Jones to 29 yards on nine carries and Alfred Morris to five yards on six. Against the pass, however, they were not as efficient. Kirk Cousins was able to throw quick slants and underneath routs from a clean pocket too often, en route to going 21 of 25 for 206 yards in the second half.
Before the game took an ugly turn, though, the defensive line was able to execute their strategy of stopping the run and forcing predictable pass rush situations. Clinton McDonald was dominant through two quarters, driving Redskins guard Josh LeRibeus off the line multiple times to stuff Matt Jones in the backfield. And Jacquies Smith and Howard Jones combined for the defensive play of the game, as the former got around the edge to force a sack-fumble while the latter returned it 43 yards to take a 24-0 lead.
But things went south from there. On the ensuing Redskins drive, Will Gholston negated a great tackle for loss by Kwon Alexander by committing a 15-yard personal foul that began Washington’s eventual scoring drive. From there Cousins completed four passes, capped off by an inside slant pass (one that destroyed the secondary all afternoon) for the Redskins’ first touchdown, providing some momentum heading into the half. Over the next two quarters, Gholston would be called for two more dead-ball penalties; Gerald McCoy, who was having success against rookie first-rounder Brandon Scherff, was just unable to close in for a sack (including one on third down in the fourth quarter that could’ve prevented a field goal); and Jac Smith was relatively quiet against tackle Ty Nsekhe. Meanwhile, George Johnson made one play in the backfield in the third quarter against the run but that was it. Johnson could even be seen at times held up at the line by a tight end in the passing game, which likely diminished any good containment from Smith.
At the end of the day, the front four was unable to make a splash when it counted, despite every play during the final drive being an obvious passing down. They also had too many offside calls and 15-yard penalties that contributed to the Bucs’ disturbing count of 16 for 142 yards. It was a complete defensive collapse on Sunday, and it starts with the front four.
Like the rest of the team, the linebackers were on fire in the first half.
Lavonte David broke up a swing pass to Matt Jones and tackled him for a loss on a screen on back-to-back drives. David also laid a huge hit on tight end Derek Carrier before the first-down marker, looking fast as usual against underneath routes.
Kwon Alexander, for his part, was also off to a fast start meeting receivers immediately on screens while hitting gaps in the running game. The rookie made the first third-down stop in the first quarter and proceeded to get a tackle for a loss and chase Matt Jones to the sideline in the second quarter. He did, however, struggle at times in the passing game by letting guys get behind him for big gains over the middle. On two occasions in the fourth quarter, Alexander was caught in front of Pierre Garcon for a Redskins third-down conversion and again out of position on a pass to Jordan Reed, who had a field day against the Buccaneers secondary. Alexander also had a holding call in the red zone during the third quarter that set up yet another inside slant touchdown.
Based on their performance in the first half and against the run all afternoon, Bucs linebackers took a step forward on Sunday. But, like the rest of the defense, they choked late and were responsible for a few key completions that highlighted the 24-point come-from-ahead meltdown. One interception or sack probably ends the game, but none of the Bucs playmakers were able to come through.
Aside from an excellent play by Chris Conte to knock a completion out of the hands of Andre Roberts on a big third down in the second quarter and a blitz by Alterraun Verner that forced an off-balance throw in the fourth quarter, the secondary had another disappointing day.
On numerous plays, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins could be seen lined up over five yards back from the line of scrimmage and gifting the Redskins with quick slants. During the last drive, for instance, Jenkins was lined up seven yards back on one play while Banks was eight off, allowing an easy pitch and catch to the sideline and room to get out of bounds. That summed up the Bucs’ strategy of soft coverage and no physicality within five yards, as they gave up roughly 40 yards in less than a minute on the final possession.
D.J. Swearinger surrendered a slant touchdown to Jordan Reed in the third quarter after the Redskins ran the same play three times in a row. Bradley McDougald allowed the final dagger – a 6-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed, his second of the game, with 0:28 seconds left. While McDougald made a few underneath tackles on tight ends and Conte was again physical against the run (tackle for loss on Matt Jones in the third quarter), they were both subpar once again in coverage – especially in the red zone.
As for the corners, Banks looked rusty in his first game back. His performance can be summed up by a play in the third quarter after the onside recovery where he didn’t touch Ryan Grant at the line and allowed a quick release for an eventual 32-yard hookup. Overall, the Bucs secondary didn’t contest enough passes late in the game. Cousins was 21 of 25 in second half and Tampa Bay gift-wrapped short-to-intermediate completions that added up to 317 yards passing.
The Redskins caught the Buccaneers off guard in what will probably end up being Tampa Bay’s most infamous special teams play of the season. Danny Lansanah had been lining up on kickoffs all afternoon at the 45-yard line and Washington found its opportunity in the third quarter. Executed to perfection, the Redskins recovered the onside kick and the offense scored 10 plays later to set the stage for the franchise’s biggest-ever comeback. While it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for the defensive collapse (and it wasn’t) this marked a significant turning point in the game and allowed the Redskins to steal a possession from the Bucs’ locked-in offense.
As far as the kicking game is concerned, Connor Barth was perfect once again: 3-for-3 with field goal attempts from 22, 45 and 21. in hindsight, the Bucs probably wish they could have the last kick back and go for it on fourth down, instead. Still, Barth is still coming through for Tampa Bay since signing in Week 5 and also registered five touchbacks on seven kickoffs.
As for kick coverage, Jude Adjei-Barimah made the play of the game in that category. The rookie struggled in his first extended opportunity at corner but made an open field tackle on the 14-yard line to stick Washington back deep to start its third offensive drive.
The highlight of special teams, though, was the surprise onside kick – the turning point of the Lovie Smith era’s biggest disaster.
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m passing F’s around like Halloween candy for the defense this week. Horrible front to back. linebackers not getting deep enough. DB’s completely out of position and a dl that couldn’t sack cousins one more than 1 occasion.
Tale of two halves indeed but that last redskins drive was like throwing against air. It was unbelievable.
Yep. F’s for all including the coaches. Why doesn’t Lovie fire the DB coaches. Whoops, I think I know why.
The grades are too kind. DE’s did nothing, but one play where Smith hit the QB’s arm and Jones picked it up and ran for a TD. That was it from the DE’s and McCoy was being doubled and tripled; some DE had to be one on one most of the game. CB’s and Safeties have to play tighter to the Line of Scriminage.
Yep. TE’s were blocking Johnson.
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CB’s playing so far off the receivers is so common now it must be a part of the game plan.
If not, why else would it so consistently happen.
Worst secondary in the NFL period. These clown seriously can’t cover anyone. Let WRs get a free release with ridiculous cushion. Every throw over the middle is wide open, since week 1. Never make a play on the ball because they are barely close enough to be in the picture. SOFT like their head coach.
I have to say Zach, I fully expected to see a series of F bombs across the board. I understand your points about some good plays in the first half, but it feels like lipstick on a pig given how horrendous the second half was in all defensive respects. Awful, just awful…
On a positive note…playing Matt Ryan next week could win you $1 million on Draft Kings
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