DLT’s Doubloons – Bucs’ Defense Has Become A Problem

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The Bucs’ ten-game winning streak crumbled to an end behind an enthusiastic crowd at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. The Los Angeles Rams showed they were not only ready to challenge the Buccaneers for supremacy in the NFC but may very well be the favorite at this early point in the season.

What I Liked

  • Tom Brady did Tom Brady things. While the offense continued to struggle with drops and dumb penalties, Brady threw for 432 yards, rushed for a touchdown and two first downs to keep Bucs drives moving. His offense put 24 points on the board against one of the best scoring defenses in the league.
  • Mike Evans quietly had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season against one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Evans finished with 8 receptions for 106 yds and had one of his better games of the season.

What I Didn’t

  • The Defense. See Pieces of Eight below – oh, we’re going to talk about it – A LOT.
  • When 44-year-old Tom Brady leads your team in rushing – it’s a problem.

Pieces of Eight

One

Sunday’s game made one thing crystal clear for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their defense is terrible. The secondary is in shambles (some of that can definitely be attributed to injuries but this team was also struggling to stop the pass before the injury bug hit), the pass rush is non-existent. They can’t get off the field on third down. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

The Bucs are in deep, deep trouble. This isn’t an overreaction to the first loss since November – it is a fact. The Bucs defense hasn’t shown up in 2021 and it’s gone from a weird anomaly to a disturbing trend to now an alarming problem.

Tampa Bay is ranked 26th in total defense. 31st against the pass and 27th in scoring defense. They are 30th in the NFL in sacks.

This is the same team that in 2020 was 6th in total defense, 21st against the pass, 8th in scoring defense, and 4th in sacks.

What in the Barrett Ruud has happened to this Buccaneer defense? It’s as if former Bucs DC Mike Smith and DC Todd Bowles had a body swap.

Injuries are certainly a factor – but they aren’t the only factor.

Two

One thing that my mind keeps coming back to is all the talking players like Devin White and Carlton Davis did in the off-season. Davis went so far as to give the secondary a nickname, the Gravediggers. It may be apropos if the Bucs can’t get it figured out, because that secondary is going to bury Tampa Bay’s opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Think about it. Everyone expected this defense to just pick up right where it left off. All 11 starters of the Super Bowl defense that destroyed Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were back. The same players who foiled Aaron Rodgers bid for NFC Championship glory and ended Drew Brees’ career with a pick-six were back.

So what is it? A Super Bowl hangover? Has the Bucs defense been reading too many of their own press clippings and sniffing themselves a little too much?

Where is Devin White – whose biggest contribution to Sunday’s action was picking his own player to set up a touchdown for the Rams?

Where is Shaq Barrett? I thought JPP missed the game, not both of them.

Where is Lavonte David? Six tackles? For Lavonte David? Are you kidding me?

Todd Bowles better be having a Come-to-Jesus meeting with these boys this week.

Three

So what can the Bucs do about it? The backend of the roster guys like Cockrell and Delaney are just overmatched right now. Tampa Bay has veteran Pierre Desir on the practice squad, he’ll likely be elevated unless the Bucs find some outside help. Finding another quality veteran corner like Richard Sherman could help – but do we know how much Sherman has left? At the time of this writing, the Bucs haven’t made that move or any others. At this point, he can’t be much worse so it could be worth rolling the dice on it. They could also trade for someone, there’s plenty of disgruntled ones out there.

More importantly, though, Todd Bowles needs to get back into the lab and try to devise some new schemes, because his current blitz packages aren’t working in 2021. Devin White can’t seem to get himself past running backs into block, so maybe rush David instead? Find a way to get Shaq, JPP (when healthy), and Tryon-Shiyonka more free runs with a new assortment of blitz schemes or games on the line of scrimmage.

Or dang it, maybe get these guys on the tackling dummy and tell them to man the heck up. They aren’t winning their one-on-ones quick enough. You can’t say that offenses are just getting rid of the ball quickly when Matthew Stafford is standing back there reading the Sunday Times and then tossing bombs to Desean Jackson.

It’s Bowles’s job to grab this defense by the throat, slap ’em around, and get them to wake the heck up.  This defense has way too much talent and experience to play this badly.

Four

While the defense certainly takes the brunt of their first loss (and the disturbing trend that could lead to a few more), there’s a big problem on offense that’s going to need to be rectified soon – and that’s the running game. Look, we all know Ronald Jones is in the doghouse. Leonard Fournette has played better but he lacks the explosiveness that Jones provides on the ground. Yet Jones’ liabilities in the passing game make it so that putting him in the ball game is a key tell that the Bucs are going to try and run the football. More than anything else – when your 44-year-old quarterback leads your team in rushing as Tom Brady did on Sunday – friends – that’s not good. That’s a problem.

Bruce Arians’ excuse is the game got away from them and they had to throw the ball. I’m sorry, the Bucs were down 21-7 with still 14:02 left in the third quarter. That doesn’t mean you have to suddenly start chucking it all around the yard – there was plenty of time to establish the running game and maybe give your defense a chance to collect themselves before having to head back out there.

If Jones or Fournette cannot become more of a threat, those play-action passes Tom Brady is so darned good at will stop working. Teams will start flooding the passing lanes, daring you to run the football and taking away Tom’s ability to be able to find his receivers. Don’t be surprised if you see that from Belichick this week. He’ll want to take Tom away and make you have to run it to win.

Five

Tom Brady crossed the 80,000 yd passing threshold and is now just 68 yards away from passing Drew Brees as the all-time leader in passing yards in NFL History. He’ll get a chance to do it (barring a catastrophe) at the place where the majority of his yards were accumulated, Foxboro.  Almost fitting, isn’t it?

The game against the Patriots will be one that will be talked about for a long, long time. You know if there’s one game Belichick never wants to lose – it’s that one, and the same goes for Tom. The good news for Tom is that his guys are a lot better than Bill’s guys, but that doesn’t always translate on Sundays.

Six

While no panic buttons are being pushed in Tampa Bay, there’s certainly concern about the defense. The good news, as Jon Ledyard of the Pewter Report pointed out, the Bucs’ next few opponents at Quarterback aren’t exactly a murders row. With a lone exception, it’s a bunch of JAGs (Just-a-Guys), rookies, and underperforming top picks.

Only Josh Allen in Week 14 is considered upper echelon. So the defense, conceivably, has time to get right before facing Allen and that outstanding Bills offense…or they’re about to make a bunch of sorry QBs superstars.

Seven

The NFC South had a great day (except for the Bucs, of course). Carolina moved to the top of the division by dismantling the Houston Texans and remain undefeated at 3-0, but they lost their offensive juggernaut Christian McCaffrey for at least a few weeks, so we’ll have to see how that affects them. The Saints defense battered around Mac Jones and the Patriots to move to 2-1 and even the Falcons got a win on Sunday, edging out the equally god awful New York Giants on a last-second field goal.

Eight

Final thoughts on Sunday: You never want to be the team that is the last undefeated team in the league. Since 2000, only one team that was the last undefeated team in the league went on to win the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning’s 2006 Indianapolis Colts. 9 lost in the Super Bowl, 7 had an earlier playoff exit and 3 didn’t even make the playoffs. So, the Bucs got their loss out of the way early and won’t be that last team standing when it comes to being undefeated. So there’s that going for them, I guess.

Seriously, though. Consider last season, where at one point the Bucs were 7-5 and in danger of not making the playoffs. There’s definitely improvement that needs to be made, but there’s still time and as long as the team is consistently winning games and working on getting themselves better, they can peak at the time you want them to peak again.

Tweet of the Game

 

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