Coming off of a humiliating loss two weekends ago to the Bears in a game where second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw six touchdown passes on his defense, it’s clear Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith had some explaining to do Wednesday.
And although there’s a segment of the animated Buc fans who’ve been calling sportsradio and posting on the internet and social media, who won’t accept anything short of Smith being fired, the veteran coach is still in place as Tampa Bay gets set to take on his old team Sunday in Atlanta.
Smith met with the media Wednesday in his normal midweek press conference appearance, in part to try to explain the Bucs struggles, but more importantly reassure everyone that his defense will be better starting this week:
LIVE: Tune in to Mike Smith's press conference! https://t.co/CxFs9awIse
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) October 10, 2018
One thing that fans have honed in on, is the defensive passiveness was the Bucs played with against the Bears two weekends ago. In specific, Tampa Bay did not blitz Trubisky one time in the first half while falling behind 38-3. Part of this is because, the Buccaneers were playing three rookies in the secondary at times during the first half of the game.
Smith told the media that against the Bears, Chicago chose to go into “max protection” with extra tight ends and backs in the backfield being left behind to block. And that they decided to play coverage against the receivers and that’s when the trouble started:
“We just needed to do a better job in terms of both man and zone coverages to handle route progressions that they were doing. And that’s only one person that’s going to be held responsible (meaning himself)….. responsibility is us to have them prepared, as coaches. We did not do that.”
Previously during his Monday after the Bears game media session, head coach Dirk Koetter, who hired Smith as his defensive coordinator when being elevated to Bucks head coach in 2016, defended Smith saying it’s not just one person that goes into the game planning and the calling of the defense.. He further said everyone bore responsibility, when things break down.
While that is “coach speak” and loyalty, in this case Koetter is also defending Smith who used to be his boss as the head coach in Atlanta.
The bottom line is: Mike Smith is responsible for what the defensive play calls are in series after series and game after game. That’s the job. And if adjustments are not being made where he’s defense has not being aggressive in those calls and is being beaten, then fans have every reason to point right at him.
Another reality that fans know is coordinators get fired all the time, even during a season, for not doing their job well enough, and while poor play is going on. The Oakland Raiders did this a year ago, off of a playoff season of 2016, when head coach Jack Del Rio fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. as Oakland defense unraveled. And Del Rio took over the play calling himself.
Also, look at big time college football, and last weekend Oklahoma being torched defensively by arch-rival Texas in a 45-42 loss. Second year head coach Lincoln Riley chose to fire defensive coordinator Mike Stoops last Sunday night after the game a large part because of how awful the defense was in that game.
And now comes the challenge of the Buccaneers defense facing Smith and Koetter’s old team and offensive weapons- the Falcons with quarterback Matt Ryan and it receiving corps led by All-Pro Julio Jones.
And although they probably don’t want this reminder, Smith and a lot of these same defensive players remember the Jones torched them for 12 catches, 253 yards and 2 touchdowns in Atlanta’s 34 – 20 win at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last year.
So, while Smith did his best to reassure everyone that his defense will be better against “the Dirty Birds,” actions will speak louder than words. And Sunday afternoon, his defense has got to be better or the volume gets turned way up on those who are saying someone else besides Smith should be calling and overseeing the defense before the Bucs season is down the drain.
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