The Tampa Bay Times reports that the Bucs are not willing to move on from Bill Sheridan, despite arguably fielding the worst pass defense in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history. So why is that? The Times gives three reasons:
- It was Schiano's scheme (as I've noted before).
- Execution of the defenses was poor.
- Talent was worse.
All of this is true, and yet, the defense was still absolutely putrid, even taking those issues into account. Losing Aqib Talib for four games and then trading him away certainly doesn't help, and neither does losing Eric Wright for a total of six games and seeing him limited in several others because of injury. And then E.J. Biggers had to miss most of the early season, while Anthony Gaitor didn't return until week 10. When you're forced to play Leonard Johnson, Danny Gorrer and LeQuan Lewis in major roles, you are going to struggle.
And the scheme certainly worked better early in the season. Sure, they gave up a lot of yards to Eli Manning, but they mostly contained Cam Newton and Tony Romo, while producing multiple turnovers. Still, even then the pass defenses wasn't great, with over 300 yards per game given up through the first four games. We can blame the players, but even when the players were all there the team struggled.
Can we blame the pass rush? To an extent, sure. 25 sacks is nothing to write home about and the Bucs have the talent to do much better than that. They had to miss Adrian Clayborn for all but two-and-a-half games, while Da'Quan Bowers had to miss most of the season. Even when he returned, Bowers wasn't fully healthy. So there are excuses. But here, too, there are problems of scheme: the constant stunts and blitzes may have helped against the run, but they crippled a defensive line that seems completely incapable of just executing a normal stunt.
The Bucs absolutely destroyed several offensive lines during the season, including the Cowboys', Falcons', Vikings' and Eagles' lines. They can rush the passer one-on-one, although they weren't overflowing with defensive line talent. For large parts of the season, Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett were their only two capable pass rushers. But what hurt the most, was the blitzes. They were poorly coordinated, poorly executed and almost never got home. Even when they did get home they left such gaping holes in the secondary that it wasn't uncommon to see a quarterback find a wide open receiver in the middle of the field.
So should Bill Sheridan be retained? I'm not as interested in figuring out who to blame for last season as I am in figuring out how to fix the defense for next season. I would start with, quite simply, better cornerbacks. Leonard Johnson showed a little promise, and Anthony Gaitor is always fun to watch, but you're not going to build a secondary around those guys. The team needs more talent at cornerback -- and whether that comes through a weak free agent class or a strong draft class doesn't really matter.
Second, is a better pass rush. Re-signing Michael Bennett is an absolute must. The team could always use an elite pass-rusher, although it can only field so many players at a time. With Da'Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn (if healthy for next season), Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett could form an extremely talented pass rush package. More importantly, though, I would spend basically the entire offseason drilling these players on how to properly run pass-rush stunts and blitzes. Because looking back at the season, that was one of the biggest factors: the defensive linemen and blitzers took themselves out of plays by improperly executing their assignments. It falls on the coaches to get that right.
If Bill Sheridan can get that done, then I think this defense should be okay. The blitzes and aggressive playcalling aren't really his fault: that's just Schiano's style of doing things. It's teaching the defense that becomes an issue. And the Bucs must get better there.