After the Bucs’ led the league in rush defense in 2019, allowing a league-low 73.8 rushing yards per game on a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, and saw the emergence of a talented young cornerback trio in Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, it was no surprise to see Pro Football Focus rank Tampa Bay as the ninth-best defense entering the 2020 season. Essentially the Bucs were able to keep their entire starting defense together through the offseason, while adding play-making safety Antoine Winfield Jr. through the draft.

But through five weeks that mark has improved even more, as PFF has Tampa Bay ranked as their second-best defense in the league, trailing just the Baltimore Ravens, largely due to their defensive backfield, according to PFF’s Anthony Treash. Here’s what Treash said about the Bucs in PFF’s most recent defensive rankings.

Ever since the emergence of Jamel Dean in the midst of the 2019 season, this Buccaneers coverage unit has been in the league’s top-tier. Through the first five weeks of play this year, Dean has produced an 83.6 coverage grade that ranks fourth at the position. He and Carlton Davis have been locking down the oppositions outside receivers and have combined to allow a league-best 20.8 passer rating on throws of 10 or more yards downfield. Since Dean first saw substantial game action in Week 9 of last year, he and Davis rank first and second at the position in forced incompletions with 19 and 16. If Davis can stop being needlessly physical at times and crack down on the pass interference penalties, there’d be a reasonable argument to be made that those two form the best outside cornerback duo in the league.

Curiously, Murphy-Bunting is not even mentioned here, as his numbers don’t really compare to his two secondary teammates despite him being a starter over Dean on the outside. Obviously Dean still plays plenty of snaps due to the Bucs proclivity to operate out of nickel, but Dean has consistently been more impressive than Murphy-Bunting when comparing the two players over almost a season-and-a-half of action.

Heading into Week 6 of the 2020 season the Bucs still remain the league’s best at stopping the run, currently on pace to demolish their 2019 numbers by allowing just 58.4 rushing yards per game on 2.7 yards per carry. But it isn’t just Tampa Bay’s run defense that’s been elite, as Treash noted. The entire defense has been consistently among the league’s best.

To this point the Bucs’ defense is allowing the second-fewest total yards to opponents at 298.2 per game, they have racked up the fourth-most sacks with 17 and they’re tied for the fourth-most total turnovers forced with nine, including six interceptions after totaling just 12 picks in all of 2019.

But this young Bucs defense will face arguably their toughest challenge this Sunday, as Aaron Rodgers and the undefeated Green Bay Packers head to Tampa Bay fresh off of a bye week in Week 5. Entering the game, Green Bay’s offense has yet to give the ball away a single time in 2020, with no fumbles lost and Rodgers sporting a stellar 13:0 touchdown to interception ratio.

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eaustinyoung

They are the 2nd best…when you don’t have your press corners playing zone and your best edge rusher covering RBs. Rodgers is surgical. They will not win if they can’t force the Packers offense to be one-dimensional.

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Rating: +4. From 8 votes.
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Ja'crispy

They need to play like the 2nd best defense in the league this Sunday.

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Rating: +10. From 10 votes.
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DerLutz

Surprising. They can be 2nd best, but in my opinion they have not played like that yet. But the reason for that is also the playcalling

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Spitfire

They have played exactly like the 2nd best. They have let some things slip through but apparently so have 30 other teams. Hopefully they can start playing like the number one defense and we will be unstoppable.

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Rating: +13. From 13 votes.
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eaustinyoung

Just because they aren’t the 2002 defense doesn’t mean they aren’t currently better than 30 other defenses. Implicit in season rankings is you’re ranking them with respect to the other teams – not all-time or someone’s personal standards lol

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Rating: +7. From 7 votes.
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Spitfire

It says Dean ran a freaking 4.30 40 at the Combine! I was really hoping they would start Dean over SMB this year, not because SMB isn’t any good, just because Dean showed greatness at the end of last year when I finally got in there. I really think they need to make the move to have Davis and Dean be the full time starters on the outside and let SMB be purely Nickel. Also, SMB has been nursing an injury anyways, so we would be way better off having Dean on the outside full time covering the deep routes.… Read more »

eaustinyoung

Dean has always been better than SMB. It’s a no-brainer. Just another head-scratching decision by the coaching staff.

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Rating: +3. From 5 votes.
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bucballer

Here’s hoping for a win. If the defense plays soft coverage…10-12 yards off the WRs… then the Buc’s defense could be in for a long day! Go gettem Bucs!

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Rating: +5. From 5 votes.
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chXmcd

im guessing they’re not starting dean due to his injury history ? that’s the only thing i can think to not start him on the outside. only being on the field in the nickel on passing downs lowers the chances of him getting hurt in run defense.

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Lawdy

losing vita will definitely knock them down a peg but we could still stay top 10

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Buc stops here

This is going to be interesting, as Veta Vea was one of the cornerstones of that 1st ranked run defense. Now Sixth-year pro Rakeem Nunez-Roches will have to fill that hole at nosetackle, and I have my fingers crossed he can do it. Otherwise we may see a decline in that run defense for the rest of the year. I hope not but it is possible.

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eaustinyoung

Don’t count out Gholston as a run stopper. Back to the Bucs D at the bottom of the league when the whole defense was basically McCoy and David, Gholston was always great at run-stopping.

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Rating: +3. From 5 votes.
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drdneast

Oh god, the kiss of death. The last time I saw one of these was the O Line getting ranked in the top 5 and it got rolled in the second half with penalties galore and three sacks.

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drdneast

The Packers have only played one formidable opponent and that was against New Orleans without Michael Thomas. They have won against the Lions, Vikings and Falcons. A real murderers row of opponents except for the Saints. Expect the Lions and Vikings to say good bye to their head coaches at the end of the season.

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Rating: +4. From 4 votes.
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plopes808

This is true, I know it’s a foreign concept to most of us Bucs fans but we may actually be the best team Green Bay has faced this year. Get used to it though because this team is finally moving in the right direction!

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Rating: +2. From 2 votes.
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