TAMPA – The horrid results of their encounter last Sunday with the Vikings will only strengthen the argument that the Buccaneers are all but doomed without middle linebacker Kwon Alexander in the lineup.
Granted, the Bucs were also missing two other key members of their defense – nose tackle Chris Baker and cornerback Brent Grimes – but Alexander in the eyes of many is at a different level.
Their leading tackler last year, Alexander is arguably the Bucs most impactful defensive playmaker and he is without question the player the Bucs defense under second-year coordinator Mike Smith is built around.
But against the Vikings, at least, Alexander’s absence due to a sore hamstring wasn’t felt as much as many originally feared. The reason was the stellar play of his rookie backup Kendell Beckwith.
The numbers crunchers at Pro Football Focus broke down Beckwith’s effort in his first start as the Bucs middle linebacker and for the most part he appears to have excelled in the role.
The only real negative on the ledger for Beckwith was that right along with linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Ryan Smith and safety Chris Conte, he was responsible for two of the Bucs 13 missed tackles.
When it was all said and done, though, Beckwith was officially credited with making a team-leading six solo tackles and according to PFF, he also recorded a team-leading six defensive “wins.’’
A defensive win is credited any time the defense keeps the offense behind the sticks or behind the chains, meaning it has left the offense in a difficult or even unmanageable situation, such as second-and-10.
Beckwith’s eight tackles overall were second only to the nine recorded by left end Will Gholston and while he didn’t have an interception or pass breakup, he was pretty strong in coverage, too.
According to PFF, Beckwith allowed Vikings receivers to catch three passes, but he limited them to just 9 yards on those three catches for an average gain of just 0.27 yards per coverage snap.
That was the second-lowest by an inside linebacker targeted in the passing game in the league last Sunday, which suggests Beckwith is not out of place either in the starting lineup or at middle linebacker.
That won’t keep the Bucs from playing a healthy Alexander in this week’s game against the Giants but it could lead them to fiddle around a little bit with the roles he and Beckwith play.
The Bucs cross-train all of their linebackers just for situations such as this so it may not be all that surprising to see Alexander and Beckwith on the field together in the sub packages the Bucs use that require only two linebackers.