Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive schemes to expect and their impact

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers under coach Greg Schiano have moved into covert mode and little has been released on their defensive schemes. As read here in the past, there is ample evidence based on Schiano and Butch Davis’ history which lends itself to believe a “4-3 under” scheme will be run. If you have not read the manual written by then Miami Hurricanes coach Chuck Pagano, bang it here for some insight. As you will be able to see when looking at the diagrams, the line is in the “under” position and a heavy emphasis is put on the SAM linebacker and Strong Safety in coming up in the box to help. This is why drafting Mark Barron and LaVonte David was of utmost importance in the draft. If Barron and David prove as advertised in the NFL, the Bucs defense will see a massive improvement in all facets of the game.

There has been much justified criticism of Gerald McCoy and his lack of production. When Schiano and DC Bill Sheridan talk about alignment or technique issues being the biggest problem, they are spot on. Though Gerald played the “3 technique” (lining up on the weak side guard’s outside shoulder) exactly as prescribed, it was largely useless due to the rest of the defense not lining up properly. The defensive line was in place, but the strong side linebacker and safety were nowhere to be seen. The 4-3 “under” scheme works because it only gives the offense two “bubbles” (weak spots) in which they can attack with the rush. A 4-3 “over” allows for one more “bubble” which is why the “under” is the alignment of choice if a team is going to run a 4-3 scheme. In the Buccaneers situation last year, not having Sean Jones or Quincy Black in the box put the pressure on the defensive line alone to force pressure on the quarterback. When either Jones or Black did step in, there was a world of difference. By them not protecting those “bubbles”, it resulted in the league’s worst rush defense. It also allowed opposing centers to slide over and help in keeping McCoy at bay. When the alignments (techniques) were correct, McCoy had no problems beating his man and at least making his presence known in the backfield. In the diagram below, McCoy would be the “under tackle”.

To Raheem’s credit, the duo of Jones and Grimm did not allow for much creativity or assurance that one of them alone would contain the deep ball. Still, the burden of blame ultimately falls on Raheem. Trying to run a defense with only half of the equation is equivalent to trying to drive a car without stepping on the gas.  By moving Ronde Barber to safety, that assurance is now there. Mark Barron and Quincy Black/ LaVonte David will  be able to play the 4-3 “under” as designed. Though there will be more pressure on the corners, the pass rush will force quicker throws instead of allowing deeper routes to form.

Aside from the 4-3 “under” being the most likely base defense for the Bucs, Greg Schiano has stated his intent to mix up the defensive looks. As defensive end George Johnson was quoted in a Pewter Report article: “The one good thing about him is that he switches up his defense so much that you can’t tell what he’s going to line up,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure what he’s going to bring to Tampa if he’s going to bring his base 4-3 system or if he’s going to change it up. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.” 

In addition to the “under” scheme, Schiano and Butch Davis each ran variations of the “over” as well. Coming from the Jimmy Johnson coaching tree, they had front row seats for watching the system in play. The “over” comes in handy with teams which do not run typical two back sets and instead go 3 wide. By placing the left defensive end over the shoulder of the tight end, it does not allow for a clean release. Another benefit would be what it allows Gerald McCoy to do. McCoy would line up on the outside shoulder of the strong side guard instead of the weak side guard. With Brian Price or Amobi Okoye in the “1 technique” the center would then get tied up with one of them instead of sliding over to help against McCoy. Once the tight end does release, the offensive tackle now needs to block Michael Bennett which leaves McCoy with a man up situation. If the center does decide to help out against him, it leaves both Price and Clayborn coming around the blind side with only their one man to beat. This was something which was prevalent even when McCoy was in the “under” formation, the difference being there was only one man (Clayborn) coming around the blind side. The case for using the “over” alignment boils down to a pick your poison for offenses. Either allow 2 players around the blind side, or leave McCoy with just one man to beat. Also, it keeps the tight end from busting into a dead sprint on his route. Something which becomes more important when you consider the tight ends Tampa faces this season. Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzales, Jacob Tamme, Jason Witten, Chris Cooley, Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen all await their match ups with the Bucs.

In the draft, Schiano focused on the needs to make his vision possible. The Bucs were forced to be a vanilla the last few seasons on defense and it hurt them immensley. Mixing up personnel groupings along with scheme is just what the doctor ordered. However, pressure will be key. Along with the mentioned tight ends, the quarterbacks the Bucs face this season rank among the most talented in the NFL. Mike Vick, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and RG III are just a few of the prime time players this defense will have to guard against. Obviously, the likes of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton will be thrown in as well. Allowing these quarterbacks time for routes to develop will be a death sentence no matter how good the Bucs offense is this season. The key will be in creating pressure. For that to happen, the 4-3 “under” and “over” will need to be run as they were meant to be used. Instead of sticking to just a 4-3 “under” base and Nickel formations as Raheem Morris did, Schiano now has the personnel to switch between the “under” against two back teams like Carolina and the “over” against 3 wide teams like New Orleans. Either way, getting more men in the box will be the difference maker.


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Adrian Mojica

Writer for What The Buc? and contributor for Rant Sports. A Tampa native currently in Los Angeles, I have worked in the entertainment industry as a small time actor and writer. Attended my first Bucs game at the "Old Sombrero" and was a fan before they were even close to competitive. Found fulfillment in covering Bucs football, which tells you I have issues. Find me on Twitter @FFFDaily

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