The Buccaneers spent the weekend after their loss to the Falcons – a period they referred to as their “mini-bye’’ – trying to figure out what was wrong with their struggling defense.
Among their findings was a realization that their defensive backs as a whole simply were not playing aggressively enough, particularly in pass coverage, and that there were two reasons for that.
One was a lack of familiarity with the scheme. When players feel as if they don’t know the scheme they’re playing well enough they tend to get passive instead of aggressive.
The other was the lack of a pass rush. No matter how well a defensive back might know the scheme he’s playing he can’t execute it very well if he doesn’t have the aid of a pass rush.
Well, the return of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald seems to have cured the latter problem. It did at least during the Bucs 36-10 victory over the Bears on Sunday afternoon.
McDonald sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on the second play of the Bears second series and as far Bucs coach Dirk Koetter is concerned that was probably the turning point in the game.
“That was a pretty vicious hit,’’ Koetter said. “He came down hard. I’m not sure how much that affected (Cutler) the rest of the game, but you could tell that took something out of him.’’
You could tell almost immediately. Though Cutler completed a 13-yard pass to Alshon Jeffrey on the very next play, he was picked off by corner back Brent Grimes on the play that came after that.
Cutler was then picked off again on the first play of the Bears third series, this time by safety Chris Conte, who returned the ball 20 yards for a touchdown.
Both picks came as a result of the defensive backs playing with more aggression, jumping the routes and taking the kinds of chances the Bucs need them to take to make an impact.
It wasn’t just the defensive backs who were more aggressive, though. As their four sacks suggest, the Bucs defensive linemen were more aggressive as well against the Bears.
“Yeah, I thought our D was a lot more aggressive (Sunday),’’ Koetter said. “That was one of the things we identified in the little mini-bye. We were sitting back a little too much.
“We needed to pressure more. We needed to add on more on our blitzes. I thought our guys did a heck of a job with that today, and it started with that first sack by Clinton.’’