TAMPA – One of the keys to the defensive resurgence the Buccaneers enjoyed in the second half of the season last year was their ability to eliminate big plays, especially in the passing game.
After allowing 41 passes of 20 yards or more, including seven for touchdowns, in the first eight games last year, the Bucs cut that number virtually in half in the second half, allowing just 22 such plays, including just three for touchdowns.
The Bucs started the 2017 season two weeks ago in much the same way they finished last season, but that fast start in that area came to a screeching halt a week ago during their 34-17 loss to the Vikings at Minnesota.
After allowing just two long passes, (both of which went for 20 yards) against the Bears, the Bucs allowed Vikings quarterback Case Keenum to complete passes of 36, 45, 47 and 59 yards, that for a touchdown, against them last week.
Eliminating those big plays will be the key to the defense bouncing back from the struggle it had a week ago, Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said.
“When you give up close to 190 yards on four plays it really doesn’t matter what happens the rest of the game,’’ Smith said. “You’re just pulling and running uphill and you just can’t do that. But we did and we own it.’’
Here’s something else the Bucs own. They’re not getting the job done on third down either. The Bucs allowed opponents to convert just 34.4-percent of their third downs last year, the lowest mark in the league.
Through two games so far this year, though, opponents have converted 51.9-percent of their third downs, including three on plays in which they faced third-and-10 or more.
“That’s (the one) that’s probably the most irritating,’’ Smith said of the three conversions the Bucs have allowed on third-and-10 plus. “You should win about 90-percent of the third and 10-plusses.’’
The Bucs have won 70-percent (seven of 10), which isn’t horrible, but the fact that they’ve allowed 7 yards or more on several of the stops suggests they’re really not getting the job done the way they expect to.
“It’s a concern and it has to do with what we’re doing schematically,’’ Smith said. “We have to make sure we have our guys in the right position. And the guys that are out there, they have to get pressure and we have to get bodies on receivers.
“You can’t let receivers run free. If they’re not bodied up in the paint like they do in basketball they’re going to have an opportunity to make it. So we have to be more physical with our play across the board.’’