The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are going to field one of the five best NFL defenses this year. They have one of the most talented defenses around, with Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Michael Johnson, Alterraun Verner and Mark Barron highlighting a group that has both top-end starters and depth. The Buccaneers also have one of the best defensive coaches to grace an NFL field in Lovie Smith.
Last year, Greg Schiano messed up a talented defense with some really weird schematic decisions. Blitzes could get home, but often produced coverage breakdowns. Slow-developing stunts limited the effectiveness of the four-man rush. Darrelle Revis had safety help much too often. And despite all that, they still were the eighth defense in the NFL by Football Outsiders' rankings. Now imagine what they could do with a great coach, because that's exactly what Lovie Smith is.
The only times Lovie Smith did not coach a top 10 defense by Football Outsiders' measures were 1996, when he was the linebackers coach under Tony Dungy in their first year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2003, when the St. Louis Rams were 11th, and 2009 when weird things happened and the Bears ranked 21st. Mostly, they just couldn't rush the passer then.
Let me rephrase all of that: since entering the NFL in 1996, Lovie Smith has coached (for) one of the 10 best defenses 14 times, and failed to hit that mark just thrice in five years as a linebackers coach for the Bucs, three years as a defensive coordinator for the St. Louis rams and nine years as a head coach for the Chicago Bears. Going by that same measure, he's even coached the best defense in the NFL twice (2005 and 2012), and coached a top five defense seven times (1999, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012).
What's more, he did that without dominant pass rushers, for the most part. Lovie Smith's nine years in Chicago featured only four with a double-digit pass rusher: Julius Peppers in 2011 and 2012, Mark Anderson in 2006 and Adewale Ogunleye in 2005. That's it. No one else notched 10+ sacks in Chicago. Sure, they invested in the defensive line and got solid play out of a lot of players -- but they didn't have Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp in their prime. Or even a Gerald McCoy.
That is a ridiculous record of success in a variety of circumstances. No one (except Monte Kiffin) has been able to sustain quality defensive play like that. In short: Lovie Smith is a boss, and this defense is going to dominate. Should be fun.