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.
Bucs pass rusher Barrett named NFC Defensive Player of Week
Off their impressive Road win last Thursday night against division rival Carolina, the Buccaneers also got an individual accolades on Wednesday morning.
That’s when the NFL announced that edge pass-rusher Shaq Barrett had been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week:
And it's only the beginning.
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) September 18, 2019
Barrett had a tremendous game, or should we say third quarter specificall, in the win over the Panthers. This as, he registered not one, but three quarterback sacks, in the third quarter of Tampa Bay’s 20 – 14 victory.
Barrett became the first Buccaneer since Simeon Rice in their Super Bowl season of 2002 to have that many sacks in a single 15 minute period. He’s also the first Bucs pass rusher to get three sacks in a single game since the 2015 season.
Barrett also had a sack in Tampa Bay’s week one loss against San Francisco and obviously, leads them now with four of them through the first two games. The four sacks in two games has matched the best start in sacking the QB in Buccaneers franchise history.
The last time the Bucs had a defensive player win player of the week honors, was also 2015. That’s when linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander each took home the honor in separate weeks.
The six year veteran came to Tampa Bay after having spent his first five years with the Denver Broncos. This included his being part of the Broncos Super Bowl 50 winning season of 2014.
Barrett had 14 career sacks coming into this season and is already thriving early in new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ defense. The Bucs are pairing him on the outside with Carl Nassib in Bowles’ 3-4 scheme.
He is also the former Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year at Colorado State, where he had 12 sacks and three forced fumbles in his senior season and was eventually signed with Denver, as an undrafted free agent.
Bucs coach Arians rightfully fearing Giants RB Saquon Barkley
Regardless of the Giants starting rookie Daniel Jones at quarterback on Sunday, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians knows the real key for New York resides deeper in their backfield.
That’s where second-year running back Saquon Barkley is expected to be busy, especially early in the game. And, he may very well be the reason or not that New York has a chance to get their first win of the season Sunday in Tampa.
Arians made it clear right away at his Tuesday press conference that Barkley will be a challenge for a Buccaneer defense that has been stingy so far this year against the run:
"I’ve had the confidence all along… We have to practice the same this week, after a win, as we did after a loss. The sense of urgency can’t leave."
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) September 17, 2019
“He’s got more 50-yard runs than anybody I’ve seen in a long time,” Arians said. “He’s hard to bring down. He doesn’t run over many people – he runs around them and runs past them. The size and the speed combination are extremely rare.”
The Bucs held the 49ers in check for just 77 yards on the ground in their opening loss two weekends ago, but then, played even better against Christian McCaffrey and the Panthers running attack last Thursday night. They held McCaffrey to only 37 yards on 16 carries, including the biggest moment of the game. That’s when DB Vernon Hargreaves stopped McCaffrey one-on-one from getting the one needed yard to keep Carolina’s final drive alive and hopes of winning the game.
As for Barkley, he comes off a tremendous debut season with a 1,300 yards rushing and another 700 receiving. He’s arguably the best dual threat back in football.
And, with a 120 yd rush game on just 11 carries in the opening week game at Dallas, Barkley followed up with another 100 yard game last week against Buffalo registering 107 yards on 18 carries. Still, the Giants dropped both games and at 0- 2 and have decided to shake it up at QB.
Giants second-year coach Pat Shurmur will try to establish the run early on in the game to take the pressure off his rookie quarterback making his debut.
The Bucs know that as well and looked at stuff to run with Pro Bowl veteran Ndamukong Suh and former first-round pick Vita Vea. Both guys have been big keys in clogging up the middle and helping the Buccaneers stop the 49er and Panther backs.
And if they do so Sunday at home, it will be a big key for a second straight win.
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