FAB 3. Duffner Inspired The Players, Simplified The Scheme
I’ve seen the real Duffner.
Not the calm, “aw shucks” Duffner that you might have seen in press conferences.
I’ve seen Duffner bark out orders in training camp. I’ve seen him grunt, growl and yell fiery, inspirational messages to his players.
Duffner has tremendous leadership qualities and the fact that he wanted to stay on the sidelines and call plays to be closer to the action speaks volumes. The Bucs defense responded by holding Cleveland to 23 points, generating a season-best five sacks, playing tighter coverage and limiting the Browns to just 3-of-14 on third down conversions and 0-of-2 on fourth downs conversions.
But that’s not all.
Right after halftime of the Bucs vs. Browns game, Duffner did something I haven’t seen done at the NFL level. He called the entire defense over into a huddle on the sidelines while Tampa Bay’s offense took the field.
The Bucs had just lost middle linebacker, team captain, the heartbeat of the defense and Li-Ti-Rilla – Kwon Alexander – to a torn ACL right before halftime. Duffner saw his defensive players a little lifeless coming out of the tunnel and wanted to fire them and give them purpose.
“One of our brothers just went down,” Duffner barked. “He’s given his heart and soul for this thing right now. You have 30 minutes to give your heart and soul on his behalf. That’s how we play! We play together! We play with guts! We play with terror! That’s what needs to be demonstrated on the field by each and every one of you in the next 30 minutes! Be relentless and leave no stone unturned!”
If you want to hear Duffner’s fiery speech yourself and see the real Coach Duff – start watching the latest Mic’d Up video on Buccaneers.com featuring Beau Allen (which is incredibly well done, by the way) at the 3:40 mark.
Bucs linebacker and team captain Lavonte David, who will now be calling the defense in Alexander’s absence, talked about Duffner’s impact on Sunday.
“Everyone knows Coach Duffner and Coach Duff is always a vocal guy and everybody knows him,” David said. “He has everybody’s respect and everybody has his respect. When we found out he was going to be the next guy up we knew we had to rally behind Coach Duff.”
David discussed Duffner’s emotional tribute to Alexander.
“It was just a situation where we lost our starting Mike linebacker on defense,” David recalled. “Coach Duff just brought everybody together to make sure we knew that we stayed together and keep going and there was no let down. There has to be no drop off because Kwon is such a pivotal part of this defense and this football team. To see him go down in a situation like that, it’s tough. But you have to remember that you are in a football game. That’s basically what he said – no let up.”
Tampa Bay’s defense wasn’t the same without Alexander in the second half. They gave up 21 second-half points – 14 of which came off short fields on change-of-possessions. But did have an inspiring goal line stand, and most importantly, didn’t allow the Browns to score in two overtime possessions.
Overall, the Bucs defense played better than it had since a 27-21 victory over Philadelphia in Week 2. The pass rush came alive, and there were no blown coverages that had plagued the defense in the last couple of games.
“Coach always said, whatever defense he calls, you have to make it work,” David said. “We were able to communicate and talk it out and everybody was in the right place at the right time and it showed today. We had a lot of tight coverages and there weren’t a lot of mental errors out there today. Guys were out there playing football and having fun.”
After the game, David told me the key was Duffner simplifying things. When I asked him for a specific he alluded to the fact that Smith would call a myriad of coverages – some of which may not have been practiced during the week and were not a part of the initial game plan, which was challenging for a secondary that featured three rookies in cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart and strong safety Jordan Whitehead.
“He just kept everything simple,” David said. “We weren’t having guys thinking a lot. We called the calls we practiced and executed, and everybody was settling down and making plays.
“The main thing was sticking with coverages that we’ve always played. Going into the game plan, we’re going to play this, play this, play this and play this. And bam – we’re going to master these coverages, and that’s what we did.”
David also said that the entire defense started to watch the game film together as a unit at Duffner’s instance.
“Everybody as a group defensively – D-line, linebackers and DBs – we all watched the film together and talked everything out,” David said. “We communicated and executed.”
And they won.
Duffner inspired his players and simplified things – and the Bucs defense had a much better showing because of it.