Stumbling Bucs’ defense tries for better effort against Brees, Saints Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter makes a catch past Bucs cornerback Alterraun Verner during the first quarter of last week’s game. The Bucs’ defensive scheme is predicated on everybody being on the same page, but against Tennessee many players were out of position throughout the game. JASON BEHNKEN / STAFF By Roy Cummings | Tribune Staff Published: September 19, 2015 NEW ORLEANS — Every personnel move the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made on the defensive side of the ball the past few months was aimed at one thing: preventing a repeat of the struggles they suffered most of last season.They fortified the front four by adding a Pro Bowl pass rusher and a respected run stopper with Super Bowl experience.They beefed up their back seven by bringing in four players well-versed in head coach Lovie Smith’s version of the Tampa 2 scheme.And Smith, who designed the scheme and knows better than anyone how to run it, took over play-calling duties.Yet, in last week’s season-opener against the Tennessee Titans — against a rookie quarterback making his NFL debut, no less — the Bucs played as if they’d never taken a snap in Smith’s scheme before. Linemen plugged the wrong gaps. Linebackers left their coverage zones to help cornerbacks who didn’t need it. Safeties bit on play-action fakes that left them out of position and vulnerable to short and long passes.The result was what defensive tackle Gerald McCoy labeled an “embarrassing’’ 42-14 loss that left many wondering if the defense can do what it was expected to do, which is carry an offense heavily reliant on rookies.It was not the first impression Tampa Bay’s defense hoped to make, especially with an NFC South game on tap Sunday in New Orleans against the Saints and always-dangerous quarterback Drew Brees.“No, that game certainly did not go the way we expected it to,’’ defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “And, to be honest, I don’t know if there’s an explanation for it that would please anyone.’’There might not.After all, the immediate reaction by some was that the loss was largely the result of Tennessee successfully attacking the flaws inherent in the Cover 2 scheme Smith uses as his base coverage. Yet, a review of the game tape shows the Bucs played Cover 2 on fewer than a dozen plays.Nor could it be blamed on the pass rush. The Titans foiled that by having quarterback Marcus Mariota throw mostly quicks slants off one-step drops designed to beat even the best rush.And there’s no sense in blaming Kwon Alexander, the rookie calling plays at middle linebacker. Alexander made some mistakes, Frazier conceded, but no more than the vast array of veterans around him.For example, on the Titans’ first touchdown — a 52-yard pass to wide receiver Kendall Wright — safety Bradley McDougald failed to hold his ground in the deep secondary. Instead, he bit on Mariota’s play-action fake, taking several steps toward the line of scrimmage and falling so far out of position he couldn’t stop Wright on his long jaunt to the end zone.Later, on the 22-yard pass that set up the Titans’ third offensive score, nickel cornerback Sterling Moore left the slot receiver he was responsible for to help cover an outside receiver cornerback Johnthan Banks had covered. The result was another quick Mariota pass to Wright, who caught the ball at the Bucs’ 17-yard line and carried it to the 2. Three plays later, the Titans led 28-7.Then, on the Titans’ next possession, Mariota made it 35-7 on 1-yard pass to tight end Delanie Walker, who ran straight into the zone linebacker Lavonte David had just abandoned to help cover a running back who was already covered in the flat.“This whole defense is predicated on everybody being on the same page and doing their job,’’ cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “It’s about being at a certain leverage and trusting that everybody else is going to be where they need to be.“The problems come when you’re not at that certain leverage. And that’s what was happening in that game. It happens every once in a while, but you don’t want it to happen throughout the whole game. But that’s kind of what happened last week.’’That’s kind of what happened last year, too.The Bucs stumbled out of the gate defensively, falling to 32nd in the league through their first six games in points allowed per game, net yards allowed per game and opponent passer rating. Then came the bye week and, suddenly, everything began to fall into place. During the final 10 weeks of the season, the Bucs ranked 14th in each of those three categories.That and the offseason changes are why the Bucs remain confident their defense can shoulder the burden of carrying the team to a new level. But there’s more behind that high-level of confidence, Frazier said, than a strong belief in the talent that’s been assembled or Smith’s ability to make the right play calls.“If we had the type of people who look to the left or the right instead of in the mirror when things like this happen, then we’d be concerned,’’ Frazier said. “But we don’t have guys like that. We have guys that take ownership of what they put on tape and they want to get it fixed.’’McCoy and David are such players.McCoy, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, and David, an All-Pro linebacker, took it upon themselves to gather the team together, without the coaches, to review the tape of their season opener. It was their way of holding themselves and teammates accountable for what happened on the field.Smith expected nothing less from his two defensive leaders. He was quick to point out, though, that there’s only one way to know if their tactics had the desired impact.“We can talk all we want about what we’ve done, but we need to play the game,’’ Smith said. “That’s the only way. There are a lot of things we haven’t done, but if we come back 1-1 and have a division win, that would be big for us. We’re right back on track with a win this week. It’s a simple as that.’’email@example.com Twitter: @RCummingsTBO
Im tired of the media being so lenient on Lovie they need to start tearing him a new one like Schiano because I cannot take another year of this garbage product. Our defense still doesn’t know what to do out there.Lovie made it very clear that he has no idea what hes doing from the very first week he was here. He let tank commander get free reigns without any competitionTampa is a JOKE right now, every team on our schedule is marking us off as an easy winWhat is Lovie DOING TO FIX THIS? Someone write an article about that, because this lenient fluff is nauseating to read and think hes gonna have another year.Change around some names and the date to 2014, and it will sound exactly like the same story as last year
All Lovie’s defense needs is an All-Pro safety, a hall of fame caliber nickel corner who can blitz and cover, a border line hall of fame defensive end on one side, a high-end caliber defensive end on the other to package around McCoy and David, and we’ll be fine. The scheme is proven ;)
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