In 2019 there was a big change in the Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s defensive philosophy. When Bruce Arians was hired, he brought in Todd Bowles as his Defensive Coordinator. Bowles changed the Buccaneers base defense from a 4-3 front to a 3-4. Some fans were wary of this change initially, but any reservations about the change quickly were quickly alleviated when they saw the product on the field. In this review, we will look back on the season Tampa’s defensive line had.
Tampa Bay’s Dominant Rush Defense
Tampa Bay’s run defense was incredibly good in 2019. The team went from 24th in the league in 2018, to number one in 2019. It’s the first time since 2012 that Tampa Bay had the best run defense in the NFL and only the second time in over 30 years. They weren’t just number one in the league against the run this season, they were by far the best. Giving up an average of 78 yards per game. The next best team was the New York Jets, who allowed an average of 86.
On the road to finishing number one, Tampa Bay faced off against many of the NFL’s best running backs. The list contains names like Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry, Chris Carson, David Johnson, Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman, Christian McCaffrey, and Alvin Kamara. Carson was the only one of those players to reach 100 yards. Derek Henry, who was the league’s top rusher in 2019, only gained 75 yards and lost a fumble when the Buccaneers played at Tennesse.
Manning The Front Line
William Gholston, Vita Vea, and Ndamukong Suh were the primary guys playing up front, with guys like Carl Nassib, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Beau Allen and Jason Pierre-Paul rotating with them throughout games. Gholston, Vea, and Suh were the team’s workhorses when it came to the run game. Clogging up holes and giving the linebackers lanes to penetrate to reach running backs. Not everyone had flashy stats, but they were all integral to the defense’s success.
In a 3-4 defense, the front three aren’t usually strong pass-rushers. In the case of the Buccaneers, that wasn’t the case. Vea and Suh were both very good at pushing the pocket back and creating pressure on the quarterback. Only Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul had more quarterback hits. When Pierre-Paul returned from his neck injury the team would regularly have Carl Nassib line up at defensive end and he did very well in that role. The teams pass rush was potent when he was on the field at defensive end, Vea and Suh next to him with Pierre-Paul and Barrett on the edges.
Keeping It Together
Suh, Nassib, Pierre-Paul, Allen, and Nunez-Roches are all set to become free agents this offseason. Pierre-Paul is a Tampa native and would prefer to finish his career with the Bucs, so I expect a deal to be reached with the two parties. Suh had a big impact in his first season with the team. He was strong in both run and pass defense and also scored two touchdowns off fumble recoveries, tied for most in the NFL. Bringing him back should be high on general manager Jason Licht’s priority list.
Carl Nassib’s versatility is his greatest strength. Between playing outside linebacker and Defensive End he finished the season with the third-most sacks on the team(6). If the price is right, the Buccaneers should pull the trigger on retaining him because he can be a valuable asset to this defense. There is a chance though that the team elects to go the route of filling some of these spots via the draft so that they can sign new players at other positions. This should be a very interesting offseason to follow. One that will shape the future of this team.