TAMPA – Even with super-savvy veteran cornerback Brent Grimes in the lineup, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would consider the Buccaneers secondary an area of strength.
On the other hand, if you take Grimes out of the lineup, it seems a bit harsh to refer to the Bucs secondary as a weakness. After all, the Bucs tied for fourth in the league last year with 17 interceptions, 14 of which came from the secondary.
That, though, is where Bucs coach Dirk Koetter went on Monday when he was asked about the struggles the Bucs had stopping the Vikings passing game without Grimes during their 34-17 loss in Minneapolis this past Sunday.
“You have different levels of players,’’ Koetter said. “You have the best of the best and every player (in) this league is pretty good. But when you have weaknesses in certain positions, it’s our job as coaches to try to cover up those weaknesses (and) try to play to our strengths. Minnesota did a good job of attacking us so and we have to lick our wounds, learn our lessons and move forward.’’
Ouch. That probably isn’t going to sit too well with Vernon Hargreaves or Keith Tandy or anyone else in the Bucs secondary. That being said, after what we saw of the unit on Sunday, it’s hard to knock Koetter for his assessment.
The cold hard facts of the matter are that once again, Case Keenum picked the Bucs apart, completing 25 of 33 passes 369 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions.
The fact the Bucs pass rush was non-existent (Keenum was never sacked and was officially hit just three times) didn’t help matters, but it’s not like the Vikings have one of the league’s most feared receiving corps.
It’s a solid group but hardly one that should run all around the Bucs secondary the way it did on Sunday, but that’s what it did and Koetter explained why.
“We just weren’t tight enough on our coverage and your over-the-top coverage, your intermediate coverage and your pass rush all have to work together and (it) didn’t at all,’’ Koetter said.
“Our underneath coverage didn’t get deep enough in their drops and our deep coverage played too loose and let them throw balls not only behind them, but in front of them.’’
The biggest culprits of course were Hargreaves and Ryan Smith, the second-year cornerback-turned-safety-turned cornerback again who stepped in for Grimes.
Targeted 10 times, Hargreaves allowed seven receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown while Smith, who was targeted eight times, allowed five catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, according to Pro Football Focus.
Now, it’s possible that Hargreaves just had a bad day. After playing far too soft and passive as a rookie last year he had been playing tighter and with more confidence, at least until Sunday, according to the Bucs.
As for Smith, well, he’s been struggling ever since the Bucs decided to move him back to cornerback after they spent the bulk of last year trying to turn him into a safety.
It’s still too soon to know if maybe the league is just too big for Smith, but it’s possible it is. After all, he had what most scouts described as a marginal skill set coming out of college and he’s clearly struggling to keep pace so far in NFL.
Does that make the Bucs secondary – minus Grimes – a weakness? Again, it sure looked like one on Sunday, and when you consider that was the first game the Bucs have played without him the past two years, maybe it was because it is.