The Buccaneers were hoping rookie Vernon Hargreaves III would play a little more aggressively during his second start at right cornerback last Monday at Carolina.
The Bucs got the bump in aggression they were looking for from their 2016 first-round draft pick, but Hargreaves wasn’t the only member of the Bucs secondary who stepped his game up last Monday.
Despite the absence of a pass rush (the Bucs failed to register a sack or a quarterback hit) Tampa Bay got what was arguably its best game yet from the secondary as a whole during their 17-14 victory.
Fellow outside cornerback Brent Grimes led the way with two pass breakups and an interception; Hargreaves tipped a pass that led to another interception and the safeties stepped up as well.
Bradley McDougald led the Bucs with eight tackles and was one of the few players to make a play on Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, breaking up a third-and-6 pass that went his way late in the third quarter.
Third safety Keith Tandy made a key stop as well, stuffing Panthers running back Cameron Artis-Payne for no gain on a third-and-1 play late in the first quarter. Even Chris Conte stepped up with four tackles.
After a rugged start, the combined effort of the corners and safeties has the Bucs thinking their secondary may have turned a corner so to speak and may finally be rounding into shape.
“Yeah, they’ve been getting crushed a bit, but I’ve been thinking our secondary’s not that bad,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said. “Again, (a lot of the problems were because) the offense has been putting them in a lot of bad situations.
“But even without a pass rush (against Carolina) I thought our secondary did a good job, with the exception of Olsen, who obviously got loose on us a few times (catching nine passes for 181 yards), although he made some plays when we did have him covered too.
“But both of our corners did a nice job. I mean, Vernon knocked that first one out (that resulted in a pick for linebacker Daryl Smith) and Brent had his in the end zone so in essence, we get two turnovers from our corners so it was good.’’
Just how good was explained even further by ProFootballFocus, which determined that Grimes allowed only one catch against two targets while Hargreaves allowed six on eight but for only 70 yards, including just nine after the catch.
The Bucs head into the bye with that going for them.