We’re only three games into the season, but it’s not too soon to wonder if the Buccaneers might have overestimated the talent they planned to build their pass rush around this season.
Through three games the Bucs have recorded just one sack and 14 quarterback hits, and it’s worth noting that the sack and nine of those hits came three weeks ago in the season opener against the Bears.
Since then the Bucs pass rush has been virtually non-existent, and no less of an authority than Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith admitted Tuesday the lack of pressure is indeed a “concern.’’
Along with a lack of takeaways – the Bucs haven’t forced a turnover in either of their last two games – the lack of sacks are indeed the two areas the Bucs are most concerned with right now.
The two tend to go hand in hand, of course. A good pass rush will force a quarterback into mistakes that can result in takeaways and good coverage on the back end can increase the effectiveness of the pass rush.
The Bucs didn’t have either element in their loss to the Vikings two weeks ago and while the coverage was better last week against the Giants, the pass rush was still non-existent.
The speed at which the quarterback gets rid of the ball can neutralize the pass rush, too, and while that has been a factor the last two weeks as well, it’s not like the Vikings and Giants didn’t go deep.
Both teams tried to work the ball downfield for big plays at times, but the Bucs struggled to disrupt the timing and rhythm of those throws, particularly against the Vikings.
It’s clear then that part of the problem is personnel and we all know that outside of signing nose tackle Chris Baker, the Bucs did little this past offseason to address that area.
Their hope, of course, was that after tying for ninth in the league with 38 sacks last year, they’d get better naturally this year with a healthier and more experienced Noah Spence and a healthy Jacquies Smith.
And that could still happen, but Spence has already dislocated the same shoulder that bothered him most of last year and there’s no way of knowing what the Bucs will get out of Smith or for how long they’ll get it.
This is an issue then that could go on all year and you get the feeling from listening not only to Smith but to head coach Dirk Koetter that they realize their pass rush may never be anything more than ordinary.
We’ve heard both say on several occasions of the personnel there that “the guys we’ve got are the guys we’ve got,’’ which seems to be an admission that the guys they’ve got just aren’t all that good.
There’s not much the Bucs can do about that now, but come next offseason and in particular the draft, you have to believe that improving the pass rush will be their top priority.