The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
Table of Contents
This week’s topic: Is The Bucs Offense Or Defense The Bigger Concern?
Scott Reynolds: I’m Worried About Tampa Bay’s Defense
Whoa! Why am I concerned about Todd Bowles’ defense? After all, Tampa Bay has the league’s fourth-ranked defense, allowing just 312.9 yards per game. The Bucs still have the top-ranked run defense, allowing just 77.9 yards per game. Tampa Bay is tied for first with 11 interceptions and is ranked second in the league with 29 sacks. So what’s not to like about the 2020 Bucs defense, which is better than any other Tampa Bay defense in recent memory? It’s the way the Bucs defense is trending, which is not good. Let’s examine the last three games against a decent team in Las Vegas, a poor team in the New York Giants and a very good team in New Orleans.
In the 45-20 win in Las Vegas, the Bucs only allowed 76 rushing yards, which was right around their season average. But in the next two games – a 25-23 win at New York and a 38-3 loss to New Orleans, Tampa Bay allowed 101 yards rushing and a season-high 138 yards rushing, respectively. The Bucs hadn’t surrendered 100 yards on the ground for 13 games dating back to last year, but have now given up 100 yards in back-to-back games. The Giants seemingly laid the blueprint for how to run the ball against the league’s best rushing defense – use multiple tight ends and overpower a front seven that no longer has 340-pound nose tackle Vita Vea. If Carolina, who may or may not have Christian McCaffrey this Sunday, but still have a formidable rusher in Mike Davis.
It’s not just the Bucs’ rushing defense that has seen a recent slide in production. Tampa Bay’s pass rush has taken a dip, too. The team recorded three sacks against the Raiders, three sacks against the Giants, but only one sack against the Saints on Sunday night. Yet Devin White had all three of Tampa Bay’s sacks of Derek Carr three weeks ago. White recorded one of the Bucs’ three sacks of Daniel Jones, and Shaquil Barrett was the lone Buccaneer that got to Drew Brees. So what does that mean? It means that outside of White’s four sacks, the other members of Tampa Bay’s front seven have generated a total of just three sacks in three games. The Bucs’ front four has struggled to get to the QB in 1-on-1’s without blitzing a linebacker to help. Add in the fact that the league’s ninth-ranked scoring defense, which allows 22.6 points per game, has given up 20, 23 and 38 points in the last three games is another sign that the Bucs defense is slipping.
Mark Cook: Offense Can’t Have A Saints Game Repeat
I know the topic is “Is the Bucs offense or defense the bigger concern?” but since the offensive line is part of the offense, that is what concerns me the most. I have few worries about the Bucs skill position players on offense, but the play of the offensive line will dictate how far this team will go in 2020.
All offseason it was the unit I wrote about the most. I am an old school guy and pretty simple, but so is football. If you can’t block well, you aren’t winning many football games in the NFL. On Sunday night, the Bucs offensive line didn’t block well. After the first play – a nice Ronald Jones II run – it was pretty much all down hill from there. The inability to convert on third down for four straight series – along with the scoring coming in bunches from the Saints – put the Bucs offensive line at a huge disadvantage for pretty much three quarters. Tampa Bay abandoned the run after falling behind by two scores. Still, it is their job to protect franchise quarterback Tom Brady and Brady was harassed often by an aggressive Saints defensive line.
Getting a healthy Ali Marpet back at left guard should be a boost over Joe Haeg, who struggled mightily on Sunday night, but we aren’t even sure he plays this week at Carolina. As of Monday, Marpet was still in the concussion protocol. Prior to Sunday night’s debacle the Bucs offensive line was third in the NFL with the least amount of sacks allowed before surrendering three sacks to the Saints. The line has got to get back to that to have success this year. As mentioned, the Bucs’ skill positions on offense aren’t a concern to me, but without a solid offensive line, it doesn’t really matter who is under center or who is running routes, looking for passes from Brady.
Jon Ledyard: Bucs Defense Is The Unit To Be Worried About
This one is easy for me. The Bucs offense has very few holes on paper, and although a somewhat outdated scheme could hold it back to a degree against top competition, the reality is that there are far too few good defenses in the NFL to give Tampa Bay’s offense consistent issues. The Bucs can always shoot themselves in the foot with drops and penalties, but if this unit is shut down during the 2020 season, the biggest reason will be self-inflicted mistakes.
Defensively, however, the Bucs have been trending the wrong way for weeks. Tampa Bay has fallen behind early over the past four weeks, in large part due to a defense that has come out of the gates looking overwhelmed, especially in pass coverage. Todd Bowles’ stubborn reliance on soft coverage has allowed underwhelming quarterbacks to pick apart the Bucs zone defense, putting them in trouble spots against Chicago, New York and New Orleans. The scheme is a huge issue right now, and it doesn’t help that the Bucs have struggled to get pressure with four when Bowles doesn’t blitz heavily.
Individually, Tampa Bay has issues, too. Jamel Dean has fallen apart the past three weeks, after putting together almost a season’s worth of dominant play at the cornerback position. The scheme isn’t helping him at all, as Dean has rarely played from a press position all season, but the second-year defensive back has been remarkably sloppy with his eyes and footwork in off coverage. Nickel cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting and safety Jordan Whitehead have had their coverage struggles as well, but none as significant as inside linebacker Devin White, who has been lit up in almost every game this season. The Bucs are still a very talented defense, but Bowles is doing little to put his players in position to succeed in coverage, and Tampa Bay’s pass rush isn’t good enough to make up for it without nose tackle Vita Vea. Something needs to change or the Bucs offense will be in shootouts every week.
Matt Matera: Bucs Offense Hasn’t Formed A True Identity Yet
The offense is more of a concern for the Bucs right now because the issues on defense are fixable and can be corrected much quicker. Head coach Bruce Arians and Bucs linebacker Lavonte David both talked about after the Saints game that the main problem on Sunday night was gap assignment and communication. That can be fixed. It’s concerning that after nine weeks, the Bucs’ offense hasn’t gotten into rhythm yet, or has even found an identity.
I understand they didn’t have the offseason to work with new quarterback Tom Brady, but how long can the Bucs keep using that excuse? Every team, even ones with new quarterbacks, have had to deal with this situation. The offense has had trouble getting the ball to their best players often as well. Wide receiver Mike Evans has not been involved much at times, the offense looks completely different when slot receiver Chris Godwin is out of the lineup, and the only player the Bucs seem to manufacture touches for are screen passes to Ronald Jones II, who is the worst receiving back on the team.
Now wide receiver Antonio Brown comes in and they’ll have the same growing pains of getting him up to speed with the playbook. We saw that hurt the Bucs after a miscommunication on a route that led to an interception. And while the offensive line has done a good job overall protecting Tom Brady, the two best defenses they’ve played this year (Saints and Bears) have given them a ton of problems with keeping Brady upright, as he’s been sacked nine times, thrown five interceptions and fumbled twice in three losses. If the Bucs get in the playoffs, they’ll face nothing but tough defenses, and that’s concerning if the line continues to struggle against better opponents.
Taylor Jenkins: The Bucs Defense Has To Stay Consistent
We know that the Bucs offense has had it’s struggles avoiding penalties and staying efficient, but despite sitting 24th in yards per drive, 26th in plays per drive and coming off of a 3-point effort in Week 9, they’re still among the league’s Top 10 scoring offenses. With an improved offensive line and so much talent on that side of the ball, it’s almost like Tampa Bay’s offense can put points on the board despite its issues.
While we know that the Bucs defense has a ton of talent as well, its seem to have more of a problem overcoming external issues. With nose tackle Vita Vea out of the lineup, Tampa Bay still has the league’s best run defense for the time being, allowing just 77.9 yards per game, but that’s largely carrying over from their stellar start as they’ve allowed an average of 105 rushing yards per game over their last three contests. In pass coverage, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Devin White and Jordan Whitehead have all had their fair share of struggles this season. Add in head-scratching, zone-heavy play-calling from Todd Bowles in some weeks and a pass rush that regularly struggles to get home when rushing just four, leaves me wondering if this defense can be consistent enough on a week-to-week basis.
For Tampa Bay’s defense to have its best chance at success, it will need to find a way to rotate safety Mike Edwards in on passing downs, decrease the amount of zone where their personnel can’t truly be its best and get after the quarterback more regularly without having to send five- and six-man pressures. We know how good the Bucs defense can be when it’s at its best, but relying on everything to go right for them to succeed on a weekly basis gives me pause.