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Bucs Sunday first half defensive meltdown getting too familiar

Florida Football Insiders

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday was yet another defensive disaster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, especially in the first half and when it was all said and done, it resulted in a fifth loss in eight games.

And as coach Dirk Koetter and his new interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner begin to assess things on Monday, it’s obvious what has to stop:

The Bucs have to figure out how to keep the opposing team from running off at least 21 straight points early on their defense.

By the time RB Christian McCaffrey was done catching and running early, WR Curtis Samuel was weaving through almost the entire defense on a double-reverse touchdown, and Cam Newton lasered a touchdown to his favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, the Panthers had scored 28 points in a row before the break.

On their way to a franchise-record 35 first-half points, Carolina looked unstoppable. However, to Bucs fans, it looked a lot like the previous month and a half of defensive football.

Now, a lot of blame has been laid at the feet of former, now fired, defensive coordinator Mike Smith. But, the scheme and the personnel being used to play it these last two weeks against the Panthers and in Cincinnati, was up to Duffner. And frankly, the defense was no better than Smith’s in either game.

Recall that two weekends ago, Andy Dalton fired repeated opening half bullets for the Bengals at the Bucs secondary and Joe Mixon ran for over a hundred yards, as Cincinnati led 21-0 midway through the second quarter and then, 27 – 9 at the half.

Granted it was still Smith at the defensive play-calling controls three weeks ago in Atlanta. That’s when, after an early Jameis Winston touchdown pass had given Tampa Bay 6 – 0 lead, the defense promptly surrendered 21 immediate points to Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing attack.

The Bucs were able to battle back in the second half, but that’s not really the point.

Too big a hole in the first half has been “too big of a theme,” recently.

More awful reminders for the fans includes, when the Bears humiliated the Bucs with another franchise-record 38 points first half points, and 48-10 rout September 30th at Soldier Field.

That day, the Buccaneers made second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky look like a Hall of Famer, as he threw five touchdowns in the first half and the Bears took an insurmountable 35-point lead to the locker room.

So, if you weren’t keeping track of all of that above, in four of Tampa Bay’s last five games (all of them losses) they have given up at least 21 points in a row at some point in the opening stanza of all of them.

You can lament poor and or inexperienced personnel all you want, but you equally have to blame Dufner / Smith and the other defensive assistants for not being able to make adjustments, as the first half is going on.

Luckily, the Bucs have an explosive enough offense, especially behind QB Ryan Fitzpatrick,  that they got back in the games with the Falcons (with Jameis Winston), the Bengals and Sunday in Carolina.”Fitzmagic” registered four TD passes Sunday to pull Tampa Bay withing 35-28 in the fourth quarter.

However, all three outcomes still ended up as losses, where the story was all too familiar:

Too big a defensive meltdown, digging too big of a deficit for the rest of the day.

And, if Koetter and staff don’t figure it out and put a stop to it starting this week with Washington, the Buccaneers won’t be playing relevant games down the stretch of the season.

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