TAMPA – Here’s something few Buccaneers fans saw coming:
After one game, the aspect of the Tampa Bay team generating the most discussion across the NFL is not their much-ballyhooed offense. It’s their oft-forgotten and clearly underrated defense.
Hard to believe, right? Well, yes. In fact that is why the Bucs defense was the subject of an NFL Network Tuesday night segment featuring former NFL linebacker Willie McGinnest that was entitled “Believe it or Not.’’
In their wake of the Bucs domination of the Bears in their 29-7 opening-day victory last Sunday, McGinnest says he has become “a believer,’’ in the Bucs defense.
He adds that he has been trending in that direction ever since Week 8 of last season, when the Bucs began one of the more dramatic transformations we’ve seen in a long time.
Bucs fans surely remember how suspect and out of sync the Tampa Bay defense was the first half of last year. Confusion reigned and it showed up on the scoreboard as the Bucs allowed an average of 29 points per game.
Beginning in Week 9, though, the Bucs began to figure out what it was that coordinator Mike Smith wanted from them, the began to communicate better and, voila!
Competency soon turned to dominance as the Bucs dropped that points-per-game average down to 17.1 and went on a takeaway tear, forcing 13 interceptions, the most in the league through the final eight games.
They also allowed just six touchdowns durign the second half of the season, a trend that continued into their opener this year, and recorded 21 sacks, the fifth most in the league across the final eight games.
And, as Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said in the wake of his team’s opening-day manhandling of the Bears last Sunday, the defense seems to have picked up right where it left off.
The Bucs had four takeaways in their victory over the Bears, allowed only 20 yards rushing and the only touchdown they gave up was surrendered by a crew made up largely of backups in garbage time.
It was quite a stunning effort, and if the Bucs can keep playing at that level consistently, they’ll make believers out of everyone, not just McGinnest.