The Bucs are suddenly struggling, having lost three straight games and have taken the drastic measure of firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith earlier in the week.
So now, those that have been erupting on sports radio and all over the internet screaming about how a change in defensive play-calling had to happen have gotten their wish.
Now, comes the reality of what has to be better for the Buccaneers starting Sunday, with linebackers coach Mark Duffner now at the controls of the D. And will it help their match-up at home with the Browns and moving forward for the rest of the year?
We have come up with three things that are rather obvious, seem to be essential to the Buccaneers defenders on the field executing what’s being called and playing better-more effective from week to week.
Simplify things for the young secondary
Too many times over the first five games, the Buccaneers rookies like DB M.J. Stewart and safety Jordan Whitehead and other relatively inexperienced players in the secondary have looked lost trying to cover the likes of: the Saints Michael Thomas, the Steelers Antonio Brown, the first half disaster in Chicago with a gave up five touchdown passes and last week Falcons Julio Jones catching 11 more passes.
And in most cases, those big-name receivers were running wide open through the Bucs secondary. Too many times, the defensive backs were not on the same page about who should be covering whom, and that is something that has to be simplified and iron out.
Duffner’s main task this week has to have been make sure that the players are sure of where to be and when in their coverages.
That leads to… a better pass rush knocking down and sacking the quarterback
With the exception of Jason Pierre-Paul, who we wrote about again yesterday, there hasn’t been much impact from the Buccaneers bringing in free agents and drafting a defensive tackle in the first round of the NFL draft.
A year ago, Tampa Bay was dead last in sacks, the Bucs currently have only 9 Sacks through the first five games and that is 29th in the NFL.
Now, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has missed two practices with a calf injury and his status for Sunday is uncertain. Still, guys like rookie Vita Vea, DE Vinny Curry and even former second round pick Noah Spence (who’s had trouble being active) have to step up and rush the QB.
And finally, will we see more blitzing?
After “laying back” for the entire first half of the Bears blowout and not blitzing, the Bucs were much more aggressive last week in Atlanta. Time and again, they brought linebackers, sometimes two of them, and they brought pressure with safeties and even cornerback blitzes, too.
Now Atlanta still had success, as Matt Ryan threw for 354 yards and three scores.
Still, an aggressive mentality that Duffner will likely continue with his defensive play calls was there: don’t just sit back with multiple rookies in the secondary and hope to “play coverage” and succeed.
It will take players like LB’s LaVonte David (above) and Kwon Alexander and hard hitting safety Justin Evans rushing Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield and getting to him with knockdowns and sacks. David has at times over the last three seasons under Smith’s scheme been almost an afterthought.
He’s one of the best inside linebackers in football. Let’s see if he starts getting the “green light” to make more plays by blitzing.
If he and the Buccaneers do have success in that area, there is no doubt the Bucs will see immediate results.
Brees out with thumb injury for Bucs and Jaguars games
The expected bad news on Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ injured thumb has come on Monday. And, it means the New Orleans quarterback will miss upcoming October games with the Bucs and the Jaguars.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday morning that Brees will be sidelined up to 6 weeks with the injured ligament in the thumb on his throwing hand:
Saints' QB Drew Brees is expected to undergo thumb surgery as early as today that would be expected to sideline him approximately 6 weeks, per leagues sources.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 16, 2019
Brees was injured in the second quarter of Sunday’s 30 – 9 loss to the L.A. Rams at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. He was shown on the sideline with his thumb in a splint (above), as the game worn on and did not return to action.
Brees, who will be a certain first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and who led the Saints to their only Super Bowl appearance/win in franchise history in 2009, has been one of the 2-3 top quarterbacks in the NFL for over a decade. Brees, in his 19th season, currently has the NFL’s all time record for completions and passing yards that he accomplished a year ago. He has a staggering 115 games with 300 or more passing yards and another remarkable 12 straight seasons with 4,000 passing yards that is now in jeopardy with the injured thumb.
The Saints will now turn to veteran back up Teddy Bridgewater who filled in Sunday but did not have much success against the stout Rams defense in the loss. Bridgewater, the former Vikings QB, was 17-30 for 165 yards, as New Orleans never found the endzone in the game.
The Sains also have young third QB Taysom Hill, and he’s also been used as a receiver and a special teams ace by New Orleans.
The Bucs, who were winners Thursday night at Carolina, will travel to play the Saints at the Superdome on October 6th in the first of their two NFC South meetings. The following week, New Orleans will be at TIAA Bank Field to take on the Jaguars in their first appearance in North Florida in eight years.
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.
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