In a tale of two halves, the final minutes proved to be the difference in the 25-12 loss at the hands of the Colts on Sunday. While the Tampa Bay defense had another dominant outing against the run, the front four wasn’t able to apply pressure when it counted most, and Matt Hasselbeck torched the secondary during a game-icing, seven minute drive in the fourth quarter. One more splash play (at least one that the refs don’t call back) and we’re likely looking at each player and grading each position group a lot differently. Check out how each each defensive unit graded out according to Pewter Report and share your thoughts.
DEFENSIVE LINE Once again the Buccaneers front four was strong against the run, holding the Colts backfield to just 30 yards rushing while playing sound gap football through four quarters. However, unlike the close games they were able to win at the end – Atlanta and Dallas – the pass rush disappeared late in the game this time and allowed Matt Hasselbeck to carve up the secondary in critical situations.
While Henry Melton was able to apply pressure at times during the Colts game-sealing, seven minute drive, Howard Jones was called for an illegal hands penalty and Gerald McCoy and Jacquies Smith struggled to get past defenders.
Although McCoy recorded a sack in the game’s first series, he was ineffective through most of the afternoon, as Colts guard Hugh Thorton and backup tackle Denzelle Good, who often double-teamed McCoy, fared well against the Bucs’ star three-technique.
Meanwhile, Smith was able to get in Hasselbeck’s face on occasion and force a few bad throws, but tackle Joe Reitz also defended his outside edge and inside moves well enough to keep Hasselbeck upright. Take away a questionable call, however, and Smith is probably the hero of the game with a fourth quarter fumble recovery that would’ve set Tampa Bay up inside the 30-yard line.
William Gholston had the best day of anyone on the D-line. The 6-foot-6 defensive lineman made his presence felt from the start, batting down the opening pass of the game before bringing down Frank Gore a few plays later. Gholston would continue to play sound against the run, finishing with four tackles and a couple blown up pitches that won’t show up in the stat column.
For the defense as a whole, it was the tale of two halves. For the four-man front, it was the tale of two phases of the game. Everyone chipped in against the run to make Indy one dimensional, but they weren’t able to capitalize, and often left the veteran Hasselbeck too much time to find the gaps in zone coverage. GRADE= C
LINEBACKERS In most cases, the linebackers go as the defensive line goes. Sunday’s loss was no different.
Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander and Danny Lansanah all hit their gaps and tackled well against the run, each contributing with at least four solo stops to make Gore’s day a forgettable one. But a few passes to tight ends over the middle takes a little away from an otherwise solid performance from the corps.
Alexander led the team with 10 tackles, flying through the gap on a few plays to prevent a damaging run by Gore. The rookie continues to grow at the Mike position, looking more comfortable and instinctive with each passing week. Though, he did leave a few tackles on the field.
David, for his part, also made a couple key stops, finishing with seven tackles while also blitzing successfully on a few plays (see first drive of third quarter). After a slow start to the season, David has looked as good as he ever has the past three weeks.
Overall, this was Tampa Bay’s best unit on defense Sunday. GRADE= B
SECONDARY There was the really good – recognition and speed against the run and screen – and the really bad – quick slants, out-routes and go-routes that gashed the zone defense in the second half. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the bad outweighed the good on Sunday, and made for too many mistakes in the game’s most crucial moments.
After rising up the depth chart and putting together three impressive games at cornerback, Jude Adjei-Barimah was exposed a bit in Indianapolis.
During the seven-minute scoring drive in the fourth quarter that all but sealed the Colts victory, Matt Hasselbeck targeted the undrafted rookie four times and hit his receiver on every attempt. From a crossing pattern on third-and-10 to Donte Moncrief, to back-to-back comeback routes for first downs, to the final out-route TD pass to T.Y. Hilton, the Bucs’ biggest success story turned into their biggest liability on Sunday.
Moving to the other side, Sterling Moore, who finished with three solo tackles, showed great recognition to make a few open field stops (as did Adjei-Barimah), but was beat on two critical throws on the Colts eventual go-ahead scoring drive in the third quarter. Moore was caught playing too soft on a go-route, though the TD pass needed safety help from Bradley MoDougald who was late to arrive.
McDougald finished the game with six tackles, looking fast in pursuit as usual. Of his six stops, a couple were for a loss and one came on a key third down where he tackled tight end Coby Fleener short of the marker and forced a field goal late in the third quarter to keep the Bucs in the game. However, the third-year safety was out of place at times in coverage (see third quarter TD) and was called for pass interference early in the game on a third down play.
As for Chris Conte, the former Bear had an unusually quiet day on defense (one tackle), though he might have made the play of the game if not for questionable officiating. During the Colts final TD drive, Conte appeared to have forced a fumble at the goal line which would’ve kept it a one-possession game and given the offense the ball back. But Gore was ruled down and the rest is history.
The secondary played fast, but ultimately took a step back in coverage on Sunday, as Hasselbeck completed 26 of 42 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns – his best game of the season. GRADE= C-
SPECIAL TEAMS What could’ve been a splash play to save the game – Chris Conte’s leap over the line in an attempt to block a FG – turned into arguably the most devastating error of the afternoon. Instead of blocking Adam Vinatieri’s fourth kick, Conte missed and ran into the holder. It wouldn’t have mattered, though, as the ref flagged him leaping and granted the Colts as automatic first down – a drive they capped off with a TD.
While Vinatieri was 4 for 4 on FG attempts, the Bucs couldn’t match Indy’s success in the kicking game. Connor Barth missed his first career PAT and proceeded to miss a 54-yarder in the third quarter. After the miss, Logan Mankins was called for unnecessary roughness and, in a span of 30 seconds, Tampa Bay went from a possible TD (Evans drop), to a missed FG, to setting the Colts offense up inside Bucs’ territory with all the momentum.
As far as what impressed on special teams, the Bucs kick coverage was outstanding. Josh Keyes led the way with two tackles, both of which started the Colts’ drive inside their own 20-yard line.
Jacob Schum had a good day, too, averaging 40 yards on three punts while getting the Bucs out of a couple jams in the second half deep in their own territory.
What will be remembered, however, is two missed kicks and two 15-yard penalties that epitomized a day where everything seemed to go in the Colts’ favor. GRADE= D
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