Had this happened in Week 1 against Drew Brees and the Saints or in Week 2 against the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles, no one would have been surprised. That it happened last week against the Steelers wasn’t even a surprise.
But to lose as soundly as the Bucs did in dropping a 48-10 decision to the Bears in Chicago on Sunday is a bit shocking.
Sure, the Bears defense is one of the best in the league. With Khalil Mack on board its conjuring memories of the Monsters of the Midway. But it wasn’t the Bears defense that did the Bucs in on Sunday. It was the Mitch Trubisky-led Bears offense.
Outside of shutting down opposing offenses, the best thing the Bears did prior to Sunday was run the ball. They beat the Bucs, however, by throwing it all over the lot, and with more success than any other Bears team has ever had.
That’s no exaggeration. This game wasn’t even half over when Trubisky, who came into the game ranked 31st in the league in passer rating and 26th in the league in passing yards, set a franchise record by throwing his fifth touchdown pass of the opening half. He finished with six of them on the day.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Look, Bucs fans everywhere were jacked when this team added three new DBs in the draft this past spring. Many openly expressed their desire to see all three in the lineup sooner rather than later. Their wish was granted on Sunday.
With safety Chris Conte and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves on the shelf with injuries and Ryan Smith on the bench because he’s Ryan Smith, the Bucs handed the defensive backfield to cornerback Carlton Davis III, cornerback M.J. Stewart and reserve safety Isaiah Johnson.
The result was disastrous. Trubisky, who had never thrown any more than two touchdown passes in an NFL game, threw six in this one and shredded the Bucs secondary for 354 yards, including a ridiculous 289 in the first half, when he completed five passes of 30 yards or more.
I’ve said it before: outside of quarterback, no position in the NFL is harder to learn than defensive back. And outside of quarterback and left tackle, no position leaves a player more vulnerable to exposure than defensive back.
If they didn’t know that already, those three Buccaneers rookie defensive backs learned that lesson on Sunday. They were Schooled by none other than Mitch Trubisky, who schooled the Bucs extremely talented linebacking corps as well. Which brings us to the bottom line.
The Bucs offense, no matter who’s at quarterback, is good enough to put points on the board against anyone in the league. One could argue, in fact, that it’s good enough for the Bucs to be considered playoff contenders. The same cannot be said of the defense.
That’s not a knock on the kids. The same could probably be said even if Conte and Hargreaves were in the lineup. After all, they were both there for a while in the opener and that was a track meet that the Bucs only won because their offense ran faster than the Saints did.
For the Bucs to max out on their potential this season they have to shore up their defense. It’s that simple. That’s what they’ll spend the bye week doing, but their options are limited. They’re already playing rookies and second- and third-teamers originally ticketed for backup roles.
That means that games such as the one they played Sunday are likely to become the norm. That doesn’t bode well for this team. After all, the offense has already proven it can score and score big. But can it score enough to consistently keep pace with opponents who are scoring at the same pace?
The answer seems to be no, but what to do? Already there are renewed calls for the head of defensive coordinator Mike Smith, but Smith is working in a league where it has become increasingly difficult for teams to play defense according to the rules.
To change coordinators and schemes now is unlikely to work the wonder many believe it would. That said, the Bucs cannot sit back and ignore their shortcomings, most of which appear to be present in that secondary where it seems the only solution is for those kids to grow up fast.
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