The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be running a 4-3 one gap system in 2012 as stated by defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. He and head coach Greg Schiano have also stated their intent on mixing things up with “odd” fronts and other alignments. A few days ago we looked at the basic alignment to expect. A 4-3 “over” or “under” only specifies where the linemen align themselves. The player most impacted is the “under tackle” who currently is Gerald McCoy. The goal is to have McCoy match up against the weak side guard in hopes of presenting a mismatch. Like Warren Sapp in the 90’s, McCoy also has been used in both the under and over alignments. The biggest difference between 2010 and 2011 was how offenses defended McCoy. In 2010, McCoy saw a healthy amount of man on man opportunities against the guards. In 2011, teams often had the center get his hands on McCoy, ensuring he would have two linemen to beat instead of just one. The good news is this resulted in better gaps for Bennett, Clayborn and Price. Even though McCoy did not produce the big plays, he did impact the game up front.
Though this explains the alignment of the front four, there is now coverage to take into consideration. The Bucs were forced to run plenty of zone coverage, which kept the safeties from being as aggressive as they could have been. This put more pressure on the linebackers as the second line of defense. In addition to their gap responsibilities they also had to ensure the proper coverage. Where things went bad was against the run. Too many times, the linebackers took poor angles or were too hesitant in adjusting to a run play. When they weren’t hesitant, they over-pursued and often were sucked into the flow of the offensive line instead of “spilling” the ball carrier. This allowed any back with decent cut-back ability plenty of options. When they did get it right, the tackling was non-existent. The result was a league worst 156 yards per game rushing average allowed defensively.
Where Raheem went wrong was in the belief he could replicate the success of those before him. Geno Hayes and Quincy Black are good players, but they are far from Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles. Each had an uncanny nose for the ball and speed to cover their errors. They were adept at reading quarterbacks in coverage and quick to the ball against the run. In 2011, both Hayes and Black were charged with playing their roles in the cover two scheme. When offenses ran the ball, their poor angles proved costly as the secondary and Mason Foster were tied up with coverage assignments. Once running backs entered the second level, it was then on the secondary to handle bringing him down since Black and Hayes had taken the wrong paths. This is why the poor tackling techniques of the defense were so costly throughout the season. A basic discipline became a complex issue to fix. The number one necessity for a Cover 2 scheme is efficient tackling. LaVonte David was selected because of his work ethic and nose for knowing where the ball will be. He was the heart of the Nebraska defense, always seemingly around the ball on every play. Combined with his solid core skills and coverage ability, the issues from last year will be a thing of the past. Still, the issue with a lack of pressure up front remains.
In order to negate the focus on McCoy, there are several things I believe Schiano will do. A look at the corner back’s taken explains plenty. In Leonard Johnson and Keith Tandy, the focus was on physicality and their ability to keep the ball in front of them. The shift of Ronde Barber to safety also gives the Bucs the ability to run more Cover 0, Cover 1 and Cover 3 type coverages. By doing this, a variety of assignments can be employed. Bringing up the strong safety (Mark Barron) would force opposing quarterbacks and linemen to account for his placement in the box, adding a level of confusion instead of showing base cover 2. After comparing 2010 and 2011, there was far too little of this. Whenever it did take place, the pressure on the quarterback was drastically better. Mark Barron played the role well in college and wasn’t drafted so highly to play a cover 2 defense. Even if Barron is not used to blitz and settles in coverage, just the fact he is in the box will cause disruption. Since he will be setting down on the strong side, it also bears to consider seeing more of McCoy playing in an “over” alignment. Whereas Derrick Brooks often followed behind Warren Sapp, the use of having Barron on the same side of McCoy could pay dividends. By shifting the focus to more than just McCoy on the weak side, the probability of mismatches grows significantly if he’s moved to the “over” or strong side. Moving Barron into the box also allows for easy transition into a Cover 3 should the defense audible out of a more aggressive play call. This is why the drafting of Barron over Claiborne proved to be the best decision despite what all us analysts believed. It was these shifts and blitzes by John Lynch which made his such a great safety. Though Sean Jones was unable to fill that role, there is little doubt Mark Barron can.
Though hind sight is 20-20, the bottom line is no defense would have been effective with the poor fundamentals this team displayed last season. Given every one of these players earned the right to play in the NFL, the question is not in their talent, but of their habits. Raheem Morris does bear plenty of blame, but these players are the ones whom ultimately quit. Even without the addition of so many highly touted draft picks, the hiring of Greg Schiano and his shift towards details would have provided better results. His no nonsense attitude will not allow history to replicate itself. When I spoke on Schiano and Dominik showing they had a plan during the draft, it was a testament to their understanding of the exact athletes needed to make their vision reality. Schiano now has the tools and it looks like he knows how to use them.