Bucs LBs Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander - Photo by: Getty Images
The 2016 NFL season is at its midpoint and things aren’t exactly going as planned for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There’s the frustrating 0-4 home record. There are the depth issues exposed by a flood of injuries. There’s the up-and-down, erratic play of franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. There’s the kicker. There are the questionable game-management decisions of a first-time head coach.
And then there’s the defense.
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Getty Images
After consecutive games of surrendering a combined 73 points and 1,087 yards, all the preseason optimism surrounding new coordinator Mike Smith’s defensive scheme has been drained right out of One Buc Place.
Adding to the alarm and confusion of the situation are the struggles of weakside linebacker Lavonte David, one of the Bucs’ best all-around players since joining the club in 2012. The 26-year-old Miami native has averaged 144.3 tackles per season and finished as Tampa Bay’s leader in that statistical category for four straight years.
That appears to be changing in 2016. Not only is David not among the league leaders in tackles, he’s barely even in the top three on his own team. Middle linebacker Kwon Alexander’s 72 tackles pace the Bucs through eight games, followed by safety Bradley McDougald’s 48. David has 44, which ties him for third with safety Chris Conte. That puts David on pace for 88 on the year.
It didn’t take long for David’s odd reduction in productivity in Smith’s system to start attracting attention. The linebacker played all 66 snaps during a Week 2 drubbing in Arizona and didn’t log a single tackle. Two hits on the quarterback but not even an assisted tackle.
Fast-forward to last Thursday night against Atlanta and it was more of the same: four tackles and looking slow to react in coverage.
“There’s no getting around the numbers part, but Lavonte is being asked to do some different things than he was being asked to do the last couple years,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said Monday. “When we went back over this little mini-bye and looked at all the players, there were things that we can do better at every position, and linebacker is one of those positions.”
Bucs DC Mike Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Neither Koetter nor Smith dive into the details when asked about what those “different things” are that the linebacker is being asked to do. When asked about it during Monday’s open locker room media period, David didn’t either. He acknowledged there are different responsibilities to learn and get comfortable with, but that he’s not being held back by the system.
“I don’t think it’s taking me out of plays, I think it’s helping me,” David said. “It’s helping me be a better overall player, whether it’s coverage or whether it’s a run-fit. What you guys see outside is different than what people see inside, so that’s why I really don’t put too much into it.”
As for his thoughts on the middle linebacker being the primary tackler in Smith’s defense, David focused more on how each player needs to fulfill his responsibilities for the system to work.
“I think it’s just all about in this defense everybody has a certain fit,” David said. “Each guy has a fit where each guy … somebody has to make a play. A different player makes a play on a certain fit, so it all works hand-in-hand. It’s all about just playing together and everybody doing their job.”
As Koetter mentioned during his press conference, the numbers aren’t lying. David’s playing in his third defense in five years, starting with the Greg Schiano-Bill Sheridan combo and followed by Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier the last two seasons. The early returns don’t look pretty for the linebacker or the defense as a whole.
If we could just get some consistent pressure on the QB a lot of these issues with defense would be resolved. You just can’t give a good QB all day to scan the field. Way to much pressure on the backside of defense.
And the new Smith’s defense is actually worse than the old Smith’s defense. Hard to do!
Lovie Smith had two full seasons to show progress on the D, and he showed none. Mike Smith has had half a season, and for most of that half season his defensive line has been absolutely decimated by injury, even before the season started when we lost our best pass rushing DE to IR (Jacquis Smith).
Even Monty Kiffin’s HOF and Ring of Honor defenses went 1-8 in his first season, largely due to giving up 25 points a game … but in the last 7 games Monty’s D gave up only 13 ppg and the team went 5-2. It takes time for a new defense to produce results.
If Mike Smith is still producing bad defenses by the end of his second season, then yes, he should be shown the door. We’re a season and a half from that point though.
Learning a new defense always takes time, always. But I believe our biggest contributing problem has been injuries on key players on the line – namely, Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers, and Clinton McDonald, plus the entire season lost for our best sacking DE from last season, Jacquis Smith, and now also the recent loss of Howard Jones. And our other new DE talent, Noah Spence, is a rookie just starting to learn the NFL game and nowhere near his peak, as is typical for rookie DEs.
So with defensive line that has not been consistently productive in putting pressure on the quarterback (it’s been good against the weaker teams like the 49ers, but not effective, at least for four quarters, against strong offenses like the Cardinals, Falcons, and Raiders), it’s extremely difficult for the linebackers and back four to make up for a weak pass rush. The pass rush is the foundation for the entire pass defense.
McDonald is supposed to be able to play against the Bears next weekend, which will help immensely on the interior. If Ayers can get back to full strength as he was at the beginning of the season before he got injured, that should help a lot also, Spence continues to learn his trade. We are still short, however, of depth on the D-line, having to rely on backups and practice squad caliber guys to make up for not having Smith and Jones, so don’t expect miracles. But I do believe it is possible for the D-line to become reasonably effective, which will have a hugepositive effect on the LBs and the DBs.
if the defense gets torched by Jay Cutler and we lose to the Bears (again) then we can officially declare this season dead
I don’t know why fans are anxious to make declarations on seasons before the data are in. Why the rush?
As I’ve pointed out numerous times before here, Dungy and Kiffin went 1-8 in their first 8 games averaging about 25 ppg given up, then in the last 7 games went 5-2 averaging only 13 ppg allowed.
By your standard, we should have given up on both Dungy and Kiffin after the first half season. Instead of, you know, watching them improve greatly in the last 7 games and go to the playoffs the very next season for the first time since the early 80s. And then win an NFC championship a couple of seasons later … and then a coupla seasons after that, Kiffin with Gruden would win a Super Bowl.
I really don’t think its rocket science when it comes to Lovonte Davids production. He lead the team in tackles, but what really happened. A MLB by the name of Kwon Alexander came along and was put in a better position (not all cover 2) by a new DC and that cut into Davids 144/yr average. A new system with a hybrid (light and fast) Alexander and Davids role is greatly changed. Again with three coaches and 3 systems in 4 years, its going to take more than 8 games to adjust. We Know he can tackle so it must be mental. The league was quick to shun him, I hate to see his fans turn on him.
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