It’s become apparent with each passing week since his firing, Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith wasn’t the only real problem with Tampa Bay’s defense.
With the understanding that they’ve had significant injuries to key personnel and have been playing inexperienced and young players because of it, the Buccaneers defense is still no better under interim coordinator Mark Duffner.
And at the rate that they are going, the Bucs may about to be setting some dubious all-time NFL records for bad defense. Really bad defense.
In the midst of a now four game losing streak that has dropped them to 3 – 7 on the season, it’s staggering that the Buccaneers continue to play a game after game after game without registering a single takeaway from the other team.
How about: the Bucs have not had a defensive takeaway since their Monday night game with Pittsburgh in week three. That night, safety Justin Evans intercepted Ben Roethlisberger, and that’s been it for a long dry spell defensively, ever since.
The Bucs did get a special teams take away in the overtime during their victory against the Cleveland Browns on October 21st. So, that’s the only time they have gotten a turnover in two months of football.
Almost unfathomable for an NFL team.
Further, Evans’ interception is also the only one of the season for the Buccaneers, which is also approaching an all-time dubious record.
So, let’s take a look at the record book with six games to go:
The Bucs currently stand 31st in the NFL with six measley total takeaways. Only the 49ers, their opponent this week, have fewer with five. If you are wondering about the fewest takeaways in a season, that number is 11.
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in the late ’70s, three teams: the 2013 Texans, the 2015 Cowboys, and the 2016 Bears have had the fewest of 11 takeaways in a season. The Buccaneers have six more games to get 5 more takeaways defensively or they will own the record.
Likewise, with only the one interception to this point, that is also in danger of becoming the worst ever for an NFL defense with a 16-game schedule. The fewest by a club playing 16 games is the 1996 Atlanta Falcons who had only six interceptions that year.
The 1961 Houston Oilers of the AFL had three interceptions in a 14-game season and the ’72 Oilers (post merger) had six interceptions. The 1982 Baltimore Colts registered just five interceptions in the strike-shortened season that was only 11 games.
So, Dufner’s defense essentially has to come up with two more picks in the next four weeks or else they are worse than the ’61 Oilers. And they have to come up with five more interceptions in the final six games to match the ’96 Falcons.
That appears, at the moment, to be a tough task with a team that simply cannot create takeaways.
Meanwhile, it’s not helping on the other side of the ball, as Tampa Bay is giving the ball away at an astronomical rate. The Bucs have 29 giveaways, including 23 interceptions, both of which lead the NFL.
In fact Sunday, they had four more interceptions, and obviously no takeaways, which dropped the plus-minus ratio to – 23 on the season.
There have been some awful teams in the 2000’s in turnover margin at the end of the year. That list includes the 2006 Oakland Raiders who were – 23 and the 2005 Saints and Packers, who were both – 24. And, the all time worst in this century is the San Diego Chargers, who were -28 in the turnover margin.
The Bucs defense is still giving up the most passing yards on average and the most points overall per game (32.9) this season in the NFL.
So, it’s going to be a tall task for them to try to create some takeaways, but they need to soon or this 2018 season will go down in history for a lot of wrong reasons.
Bucs defense dramatic stand saved night in Charlotte
So much has been made of first-year Bucs coach Bruce Arians’ offensive mindset, starting quarterback Jameis Winston’s arm talent and the weapons around them carrying the team, but Thursday night it was the Buccaneers defense that showed up big, as in the end, with the game on the line in the final two minutes, they save the day with a fourth-down heroic play.
Former first-round pick , DB Vernon Hargreaves, came up with a key one-on-one tackle on Carolina star RB Christian McCaffrey (above) on fourth down at the Tampa Bay one-yard line to keep the Panthers from getting a first down. And, it gave the Bucs the ball back to run out the clock and secure a much needed 20 – 14 win.
Hargreaves’ individual effort epitomized the Buccaneers solid defensive play all night in Charlotte, as they did not allow Carolina to score a touchdown and held them to only three points on offense the entire second half. .
As for the aforementioned Winston and his support on the other side of the ball, they supplied enough, including Peyton Barber running tough for 82 yards on 23 carries and a crucial third-quarter 16 yard touchdown run the gave Tampa Bay the lead for good at 17 – 12.
Winston finished 16-25 for 208 yards, including a first-half touchdown pass to third year receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin is quickly becoming Winston’s new favorite target, as he hauled in eight catches for 121 yards and the score.
Meanwhile, Panthers Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton had an off game, as well. Even though he threw for 300 yards, he still had 26 incompletions on 50 attempts and Carolina repeatedly had one drive after another fizzle out in Bucs territory.
Newton was also battered by Tampa Bay’s rush, as new DE Shaq Barrett had three sacks, and the Bucs front seven repeatedly hit and knocked him down. Another key moment came near midfield in the third, when Newton was stripped of the ball for a lost fumble. And, another new Buc, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, fell on it.
And, to top it all off, McCaffery could mount very little offense Thursday night, either. A week after amassing over 200 yards from scrimmage against the Rams, he was held to 16 carries for only 37 yards and just two catches for just more 16 yards.
As for the key stop of McCaffery to preserve victory, Hargreaves said after the game late Thursday,
“It looked like it was going to be the Philly special from the Super Bowl. A reverse pass. When Cam walked up to the line of scrimmage, that’s what I thought it was going to be. As the play developed, McCaffrey faked it and he came right to me. I just stayed at home and he came right to me. I just had to make the play.”
A play that has Tampa Bay sitting 1-1 after a tough divisional win.
Three things to watch as Bucs take on Panthers Thursday night
It’s an NFC South showdown, where the loser knows they’re already off to an 0 – 2 start after Thursday night. And, the Bucs know that one of their former teammates is ready to help put them there.
With that in mind, here are three things to watch his Tampa Bay travels to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers:
McCoy goes against his old team
For the first time in his 10-year career Gerald McCoy has a new place to call home, and will play his second game with the Panthers tonight against the team that drafted him third overall in 2010, and he went to six Pro bowls for over the course of the last nine seasons. McCoy (above) was unceremoniously shown the door for salary cap reasons earlier this offseason and signed a one-year deal with the division rival Carolina.
McCoy did little of consequence in the opening loss to the Rams last week, but the Bucs have had a history previously, of players leaving them and succeeding elsewhere. We’ll find out if he starts making an impact tonight against Jameis Winston & Company.
Cut down the mistakes.
If the Bucs weren’t busy turning the ball over, which they did four times, including three Winston interceptions last week, they were committing penalties and having blown assignments on their offensive line.
Throw in: Tampa Bay cost themselves three different times with penalties on third down on defense that kept 49er drives alive, and you can see why head coach Bruce Arians has been stressing for the last few days that those kind of mistakes cannot be overcome.
The Buccaneers will have their hands full with a road environment against a division rival as it is, but as Arians said, if it’s “the Bucs beating the Bucs,” they won’t stand much chance anyway.
Clearly Cam Newton is still trying to get back to full health with a surgically-repaired throwing shoulder and an injured foot and everyone now realizes the biggest key to get the Panthers going is running back, Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey had over a hundred yards from scrimmage in the opening loss to L.A. last week and had likewise over a hundred yards combined catching and running a football in both games last year against the Buccaneers.
Look for Tampa Bay to try to shadow him with Pro Bowl linebacker Lavonte David and rookie linebacker and former number 1 pick out of LSU, Devin White. Those two will be heavily counted on to neutralize the guy that has become the Panthers best offensive weapon.
If they do, it will go a long way towards helping the Buccs win their first game of the season.