As you might have expected, the Buccaneers slipped a bit in the NFL’s total defense rankings after surrendering a franchise record 626 total yards during their 30-24 loss to the Raiders last Sunday.
The Bucs are now ranked 26th overall, allowing 390.0 yards per game, which is rather incredible when you consider they’re among the league’s leaders in one very important defensive category.
The Bucs have been downright money in getting off the field on the money down this year, allowing opponents to convert just 34.04 percent of their third downs.
That’s good enough for fifth in the league, but the number would have been a lot better had the Bucs maintained their pace during the second half of that loss to the Raiders.
The Bucs allowed the Raiders to convert just one of six third-downs during the first half last week but stumbled and allowed them to convert six of 12 during the second half and overtime.
“There was some miscommunication, there were some missed tackles and there were some calls that a coach would like to have back that are still sitting up in there in the press box,’’ Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith said of the issues the Bucs had preventing third-down conversions against the Raiders after halftime. “Those were all contributing factors. You can’t just (say it) was on one group or one guy.’’
The Bucs will obviously be looking to get back to their old stingy ways on third down when they take on the Falcons in their NFC South battle on Thursday at Raymond James Stadium.
To do that, though, they’re going to have to be stingier on the earlier downs. In particular they’re going to have to be stingier on first down, because that’s where opponents are making most of their ground.
Through seven games the Bucs have allowed an average of 6.05 yards per first-down play, which is more than half a yard more than the NFL average of 5.53 yards per first-down play and ranks 27th overall.
That’s an indication the Bucs base defense isn’t getting the job done, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the Bucs base defense has struggled to stay healthy, particularly up front.
That situation could change quickly, though, what with defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle) back in the lineup and tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring) on the brink of returning to action.
Of course, it’s not just on first down where Ayers and McDonald would make an impact. Both are among the Bucs better pass rushers so they could make an impact on third down as well.