The 2017 season was supposed to be the year that this team took that next step towards being contenders. But the way they’ve played in the first 6 games so far has made them look like pretenders. Looking good on paper doesn’t mean a damn thing if you look like shit on the field. And they have definitely looked like shit on the field…literally. No pass rush. Not filling in run gaps. Poor tackling. Soft coverage. Mental mistakes. It’s been ugly and tough to watch to be quite honest.
The d-line that was supposed to be ravaging quarterbacks this year has been ineffective to say the least. They have a total of 7 sacks so far in 6 games which is bad enough for worst in the league. They aren’t getting enough push up the middle and they aren’t getting enough pressure off the edge. Yes, they’ve had injuries. Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker have both been banged up. Noah Spence hurt his shoulder again and is now on the I.R. presumably for the remainder of the season. Jacquies Smith was supposed to be returning to help with the edge rush but he ended up getting released after yet another set back with his knee injury. Ryan Russell was injured last week against the Bills and may not play this week. Not the dominating four-man front rotation that we had all been hoping for this year.
McCoy and Clinton McDonald lead the way with only 2 sacks a piece with Noah Spence, Robert Ayers and Adarius Glanton all having one sack. That is not good enough. I thought that this defense would make a run at the franchise record of 45 sacks set back in 2004, but that’s a bit of a stretch at this point even if they do get their shit together. Are some of the players being misused under Mike Smith’s scheme? Gerald McCoy seems to think that he is at least. I do agree with some that are of the opinion that the Bucs are using too many twists and stunts. Stop with all the tricks and gimmicks. Just let these boys go hunt and eat. Gerald McCoy is one of the best defensive tackles in the game today so stop handcuffing him and let him do what he does. Chris Baker had 10.5 sacks in his last two seasons with the Redskins so he seems capable of getting to the QB when he’s given the chance. So give him that chance. Robert Ayers has had 26 sacks in his last four seasons with the Broncos, Giants and Bucs, including 6.5 last season. He was ranked 5th in pressures among 4-3 defensive ends last season and seems to know how to get home and put the QB on the ground so let him free. Will Gholston, who’s had 3 sacks in each of the last two seasons has yet to find his way to an opposing QB, but he’s shown that ability so let him go to work. Will Clarke had 4 sacks last season with the Bengals so he can get the job done. And newcomer Darryl Tapp hasn’t had much production over the last few seasons, but he did have 18 sacks in his first four seasons with the Seahawks. These guys have the skills, but can the Bucs figure out a way to utilize them in a way that brings production?
It’s not just the d-line though. The Bucs have had significant injuries to the linebacking corps and secondary as well. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander have both missed games this season along with Brent Grimes, Keith Tandy and T.J. Ward. All important players. Add that to the regression of second year cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who I thought would have a breakout season with 7 interceptions, and you have the recipe for disaster. And now it appears that they’ll be without Grimes once again this weekend who’s still battling a shoulder injury, as well as cornerback Robert McClain who is still in concussion protocol. Not good.
This Buccaneers defense is currently ranked 23rd in total net yards, 30th in yards per game, 30th in passing yards per game, 17th in rushing yards per game and 29th in points allowed per game. They’re also tied for 21st in interceptions and 15th in takeaways. A really telling statistic is that they’re ranked 31st in third down percentage which is apparent by their inability to get off the field. Things are bad, folks. Really bad.
Players and coaches both say that everything is “easily fixable”. But is that really true? I mean if it were true, wouldn’t they or shouldn’t they have fixed the problems by now? You’d think after that embarrassing first half in Arizona that this team would’ve made the necessary corrections going into a “must win” game against the Bills. Am I right?
After Week 3 in Minnesota, the Bucs were already ranked dead last in the league in tackling efficiency at 82% missing 25 tackles in 139 attempts. And that was just in two games! I was unable to find current numbers for Week 7, but I can’t imagine that they’ve improved much since then. Missed tackles have been one of the major issues plaguing this team all year. Hell, they missed five tackles on the 3rd & 9 play against the Bills that gave Buffalo a first down and a chance at the game winning field goal. It’s a problem. A real problem.
There may be some issues with the scheme and possible misuse of players, but a majority of their deficiencies are basic fundamentals. Along with the onslaught of missed tackles, there’s the dilemma with staying in their run gaps which seems to be more of a discipline issue. There’s also the mental mishaps that are most likely linked to lack of preparation and focus. There also seems to be a small issue with players being out of position while attempting to do more than what’s expected of them within the confines of the system. In plain English, that means that some guys are freelancing, or trying to be “heroes”, rather than just doing their job within the scheme. Translation…they’re not playing as a cohesive unit the same way they were in the second half of last season when they were dominating.
So, what needs to happen for this defense to get back on track? If you listen to the players then it’s “Get back to work” or “Watch the film and learn from their mistakes”. In reality, they simply need to tackle better. Rush the quarterback better. Fill in their run gaps better. Cover better. Prepare better. Practice better. And for God’s sake, play better as a team. Now does that sound hard? I don’t think so. At least not for “professional” football players who get paid ridiculous amounts of money for doing those very things.
Something else that needs to happen is that Mike Smith needs to simplify this defensive scheme…again. That’s what they did last season after that second Atlanta game and the turnaround was almost immediate. Let your front four get after the quarterback. Let your linebackers run around and make tackles. Let your corners play physical up near the line of scrimmage. Allow your athletic safeties to run around and make plays. Let these guys play football. They all know how. Just turn them loose. Stop with the sophisticated game plans and tricky blitzes. Just let them play!
I dunno. I’m just a regular guy who played a little football when I was younger and has a slightly better than average knowledge of the game. Maybe I’m completely wrong. I’m no expert. Far from it. But I think that Mike Smith is overthinking things a bit. Much like a kicker who’s in a slump and begins analyzing every little nuance of his technique and form instead of simply…kicking. Mike Smith is trying to look at this roster and figure out which players fit best in each formation or each front or each coverage instead of simply putting the best 11 players on the field and letting them go to work. Like I said, I could be wrong and I probably am. But what do the Bucs have to lose by going back to basics? They’re already one of the worst defensive units, statistically speaking, in the entire league. Why not try something different? They may have to with the injuries they have going into this Sunday’s game against the Panthers.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!