The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense is looking improved in year two of Todd Bowles’ defensive system. With the same cast returning for the front seven, the defense looks poised to make a big leap over 2019’s season. Here is a look at where the front seven stands after two weeks and why they are dominating force.
Space Eating Defensive Interior
Ndamukong Suh has been impactful so far this season. Looking into the stat sheet, Suh made his presence known during week two after a slow week one start. He leaped onto the stat sheet with two sacks against the Panthers. That is half a sack away from his sacks from last season. Pro Football Focus (Subscription Required) grades Suh overall at a measly 47. His pass rush, however, looks much better at 63.2. To boost that score, Suh has added two quarterback hits. Though the low grade, it’s only after two weeks. If you average the last two weeks together, he is on pace to surpass all his 2019 stats.
Vita Vea, the highest-graded player among the front three, is still a space-eating, double team requiring menace on the interior. 22nd among 117 qualifying interior defenders, Vea has an overall grade of 71.9 on Pro Football Focus. So far his strength lies with his pass rush. Though it has abilities that may not show up on the stat sheet he clears the way for others to be productive and disruptive on defense.
Sometimes players have the potential to be stout, dependable, and reliable players, but it takes a certain coach to get them to reach that potential. Will Gholston could very well be that player. He did well under Todd Bowls in year one of his defense but only started eight games. So far for 2020, Gholston is sitting around 50.4% of the Buccaneers defensive snaps. He is making his playing time truly count. Thus far he has racked up a sack, nine tackles, three tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits. If he can continue this trend, he will have the best year of his career.
Off The Edge
Another player looking to get back to his old form and boost the defense is Jason Pierre-Paul. Pierre-Paul looks healthy and energized. Through two weeks he has logged a sack in each game. He has also added two quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. His presence is being felt and he should be impactful this season for the Buccaneers, further aiding this front seven to be dominant. Pro Football Focus grades his performance so far with an overall score of 66.7.
When you break out with 19.5 sacks in a season, offensive coordinators tend to game plan against you. Quarterbacks are certainly more aware of where you are lined up. Shaquil Barrett has not registered a sack or a quarterback hit yet this season, but his break out season last year may be facilitating other players to get to the quarterback. Once opposing offenses start to shift focus away from him, he should reemerge as a threat.
Tied for second among linebackers, Devin White has 17 solo tackles. When your front three can soak up offensive linemen, linebackers have free reign to fill the gaps created during the run game. With athletic ability, many linebackers find themselves in coverage duty. White has been asked to do both. Its only week two and White has 26 total tackles, two tackles for loss, and a quarterback hit. He is all over the field. Though he still needs to improve in coverage, he has two pass deflections to add to the stat sheet. If he can keep this up, he could post Lavonte David type numbers.
Not to be outdone yet by the young White, Lavonte David is still an underrated star. With a forced fumble, fumble recovery, 20 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack, he is still one of the best linebackers in the league. David is the sixth highest graded linebacker out of 117 qualifying players. Rated at 82.5 by Pro Football Focus, he remains the heart of the defense.
The Makings of Something Great
This group of players are starting to play at a dominant level. With the year playing out with no preseason games and other restrictions, teams have had a slow start to getting up to speed. The Buccaneers defense, benefiting from having its core starters return, is looking to be an overwhelming force that will stifle opposing offenses.
For more follow us on twitter @Bucs_Report and me at @BucSalty!