The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is one of the absolute worst in the NFL this year, ranking 28th in total yards (395.9 avg.), ranking 28th in passing defense (282.3 avg.) and is allowing 32.9 points per game, which ranks dead last in the league. The Bucs have already fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith and replaced him with linebackers coach Mark Duffner.
The defense is currently missing four starters with cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder), strong safety Chris Conte (knee), middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (knee) and strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith (ankle) all on injured reserve. And the Bucs will be without starting weakside linebacker Lavonte David (knee) and starting free safety Justin Evans (toe) for a second straight game as they face the visiting San Francisco 49ers this week.
But if you’re looking for a silver lining through all the defensive turmoil this year, at least Tampa Bay is getting to the quarterback on a more regular basis. The Bucs’ pass rush was an embarrassment last year, recording a league-low 22 sacks. That prompted the firing of defensive line coach Jay Hayes, who was replaced by Brentson Buckner this season.
Entering this week’s game against San Francisco, Tampa Bay has already surpassed last year’s sack total and has 25 quarterback captures with six games to play. Tampa Bay ranks 19th in the league in sacks and is tied with San Francisco and Buffalo. Pittsburgh leads the NFL with 37 sacks, followed by Kansas City’s 36. Chicago and Green Bay are tied for third with 34 and Arizona ranks fifth with 33.
Believe it or not, Tampa Bay is on pace to record 40 sacks, which would be the team’s highest sack total since the Bucs recorded 45 in 2004. The closest the team has come to reaching 40 sacks in a year was notching 38 sacks in both the 2015 and ’16 seasons.
The Bucs’ sack total is mostly comprised of newcomers, led by Jason Pierre-Paul’s team-high 9.5. While six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle ranks second on the team with five sacks, defensive end Carl Nassib, who was a waiver wire claim at the start of the season, is closing fast with a career-high 4.5 sacks, followed by new defensive end Vinny Curry’s 1.5 sacks in limited action due to a high ankle sprain. Defensive tackle Vita Vea, the Bucs’ first-round draft pick, also has one.
Pierre-Paul needs just half a sack to reach double digits this year, which is a feat that hasn’t been done since Simeon Rice last recorded double-digit sacks with 14 in 2005. Curry should be back in the lineup this week able to help too after missing the last two games with a high ankle sprain.
Tampa Bay’s defense has recorded at least two sacks in each of the last five games with most of them coming at home. The Bucs had a season-high five sacks against Cleveland in their last win, and recorded three sacks against Washington at Raymond James Stadium two weeks ago.
The 49ers offensive line has allowed 31 sacks this year, although quarterback Nick Mullens hasn’t been sacked in either of his first two starts against Oakland and the New York Giants. Yet neither of those teams has as good of a pass rush as Tampa Bay does. With Mullens completing 70.5 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions, the Bucs will need to pressure him to get him off his game and continue to rack up the sacks.