Sitting at 2-6, the Buccaneers have had a disappointing first half to the 2017 season. With a record like that, there is plenty of blame to go around, and that goes from unit-to-unit.
Below PewterReport.com hands out our midseason report card for the defense. Click here to view the offensive grades.
2017 BUCCANEERS DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
TOTAL DEFENSE:28th (389.0 ypg)
PASSING DEFENSE:30th (272.4 ypg)
RUSHING DEFENSE: 22nd (116.6 ypg)
SCORING DEFENSE: t25th (24.8 ppg)
To say it has been ugly would be an understatement. The Bucs did little to address the defensive line in the offseason, particularly the pass rush, and unfortunately whatever momentum from 2016 they had (38 sacks) hasn’t carried over into this year.
Tampa Bay’s biggest defensive free agent, Chris Baker, hasn’t had the impact most thought he might, with just 17 tackles, and no sacks. The Bucs also re-signed Will Gholston in the offseason, but the former Spartan hasn’t made much of an impact, with just 24 tackles on the year.
The Bucs have just eight sacks through the first eight games and there is no quick fix in sight. Plain and simple, you can’t win many games in the NFL without some sort of pressure on the quarterback, and much of the team’s 2-6 start can be attributed to the Bucs defense giving opposing quarterbacks all day to pick them apart.
Robert Ayers, Clinton McDonald and Gerald McCoy are tied for the team lead in sacks with just two each. The only other defensive lineman to record a sack so far in 2017 is Noah Spence, who is sidelined for the season with another shoulder injury.
While the lack of sacks is glaring, the Bucs run defense has been dreadful at times as well, allowing opposing running backs and offensive lines to impose their will. The Bucs do play better against the run, and overall defensively as well, when at home, but have yet to transfer it to road games, where the Bucs remain winless.
The bottom line is, the Bucs defense won’t improve without a turnaround from the front four.
Like much of the Bucs team overall, the linebackers have been consistently inconsistent. At times they have played well, individually at least, but as a unit they have struggled somewhat to play cohesively. Part of that can be traced to injury, as the defense lost Kwon Alexander in the first quarter of the opener against the Bears for several games, and then Lavonte David missed time with an ankle injury suffered against the Vikings. Since their return, Alexander has been mediocre, but David(43 tackles, four forced fumbles) has played very well and is easily the defensive MVP so far in 2017.
One bright spot for the Bucs defense was the play of rookie Kendell Beckwith this year when filling in for Alexander at middle linebacker. Beckwith has since moved back to the strong side linebacker spot, but is off the field in nickel packages, limiting his snaps. Beckwith leads the Bucs defense with 48 stops.
Backup Adarius Glanton also showed promise earlier in the season when he filled in for David, notching a sack of Tom Brady and forcing a fumble in relief. Glanton has 24 tackles so far in 2017.
It is the age old question. What came first, the chicken, or the egg? So is the secondary play a result of a lack of pass rush or the coverage so soft the pass rush can’t get there? While the secondary hasn’t exactly been stellar, overall they look worse due to the inability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That isn’t to say they can’t play much better and there hasn’t been blown coverages.
Vernon Hargreaves, like Winston and a handful of other players, was expected to take the next step in 2017. At times the former Gator standout has done that, but too often, particularly early in the season, Hargreaves wasn’t playing with confidence, and it showed. The last three weeks Hargreaves has graded out much better, but has yet to record an interception while splitting time between outside corner and in the slot as the team’s nickel back.
Veteran Brent Grimes has been hampered with a shoulder injury that has limited his effectiveness, but even when in the lineup there have been few splash plays. Grimes and Robert McClain, each have one interception on the season. Second-year cornerback Ryan Smith has played better over the last two weeks after a poor start to the season, and Javien Elliot has been relegated to primarily backup duties.
Safety play has also been inconsistent overall as the team has used a number of combinations on the backend with just so-so results. Chris Conte has gotten the most playing time and has one interception and leads all defensive backs with 44 stops, four pass breakups and one forced fumble. Rookie Justin Evans has been solid for a rookie for the most part, and also has an interception while adding 33 tackles. Keith Tandy was slowed with an injury earlier this season and hasn’t made much of an impact. And free agent T.J. Ward has struggled to earn playing time through the first half of the year.
Knock on wood the Buccaneers have solidified the kicking position at least through this season with the addition of Pat Murray midway through the season. Nick Folk, who won the kicking battle in camp against Roberto Aguayo, struggled as the starter, making just 6-of-11 field goal attempts and 7-of-9 on extra points. Following his final poor outing against the Patriots Folk was replaced with Murray who has made 4-of-5 on field goals while being perfect on his extra point attempts.
Bryan Anger has been excellent again so far in 2017, and is averaging 43.5 yards on punts and had nailed 15 punts inside opponents 20 yard line so far. His only hiccup was a costly punt block last week at New Orleans, although that falls more on the punt blocking team.
Punt and kickoff returner Bernard Reedy has been steady handling his special teams duties, averaging 20.7 yards on kickoff returns and 8.6 yards returning punts. While not outstanding numbers, Reedy has been fairly good in his decision making and shown good hands not losing a fumble.
GRADE = D