All-22: Buccaneers run defense has struggled to play sound football in recent weeks

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an issue on defense, and it's not what we expected to talk about this year.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have shown a disturbing tendency in recent games, giving up over 100 rushing yards in three of the past four games. The defense has steadily declined since a very good start in the first four games. The run defense, which was one of the best in the NFL last year, has now turned into the Swiss cheese unit we know and hate. Marshawn Lynch managed 125 yards on 21 carries, with Robert Turbin adding another 37 on 8 carries. That kind of performance will not win you games. It's all the more disturbing because stopping the run is Greg Schiano's big thing.

Against the Seahawks, the Buccaneers struggled to play sound, fundamental run defense. They failed to add an extra defender in the box, and they frequently found themselves outnumbered at the point of attack, despite theoretically having a numerical advantage: the defense always does, because the quarterback is not a threat to run -- normally.

One reason the Bucs consistently found themselves outnumbered was the zone read. Whether or not Russell Wilson was genuinely reading a player on run plays, the defense had to account for this possibility -- and this led to them assigning a player to Wilson, which then left gaps elsewhere in the defense. This showed up on one particular third-quarter play.


A few plays later, the Bucs managed to mess up again, Keith Tandy, being the culprit this time. He failed to get the right angle against Wilson, instead biting a bit too much on the running back fake. Despite an interception, Tandy had a horrible game against Seattle.

According to Stephen White, this was Adrian Clayborn's fault. He has to get under that kickout block by the tight end, but instead he gets taken down and leaves a wide hole.

Of course, the zone read wasn't everything. At other times, the defense simply failed to fill all of their gaps. This has been a theme in recent games: the Bucs just aren't playing sound run defense.

It's not clear who's to blame, here. My first instinct is to blame Keith Tandy, who looks like he'd be responsible for that gap and is late to start running downhill. But then it's an impossible task to come up from the deep safety position and stop the running back in the hole. One reason the Bucs signed Dashon Goldson was that he's outstanding in that role, but Tandy is no Goldson.

Of course, Stephen White saw a cross blitz in this play -- which means Lavonte David was at fault.

Which just reinforces the fact that it's very difficult to correctly assign blame if you don't know the play call.

The concerning but consistent issue has been a slew of defensive breakdowns, whether in coverage or run defense. Bill Sheridan's defense is very blitz- and stunt-heavy, especially in the run game, which means that every player has to be exactly where he's supposed to be or they're likely to give up a big play.

That's a big reason why the Bucs have had issues on defense over the past four games. If they can't fix those breakdowns, they'll continue to struggle on defense, both in the run game and in pass coverage.

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