There will be a tendency among Bucs followers to say that the catalyst behind Tampa Bay’s 26-23 overtime victory over the Browns on Sunday was the decision early last week to fire Mike Smith and make Mark Duffner defensive coordinator.
And perhaps there should be.
Despite their failure to defend short fields, the Bucs turned in what was easily their best defensive effort of the season Sunday, and they did so because they did something they seemingly refused to do under Smith: They simplified the defense.
Instead of running a ridiculously complex scheme that only works if the right pre- and post-snap reads are made and communicated properly and precisely across the defense, the Bucs “dummied things down,” significantly, for this game.
Longtime Bucs fans no doubt recognized that what the Bucs were doing most of the day on Sunday was playing a lot of old-fashioned cover 2, a zone scheme that greatly simplifies duties, especially for those struggling rookies patrolling the secondary.
Now, it helped that the Bucs were playing the Browns, and it helped even more that for at least half the game the Browns played some modified version a West Coast scheme that asked little of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in terms of throwing the ball downfield.
But give the Bucs credit for adjusting and for executing. Without Gerald McCoy and Vinny Curry and despite losing Kwon Alexander to a knee injury midway through, the Bucs allowed a season-low 305 yards, recorded a season-high five sacks and limited Cleveland to three third down conversions.
“This game was all about the defense,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said afterward. “Our defensive players really brought their pride and their passion today.” This was a day when most everything they did defensive worked in the Bucs favor.
For example, it was a day in which Jason Pierre-Paul, Carl Nassib (twice) and even Will Gholston all got home on blitzes to account for four of the Bucs five sacks. It was also a day in which Nassib not only dropped into coverage, but broke up a pass down the sideline against a running back.
It was a day in which Lavonte David forced a Baker Mayfield fumble that rolled out of bounds on fourth down inside the red zone. And, it was a day when the Bucs held on their ground on a fourth-and-1 at their own goal line to preserve a one-score lead late in the fourth quarter.
Sure, the Browns eventually tied the game anyway, but that was after the Bucs went three-and-out and had to punt from inside their own end zone, creating yet another short-field situation for the Browns. The Browns had three of those Sunday, starting drives at the Bucs 19-, 26- and 16-yard lines. They scored touchdowns on two of them. So, if you want to nit-pick, you can nit-pick that. After all, defenses will tell you they should at least hold their opponent to a field goal in those situations.
That the Bucs failed suggests there’s still work to be done here and that there is. The Bucs effort and performance Sunday does not suggest they have suddenly crossed the threshold and become a solid defense. They’re anything but.
But this was a big step forward. It’s just too bad that it took this long to make that step. After all, it was a simple step that could and should have been made weeks ago.
Fantasy Football “Start/Sit” for Florida players Week 14
Everyone’s favorite time of year has arrived, that is if you had a good season. The fantasy playoffs are here, and if you made it, chances are some Florida players helped get there.
This week the Buccaneers will host the reeling Colts. The Jaguars will host the under-performing Chargers, and the Dolphins travel to play the ever-disappointing Jets.
The Buccaneers will entertain the Colts, who have the 13th overall defense. The Colts are 1-4 in their last five games and desperately need a win. Last week, they were torched on the ground by Titans RB Derick Henry. However, this was the first 100-yard rusher against the Colts this season.
The Bucs again surprised fantasy players last week, when Ronald Jones was benched in the first half for not picking up a blitz. This led to Peyton Barber scoring two touchdowns, while Jones had zero points. The Colts have surrendered two passing touchdowns in each of their last three games. Last week the Tampa Bay offense didn’t have to do nearly as much as usual.
This week, expect the Bucs vertical passing to be back throwing the ball at least 35 times. With a stout run defense, Jameis Winston will need to be at the top of his game in a big test for this Bucs team.
The Jaguars offense has been rough through the air with Nick Foles back. Now, Foles is back on the bench in favor of rookie, Gardner Minshew. The Chargers come into town with the 4th ranked pass defense, but let Drew Lock and Cortland Sutton connect for 74 yards and two touchdowns. The Chargers own the 18th ranked rush defense, and that is music to the ears of Leonard Fournette.
It has been a rough couple of weeks for the running back facing some stout run defenses. This weekend look for Fournette to get back on track. With the return of Minshew means the D.J. Chark becomes even more attractive. Chark was still the top guy with Foles in, but he and Minshew have a good connection.
The Dolphins are coming off one of the stunners of the year beating the Eagles in a 37-31 shootout. This week they set their sights on the Jets, who just gave the Bengals their first win. The Jets have the leagues’ best-run defense, which is usually significant. However, the Dolphins can’t run the ball effectively at all.
That means Ryan Fitzpatrick will be throwing a lot against the 19th ranked pass defense.
Last week Fitzpatrick and Devante Parker destroyed the Eagles secondary. This week they will have all the opportunities to do the same thing to the Jets. With the tight end position a mess, Mike Gesicki is an option again, who has scored in two straight games.
Colts Kicker Adam Vinateri out for Bucs game
The Colts are traveling to Tampa Bay but will likely take on the Bucs without their future Hall of Fame Kicker, Adam Vinatieri.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 5, 2019
Before the matchup last week against the Titans, Vinatieri had began to experience a bit of pain in his left knee, the leg he plants to kick with his right leg. He told reporters that the pain began to increase through the week which led him to be placed on the Colt’s injury report for the first time this season.
Later Friday afternoon, Indy made Vinatieri’s “out” status official:
Per Coach Reich, RB Marlon Mack and WR Parris Campbell are expected to play Sunday.
More on who's in and who's out for #INDvsTB:
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 6, 2019
Vinatieri who is currently the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, has struggled to be consistent this season and has made a career-low 68% of his field goal attempts. He’s cost the Colt’s a couple of games in his missed eight field goals and six extra points.
Colts head coach Frank Reich said Wednesday that Vinatieri saw some doctors and got scans to figure out the severity of the problem. From there, they’ll consult with doctors and make a decision, which could potentially end his career. He’s currently sitting at 599 made FGs in his 24 seasons, just one shy of the 600 mark.
Earlier this week, Indianapolis secured rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers and the 45 year old Pro Bowler had said on Thursday that if he got the go ahead from everyone, he’d take the field on Sunday.
“Docs and trainers and everybody will put their two cents in and we’ll see if we can go,” Vinatieri said. “If I can go, I’ll go.”
Obviously, he did not get good news, and that means the rookie McLaughlin is in to kick at Raymond James Stadium.
The Colts are looking to stay in the race for the AFC wild card spot, in a similar situation as the Bucs, so this Sunday (and really every Sunday from here on out) is a do or die for both teams.
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