FAB 2. Inside Bowles’ Bucs Defense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to transition to a 3-4 Under defensive front in base defense under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, although Bowles will mix up the looks from play to play in an effort to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Sometimes the Bucs will feature four defensive linemen or perhaps just two, but Bowles is expected to play a healthy dose of 3-4 schemes as the Bucs’ base defense.
Tampa Bay’s existing personnel can transition to a 3-4 front, as I outlined in a previous SR’s Fab 5 column. The biggest difference from the past years under former defensive coordinator Mike Smith is that the defensive linemen won’t be asked to lock on to a guard or tackle and control their man to free up the Bucs linebackers to make a play.
In Bowles’ scheme, each member of Tampa Bay’s front seven will attack their gap and attempt to get a tackle for loss or a sack with the secondary playing a healthy dose of man coverage with a single high safety on most passing downs, occasionally reverting to Cover 2 Man Under.
The Big Takeaway
A 3-4 Under front features a three-man defensive line consisting of a strongside defensive end, typically playing a five technique with outside shading of the offensive tackle, a nose tackle playing a one-technique over the center playing on the strong side of the line, and a three technique defensive tackle playing with outside shading over the guard in the B gap.
As you would expect, there are four linebackers in a 3-4 scheme – two inside ‘backers and two outside ‘backers. It’s the same style of defense that the Los Angeles Rams and Baltimore Ravens run, but to the naked eye it can also resemble a 4-3 front because sometimes the WILL (weakside) linebacker will have his hand down in a three-point stance.
Regardless of whether the Bucs will be in a 3-4, a 4-3 or a 3-3 front, Tampa Bay will be attacking the line of scrimmage and playing one gap.
I called on Bucs linebacker and former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter, who was Arizona’s second-round pick in 2013 and played under Bowles for two years, to assist in breaking down Tampa Bay’s new defensive scheme.
Quotes That Matter
“His mindset is to attack,” Minter said of Bowles. “Exotic defenses and exotic blitzes – I remember we had four or five new blitzes that we had to learn every week. There were different packages where he would bring guys from all over the field – corners, safeties and linebackers, of course. Tampa should be excited to have a D-coordinator like that.”
Minter went on to identify the linebacker positions in Bowles’ scheme.
“The four linebackers are SAM, WILL, MIKE and MO,” Minter said. “The two outside guys are SAM and WILL on the strongside and weakside. MIKE is what you think it is – he’s the middle linebacker that is on the closed side (strongside) of the defense. MO aligns inside on the open side (weakside) in the base defense.”
Because the Bucs will be playing quite a bit of nickel defense at least two-thirds of the time in the modern day NFL, Bowles uses two linebackers and either three cornerbacks and two safeties, or three safeties and two cornerbacks in the secondary.
“In nickel the linebackers are called Backer and Moneybacker,” Minter said. “The Moneybacker is the linebacker that normally aligns to the tight end side. He’s designated as the Money, and the guy away from him is typically the Backer, but Coach might switch it up. I heard that he’s going to change some stuff up, but that’s what I came up on in Arizona and with the Jets last year.”
Minter said that the defense isn’t just centered around the linebacker play.
“It’s not just linebacker-friendly, Coach Bowles has a little bit of everything for everybody in this defense,” Minter said. ““Kwon and Lavonte will thrive in this scheme – absolutely. They’ll both like Coach Bowles as a person, too. They’ll like both B.A. and Coach Bowles.
“The linebackers will love this defense and so will the safeties, but it’s a pretty well-rounded defense. He’s got stuff in there for everybody to make plays. Even our base defense is built for everybody – whoever wants to make the plays can make the plays. It’s one of those schemes where if everyone does their job there will be enough plays to go around.”
Stories You Have To Read
In researching Bowles’ defense and play-calling tendencies I came across two really good articles that are worth reading.
The second article is from GangGreenNation.com from 2015 and discussed what style of defense Bowles was going to bring to New York when he became head coach of the Jets after two seasons as Arizona’s defensive coordinator under Arians.
Bucs defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers was the defensive coordinator under Bowles with the Jets from 2015-18.
The FABulous Ending
Arians didn’t rule out the Bucs remaining in a 4-3 or using a 4-3 scheme in Tampa Bay this year during his initial press conference.
“What we’ll do is what our players do best,” Arians said. “Three-four, four-three, some call is over and under. We call it different – they still line up the same. Not a two-gap team. We’re going to attack. As long as our players attack – in today’s NFL, you’re in nickel defense 70 percent of the time, so you’re playing a four-man line. We’ll have odd-man lines, we’ll have four-man lines. That’s just schematics to me.”
But the reality is that the Bucs hired two linebackers coaches in Mike Caldwell (inside) and Larry Foote (outside), and have just one defensive line coach in Rodgers. That tips Bowles’ hand to the reality that the Bucs’ base defense will likely be a 3-4 scheme.