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Defense Shows Up Late, Saves the Day for the Buccaneers

While Cleveland TE Eric Moore scampered down the sidelines in the first drive of the 2nd half, it appeared Buccaneer fans would continue to see more missed tackles and mistakes from their defense. 

Not so fast.

Barrett Ruud forced a fumble on the same drive and Quincy Black recovered to thwart what would be the longest and most productive drive the Cleveland offense would put forth in the half.  The drive covered 67 yards.  The Browns would only muster 56 more yards for the remainder of the half.  Included in those 56 yards are 31 yards the Browns mustered in the final seconds when the Buccaneer defense was in prevent mode.  That leaves a whopping 25 yards the Buccaneer defense surrendered the rest of the half.  Twenty-five.....veinticinco.  Incredible. That's less yardage than Jerome Harrison had in one run in the first half.  6 consecutive 3 and outs or a turnover from the defense.  After the first drive, the next first down the Browns would manage would be with 1:54 left on the clock in the 4th quarter.  That, my friends, is flipping the script on a bad half in a major, major way. 

Josh Cribbs (said the better team lost after the game), eat your heart out.  You were flat-out shut down, sir.

So what did the Buccaneers do to change their fortunes? It's tough not to be able to get into specifics without the benefit of watching a DVR'd replay, but............

The Bucs managed to finally slow down that Cleveland running game and clog running lanes, putting the Browns in tougher 2nd/3rd and long situations. On the next four possessions following the Hillis fumble, Jerome Harrison and Josh Cribbs rushed for a grand total of -2 yards on 5 carries on 1st/2nd down.  The front four gave absolutely zero ground, as every time Cribbs or Harrison got to the line, there was a mass of players stonewalling any sort of positive gain.  The linebackers had a nice second half.  Geno Hayes showed up in the backfield on multiple occasions, planting Harrison for a loss to help squelch a late 4th-qtr CLE possession deep in their own end.   Barrett Ruud was solid and hit the holes timely and effectively.

Obviously, this put the Browns in long passing situations, which is not the strength of their football team.....and it showed.  Jake Delhomme was indecisive in the pocket and was off on his throws, finishing 7/17 for 55 yards and an interception after the Hillis fumble and 20/37 for 227 yds, 1 TD/2 INTs for the day. 

Although the pressure wasn't particularly stellar for most of the contest, the front four fed off the lively crowd late in the game and forced Delhomme to move out of the pocket and throw some errant passes.  Part of the reason the defensive linemen had time to get to Delhomme is because the secondary locked onto their receivers and smothered them like a blanket.  E.J. Biggers had a whale of a game, making a nifty leaping interception late in the 4th quarter, breaking up a pass, and making a key open field tackle on 3rd down with under 3 minutes to go.  He is clearly the 3rd-best CB on this team and is a guy I'm starting to feel better about leaving in one-on-one coverage with a slot receiver in nickel packages.

So what am I taking away from the defense's overall performance?  Starting with positives..........Well, first, I'm pretty pleased to see the coaching staff getting their players to respond after halftime adjustments.  That wasn't a given last season, especially with Jim Bates running the defense.  One dreadful half of football was followed by another.  Not the case yesterday.  The defense we were all hoping to see showed up finally.  Better late than never.  Ronde still has it. EJ Biggers is a solid backup option/nickel CB....maybe better than that. All of this happened without Aqib Talib.  Geno Hayes looked like a headhunting freak in the second half, playing controlled football and making stops. Gerald McCoy had a nice game, flusing Delhomme out of the pocket in the second half and helping gum up the guard-tackle gap in the second half.  Barrett Ruud might.....just able to play physical, inspired football near the line of scrimmage (obviously need to see more, but if he can do it for a half, he can do it again).

I'm not particularly concerned with the seeming confusion in the secondary between Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones, which led to the first TD.  It's early, there are some new faces on the defense, and mental mistakes will happen as everyone, new and old, gets accustomed to playing together and, for some, in a new defense.  I'm more concerned with the missed tackles, whiffs, bad angles, and mistakes in fundamentals that were prevalent in the first half.  Pretty much what haunted the defense last season reared its ugly head in the first half.  The corners concerned me with their inadequate run support in the first half, leading to several impact plays by the Browns.......most notably a run off-end by Harrison for 39 yards and an off-tackle run by Peyton Hillis for a TD.  Good teams wrap up and get players on the ground. 

All in all, for one week, I'll look upon the defense with smiling eyes.