Merriam-Webster defines the word DEFENSE as “the capability of resisting attack; the ability to keep an opponent from scoring in a game; the means or method of protecting or defending one’s self, one’s team, or one another”.
The 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers DEFENSE doesn’t do any of that.
They’re bad. Not just bad, but really bad.
They’ve had their excuses this season. Some legit. Some not. First, it was the unfamiliarity of the “new and improved” defensive line. Then it was the predictability and the lack of aggressiveness of Mike Smith’s antiquated scheme leading to his abrupt departure. Then the injuries started piling up and the youth and inexperience of the reserves was evident. Defense was an issue last season. This season, it’s a liability. What do I mean by “liability”? Well, allow me to explain.
If the Bucs defense was just ranked 28th in points allowed (26.6) instead of 32nd (32.9), this team would be 8-2 right now. Their only two losses would be the two freak games where the offense only scored 10 points against the Bears and 3 points against the Redskins. Other than that, the offense has put up at least 27 points in each of the other losses. In fact, the Bucs have losses this season where they’ve scored 34 and 35 points. They only had four games in franchise history where that happened coming into this season. They have 5 games this season where they’ve scored at least 27 points and still lost. It’s happened nine times in 3 seasons under Dirk Koetter after happening just eight times in the previous 15 seasons from 1993 to 2015.
Also, they are now 1-4 this year when the team has more than 500 yards of offense. The rest of the league has a record of 11-3 when that happens.
Like I said…they’re a liability.
I know that the offense isn’t innocent in all of this. The 3 points they scored against the Redskins was an NFL record for fewest points scored with more than 450 yards of total offense in a game. This offense leads the league with 29 turnovers and also has the worst turnover margin in the NFL at -23 (on pace to shatter the record of -30 set by the 1965 Steelers). Only the 1970 Bills have had a worse margin through the first 10 games of a season. Winston and Fitzpatrick have combined for 23 interceptions this year, including 4 picks inside the redzone which also leads the league. If this keeps up, they’re on pace for 37 interceptions which would be the most in a single season since the 1971 Oilers.
Those turnovers have led to some pretty deep first half deficits so far this season, especially on the road. They’ve been outscored 138-46 in their last five road games. Sunday, they were down 14-0 in the first quarter. They were down 30-10 to Pittsburgh at the half. They were down 38-3 to Chicago at the half. They were down 24-13 to Atlanta at the half. They were down 27-9 to Cincinnati at the half. And they were down 35-14 to Carolina at the half.
Seeing the pattern there?
The Bucs have only led for 3 min 14 sec total in their last five losses. That’s right, 3 minutes out of 300 minutes of play. They’re giving up nearly twice as many points on the road (39.8) as they are at home (22.5).
So what have been the contributing factors, besides Smith’s scheme? How about the redzone defense or maybe the lack thereof is a better way to put it? It’s horrible. I mean like historically horrible. On Sunday, the Giants scored 4 touchdowns in four trips to the Buccaneers redzone. For the season, opponents have scored 32 touchdowns in 36 trips for a league worst 89% TD rate. The team with the second highest is 81% for the Panthers.
What about injuries? The Bucs now have four defensive starters (Alexander, Conte, Beckwith and Hargreaves) along with another two key reserves (Unrein and Cichy) on the season ending Injured/Reserve list. In this last game against the Giants, they were also missing starters Lavonte David, Justin Evans and Vinny Curry as well. Nearly half of the active players on defense for this last game were not on the original 53-man roster to begin the season. The inexperience of the young players being forced into situations they’re not quite ready for is being exposed and exploited on a weekly basis, especially in the secondary and now at the linebacker positions.
This young secondary consisting of three rookies in Davis, Stewart and Whitehead along with second year safeties Evans and Johnson have simply been outplayed by veteran players and out schemed by crafty coaches. Of course, the new NFL rules don’t help much and it’s evident in that six of the ten worst seasons for opponents completion percentage in league history are occurring in this 2018 season. The Bucs, however, are on pace for the highest percentage ever allowed in a season at 74.7% completions.
These Buccaneer defenders are simply not around the ball to make plays. They only have 23 passes defensed in their 10 games this year, which is by far the lowest total in the league. The closest team to them is the Lions with 28 passes defensed. The Bucs only have 2 passes defensed in the last 3 games and that’s with 70 passes thrown at them. They’re now on pace for just 37 total for the season. There are 9 players around the league right now with double-digit passes defensed themselves, including 13 each for the Jets Morris Claiborne and the Bears Kyle Fuller just to put the numbers into perspective.
Those numbers explain why the Bucs have a league low 1 interception for the season. The only team close to that number is their next opponent the San Francisco 49ers with 2 picks. To put how bad that number is into perspective, Chicago leads the league with 18 interceptions with half of the NFL having at least 10 picks. In fact their only interception, courtesy of Justin Evans against the Steelers in Week 3, was the team’s last forced turnover of the season. They have now gone seven straight games without causing a turnover on defense.
On Sunday, this defense allowed the Giants offense who was averaging 19 points per game this season to score 38 points, which was a season high for them and their highest point total since November of the 2015 season.
They allowed Eli Manning, a 15 year veteran, to go 17 of 18 for 231 yards and 94% completions, the highest of his 226 career games. It was also the highest percentage allowed ever against the Bucs and the highest percentage allowed in the NFL this season.
They were equally bad against the run though playing without all three of their starting linebackers. They allowed rookie running back Saquon Barkley to have 27 carries for 142 yards (5.3 ypc) and 3 touchdowns for the day as well.
That game was depressing to watch…but there’s hope for the future Bucs fans.
I just finished watching the highest scoring Monday Night Football game in history between the Rams and Chiefs with a 54-51 final score. You’d think with a score like that the defense was terrible. It actually wasn’t. It was just two heavyweight offenses trading punches and two really good teams playing competitive, complimentary football. Not only were both offenses scoring in bunches, but both defenses were causing turnovers and scoring defensive touchdowns as well. It was a thing of beauty. It was fun to watch. It was exciting to watch. The chess match between Andy Reid’s offense and Wade Phillips’ defense. The battle between Reid’s ever evolving, always adapting offense and Sean McVay’s modern era NFL offense. It was coaching genius at it’s best on display.
The reason I’m harping on the coaching aspect of that game so much is because I think that’s the Buccaneers biggest problem. This team has plenty of talent, when they’re healthy. They just need the right coaching staff to bring it all together. They are now 17-25 under Dirk Koetter with Mike Smith’s scheme, including an embarrassing 8-18 in the last 26 games (.307 winning percentage). I don’t see him coming back as the Bucs head coach for 2019 (that is IF he even makes it through 2018 without getting fired), so hopefully either Jason Licht (if he’s even still around) or the Glazers will bring in the “right guy” to get this ship turned around back in the right direction and sailing towards another Super Bowl.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!
NOTE: Most of these “fun facts” came from Greg Auman, formerly of the Tampa Bay Times and now with The Athletic. If you’re a Bucs fan and NOT following him on Twitter, then I highly recommend that you do. He’s always tweeting out the latest news and in depth statistics about the Buccaneers so give him a “follow” if you’re not already.