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.