FAB 2. These Bucs Are Built To Stop The Run

New Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense is built to stop the run.

That’s welcome news for any Buccaneers defenders that tried to stop the run last year in Mike Smith’s system. Those players saw New York Giants rookie Saquon Barkley rush for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, while averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

They saw Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon rush for 123 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey totaled 185 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in both games against Tampa Bay last year, while averaging a gaudy 6.9 yards per carry average. New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara only rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in two games, but Kamara also had 148 receiving yards and a touchdown on 14 catches against Tampa Bay.

Giants RB Saquon Barkley
Giants RB Saquon Barkley – Photo by: Getty Images

This year, it’s been an entirely different story as Tampa Bay has the league’s No. 1 rushing defense, allowing just 59.2 yards per game on the ground through the first four weeks of the season.

Here are the top four running backs the Bucs have faced this season and the yardage those rushers have been held to:

49ers RB Matt Breida – 37 yards on 15 carries (2.5 avg.) with 0 TDs
Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey – 37 yards on 16 carries (2.3 avg.) with 0 TDs
NY Giants RB Saquon Barkley – 10 yards on eight carries (1.3 avg.) with 0 TDs
LA Rams RB Todd Gurley – 16 yards on five carries (3.2 avg.) with 2 TDs

Up next is New Orleans’ Pro Bowl rusher Alvin Kamara, who has rushed for 280 yards and a touchdown on 59 carries (4.7 avg.) with 20 catches for 199 yards (9.9 avg.) and one score in the passing game. With long-time Saints running back Mark Ingram gone to Baltimore via free agency, Kamara’s workload has increased, especially as a between-the-tackles rusher.

“Yeah, I think with Ingram gone,” Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. “That’s what he did at Tennessee. This guy’s a hell of a back. This is four [strong running backs] in a row, but he is indeed different at jet sweeps and the way Sean [Payton] using him to get him in space. He’s probably the most dangerous receiver of the group of running backs that we’ve played so far, as far as angle routes going to the house, matchups on backers and safeties – he’s a legitimate threat, like McCaffrey.”

Saints RB Alvin Kamara
Saints RB Alvin Kamara – Photo by: Getty Images

New Orleans is averaging 102.5 yards per game, which ranks 19th in the league. Will the Saints not even try to run the ball and attack the Bucs’ young secondary through the air like the Los Angeles Rams did last week?

The fact that the Rams only ran the ball 11 times, including five with Gurley, for a total of 28 yards was likely a product of Tampa Bay having an early 21-0 lead, but shocking nonetheless.

“I’m not sure what they were thinking or what their game plan was, but they sure went away from the run quickly,” Bucs inside linebacker Kevin Minter said. “You would like to say they respect our run defense, but they are explosive in the passing game. We are establishing some respect around the league because we are pretty stout against the run defensively.”

If the Bucs were to keep up this torrid pace against the run all season then Tampa Bay would allow just 947 yards on the ground during the 2019 campaign, which would easily be a franchise record. Even some of Tampa Bay’s best all-time defenses haven’t been able to limit teams to less than 1,000 yards on the ground over an entire season.

1999 Buccaneers – ranked 5th in run defense – 1,407 rushing yards allowed
2002 Buccaneers – ranked 5th in run defense – 1554 rushing yards allowed
2005 Buccaneers – ranked 6th in run defense – 1,515 rushing yards allowed

Having the league’s top-ranked run defense doesn’t always mean that a team has a good defense. In 2012 during Greg Schiano’s first season as head coach in Tampa Bay, the Bucs had the top-ranked run defense, allowing just 1,320 yards (82.5 ypg) over the course of a season.

Bucs LB Lavonte David and former coach Greg Schiano
Bucs LB Lavonte David and former coach Greg Schiano – Photo by: Getty Images

But Tampa Bay’s opponents didn’t even try to run the ball that year, instead attacking the Bucs’ secondary, which was ranked dead last in the league, surrendering 4,758 (297.4) yards that year. That was the most passing yards ever allowed in an NFL season until the New York Giants surrendered 4,783 passing yards in 2015. Schiano’s 2012 defense ranked 29th in yards (379.9 avg.) and 23rd in points (24.6 avg.) that year, which wasn’t good.

The Bucs currently rank 21st in total defense (377.5 avg.) and 30th in points (29.2 avg.), but that statistic is inflated due to three pick-sixes by quarterback Jameis Winston. Tampa Bay’s pass defense is ranked 31st in the league (318.2 avg.) after allowing Rams quarterback Jared Goff to complete 45-of-68 passes for 517 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

“I think Sean McVay made a choice that he was going to throw the ball and not try to run it, which, having played them in the past, it’s a little bit different,” Arians said. “To throw it 70 times or whatever it was – I’ve never seen it, I’ve never lost to it and it was a lot of yards. It’s a conscious decision.”

Tampa Bay’s pass defense is on a collision course for the record books in a dubious way – on pace to allow 5,091 passing yards this year, which would shatter the Giants’ record. The Bucs defensive backs have been picked on in recent weeks, especially after Tampa Bay’s offense jumped out to early 18-point and 21-point leads against New York and Los Angeles, respectively.

But cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III isn’t worried, and notes how Goff threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on a Shaq Barrett sack that turned into a Tampa Bay touchdown.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead
Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Getty Images

“They have to be right every time they throw the ball,” Hargreaves said. “We have to be right only once and we can force an incompletion or get a turnover. We definitely want to make quarterbacks throw the ball on us because you can see what happened last week. Make the QB make a read and earn his money and we’ll see how it goes from there.”

Hargreaves is talking about the old football adage that five things can happen when a team throws the ball – a completion, an incompletion, an interception, a sack or a penalty – and usually only one or two of those things are good for the offense.

“That’s huge for us,” Hargreaves said. “Coach Bowles doesn’t play that – you aren’t going to run the ball on us. He’s not having it. We take pride in that, especially the defensive front seven. They know what’s coming. They know what to do. They know their gaps. They’re all smart, and they play from the neck up. And they all play together. We have a coach who emphasizes shutting down the running game, so it’s going to be tough for teams to run on us this year.”

Although the recent emphasis has been put on the passing game in the NFL due to rule changes that favor throwing the ball, it still makes sense for teams to want to establish the run first on offense and stop the run first on defense.

Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh and OLB Carl Nassib
Bucs DT Ndamukong Suh and OLB Carl Nassib – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“When offensive coordinators get cautious of calling run plays and they end up in third-and-long situations because they can’t run, it really limits the play-calling,” Bucs guard Ali Marpet said. “It lets the defense pin its ears back and control the game and do what it wants to do.”

Fellow guard Alex Cappa agreed with Marpet’s assessment, and looked at it from the Buccaneers’ offensive perspective.

“When you’re able to run the ball and run it multiple consecutive times, it’s a good thing, and we think we can get even better, too,” Cappa said. “It’s hard when you can’t run the ball like last year. When you can run it and establish a running game, it makes everything easier. You can use play-action and not have to drop back as many times. It definitely gives you confidence as a lineman when you can run the ball. It makes pass protection easier too, because we can wear down defensive linemen.”

Bucs inside linebacker Lavonte David said that the Rams didn’t even test Tampa Bay’s run defense last week.

“That’s true – they didn’t even try to run it against us,” David said. “It was a sign of respect. When you are playing the Rams, the main thing is to stop Todd Gurley. That’s what we tried to do. It worked. They did have a great day in the passing game throwing the ball 68 times, but also with a lot of turnovers. We’ll take that anytime. You want to make teams one-dimensional because everybody wants to establish the run. Once we got that out of the way we could dictate what we wanted them to do.”

Bucs DC Todd Bowles
Bucs DC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Because the Saints won’t have Brees this week, he knows Payton will favor a more balanced offense with a healthy dose of Kamara running the ball to take some of the pressure off Bridgewater. Arians signaled that Bowles’ Bucs run defense will be ready and waiting.

“We’ve [played against] three really good backs that I don’t think have 100 yards total between them,” Arians said. “We’re built to run and stop the run, and then get after the quarterback and take shots. That’s our M.O. and we’re not changing.”

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

30 COMMENTS

  1. I think you’re spot-on withe the defense Scott. “Built to stop the run”. We have really 1 pass rusher, and 4 other guys on the line (Suh, Vea, Nassib and Gholston) typically that have fewer sacks in their career than Barret has through 4 games 🙂

    That’s not a knock – it’s a very interesting strategy to playing defense that I think Bowles is pushing quite well…However (there’s always a “however”)…that means teams are going to pass….and our secondary is abysmal. This should be the flashing red light that warns the GM to get some help….unfortunately our GM is like Homer Simpson at the switch watching the red light flash and commenting on how pretty it looks.

    Anyway, on to RoJo…it’s amazing what a young kid with talent can do if you let him touch the ball more than 30 times in a season.

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    • That same “Homer Simpson GM” is also the same guy who brought in Suh, Nassib, Gholston oh and wait…Shaq Barrett.

      But you have got to be right, huh?

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      • Well, Gholston was brought to Tampa (in the 2013 draft to be specific) by Dominik….so maybe no more needs to be said about your post, and your need to be right, huh.

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        • …and was kept by Licht with a second contract.

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          • the statement was “brought in” by Licht….Gholston was “brought in” by Dom…but if we want to give Licht credit for re-signing guys, then I guess we need to ding for not re-signing guys like Donald Penn who made two pro bowls after Licht got rid of him and is still starting in the league, still rating higher than Donovan Smith (unbelievably!!); like Bradley McDougald who made the pro bowl last year….TBH, the list should really be a long one, but he’s done so poorly bringing guys to town, that there aren’t more good ones who have moved on.

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    • You obviously missed the whole point of the article. Bowles & BA wants you to throw the ball 70 times BA quote “I have never lost to it”. The philosophical belief is when you throw it that much it will force turnovers. The CB’s are on an island the whole game, there job is to make an open field tackle, not necessarily Pass Breakups.

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      • Not sure if your comment Captain was directed at me, but when I said “it’s a very interesting strategy to playing defense that I think Bowles is pushing quite well”, what I meant was,

        it’s a very interesting strategy to playing defense that I think Bowles is pushing quite well….sorry if that was confusing.

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        • I am referring directly toward your comments “our secondary is abysmal” and our GM starring at a “flashing red light”….

          The GM allowed BA & Bowles to draft the CB’s that fit their scheme. Why are you beating up on Licht when we are winning with the new scheme and players?

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          • Not defending what East said, but the Bucs DBs have to start getting better at following #54’s lead and jumping routes now. They do that, and they’ll become a secondary which opposing teams will have to take seriously.

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          • ok – I’m not trying to be a downer. It’s great that we won last weekend, and that we’re now 2-2.

            But any casual observer can see that turning the corner with our franchise, as we’ve been trying to do for the better part of two decades, is not going to happen with the secondary we have. We can get better – indeed we are much better, but we just got torched for 500 yards (by a guy with the 25th best QBR)…we’re 31st in pass defense! On any given Sunday that Jameis doesn’t have the best game of his career (as he did last Sunday) we are in trouble, and that’s not fair to Jameis, the offense, or the run defense.

            Why? Our GM has spent 5 of our last 11 premium picks (round 1 and 2) in his 5-year draft tenure, on the secondary!!!…which is 31st in the league. I’m hard on him, because he has spent a lot of resources – as our supposed expert in this area – and whiffed repeatedly. In fact, the best player to come through our secondary during his tenure, is a guy he decided to let walk….and made the pro bowl last year for Seattle.

            So, if I’m going to jump on the Jason Licht bandwagon, I’m going to need much more in the results department…10 wins, playoffs, some of the guys he’s drafted actually making the pro bowl, a better track record in FA (I know Barrett is great – he is, but I haven’t forgotten Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins, Swaggy Baker, Vinny Curry, Robert Ayers, and on and on)….you could take as many swings as Licht has and eventually find a diamond…I need something more consistent to jump on that bandwagon.

            At the moment – I’m leaning much more towards all of those fans that said 2019 was going to be better because of coaching.

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  2. Exactly. Suh brings the attitude McCoy never did. Respect from opponents and teammates. McCoy was soft and a cry baby and that tainted the defense. Always excuses and now its stout. Sunday is a big test!

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  3. I won’t play my greatest hits on why McCoy was so overrated. Suh was always going to be an upgrade over McCoy on the field. This team was always going to have to stop the run first to be successful.

    I’m as happy as a puppy with two peters over the performance of the defense so far, even including secondary play. Fast, physical, and swarming to the ball.

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  4. Good information Scott.

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  5. Our run defense is incredible with those 2 big boys taking up space. Its not even close if you ask me who id rather have, suh or mccoy. It also speaks to how coaching can make a huge difference, although some don’t believe that. Im looking at you naples.
    Amazing when a coach has faith in you what it can do, in the cases of jameis and jones in particular. Barret is just an animal and you cant say enough about this guy. And hes only going to get better once jpp gets back in the thick of it.
    As for the cosching staff, anyone looking at Atlanta and seeing things eerily similar? A crappy run game and a qb that has the most picks in the nfl? Thats koetter in a nut shell and he looks worse by the day. I have a ton of faith in this staff, stack a win this week and we will be in great shape!

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  6. Suh brings an attitude that permeates the defense. Sure he’s past his prime, but there’s no mistaking his impact on the run defense and he looked pretty fast on the scoop fumble. Listened to an interview with Jordan Whitehead this week and he said Suh is pretty quiet, goes about his business but works hard. Then vs. the Panthers Suh speaks up in the huddle late fourth quarter and said they were gonna stop ’em and everyone took notice. I like that.

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    • Licht and his guys in the front office are going to have some tough decisions to make this off season. It seems like we’re finally going to spend some real money on defense (Shaq and hopefully Suh as well), justifiably so based on the first 4 games of this season. However, I’m thinking it will only come at the expense of cutting or trading some solid players on both sides of the ball. If we keep getting better as the season wears on, it just makes the off season next year more interesting.

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  7. “I’ve learned a lot from watching him play,” Vea said of Suh. “He’s all about his business. He’s a real professional and I’ve learned a lot from him on and off the field. He gets a lot of double teams for us. He does a lot of the dirty work and I get a lot of the one-on-ones because of him. Obviously they are going to double Suh before they double me.”

    Mic drop on Geraldini.

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    • I would like to see Suh run at the goal line with Vea as his lead blocker!

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  8. The secondary is young you don’t fix it overnight. It will get better but calling it abysmal and trashing Licht is stupid imo. They will get better and can’t fix every issue on this team in one draft.

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    • Reps will turn our inexperienced speedy young  DBs into experienced, speedy and competent professionals.  They are still “terribly” young.

      ___________
      Go Bucs!!!

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  9. Suh is a beast I don’t care about stats he’s one of big reasons for run defense being number 1. Vea been stout as well.

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  10. Suh is everything we all hoped McCoy would be, but never was, or could be. Glad we got him, and he’s rubbing off on the rest of the defense in a good way. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a carry, or lead block near the goal line like Sapp used to. His speed on that scope, and score was impressive. He sure doesn’t look past his prime to me. Rojo has put on some muscle this season, but Koetter’s offenses just don’t commit to the run game. Just look at Atl. Freeman only had 12 carries last week while Ryan threw 60 something times. The last time Freeman’s numbers looked this bad was his rookie season, when Koetter was his O.C.. Backs have to get carries to be effective, and O linemen have to get opportunities to run block to wear down defenses. I’m glad we’re finally doing just that.

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  11. I agree that the secondary has left a lot to be desired. I do not agree that they are hopeless. Football Outsiders rates Carlton Davis as the 10th best cornerback in the NFL based on the first four week and with a 65% success rate. He has played very well as have the two safeties who show a lot of potential.

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  12. Bucs need another CB to step up. Edwards, Whitehead and Davis will be fine long term.

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    • Don’t forget Justin Evans. That Safety’s room is looking pretty solid as it stands, but add Justin back to the mix….. MJ’s snap count is gonna be WAY down.

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  13. Good read!

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  14. That Baldinger video of Shaq Barrett has me laughing and laughing and laughing! How can you not get excited watching what SB has done in the first quarter of the season?! INCONCEIVABLE! Baldy is right, defensive ends around the league would love to end a FULL season with Shaq’s stats 1/4 of the way through! GO BUCS!!

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    • Not sure if it was intended, but I definitely heard Vizzini’s voice when I read this

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      • Definitely the intended implication! LOL! Funny moment in that movie!

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  15. The Lams had a very young coach and we had an old pro. The results are to be expected.

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