If you didn't happen across the game this past Saturday, go look at the stats. Tampa won, yet demonstrated that the defensive line is yet struggling to make plays and limit rushing attacks. Regular season play is nearly upon us and fans have serious concerns about the defense performing poorly and putting the offense, possibly without Freeman for a game or more, in poor situations.
Run Defense: Worrisome but Progressing
Last season I watched the games without expecting Tampa to win but looking to see player improvement. For the most part I was satisfied, and believe this team can perform much better in 2010. I still believe this to be the case, however the Chiefs gave Tampa a lot of trouble on the ground. This was evident watching the game but the numbers are still surprising.
The four most relevant running backs rushed for a combined 142 yards. Here are their Yards Per Carry averages:
Palko: 7.0; Battle: 5.36; Charles: 5.2; Jones: 3.63.
Obviously, the message isn't that all hope is lost, but there is cause for concern. Tampa's initial two picks were directed toward stopping the run and an immeasurable amount of pressure is on McCoy and Price to dominate. They have to more than merely produce in their careers, they have to ascend to levels that exceed 'good'. The entirety of the defense depends on being able to shut down opponents running games and forcing them to test Tampa's strength: the secondary.
McCoy looked better against Kansas City than he did facing Miami. You could see him use his hands better and get some pressure on the quarterback and was about thirty inches from getting a sack. Brian Price played poorly and was on the ground often, however he's given a pass because of his injury and absence. McCoy's performance was satisfying and reassuring, and Price's camp gives hope to fans because they've seen him perform well. Still, most running backs in red were able to impose their will and move the chains.
Maurice Jones-Drew will test the line even further next week. Though not perfect, the line has played with an upward trend as the rookies are getting acclimated, and I expect Tampa to perform better than they did against the Chiefs. Not immensely better, but noticeably.
Statistics according to http://www.nfl.com/gamecenter/2010082153/2010/PRE2/chiefs@buccaneers#tab:analyze