When Raheem Morris first took over as head coach, the Bucs contracted a defensive coordinator for him. Veteran Jim Bates was brought in to create a "Tampa 2.0", mixing the traditional Tampa 2 with Bates' background of a two-gap 4-3 and man coverage. Before the season was over Bates was gone and Raheem took over the playcalling. And that certainly seemed to help, at least initially.
Over the last six games of 2009, the Bucs conceded just 18 points per game, compared to a ridiculous 29 points per game over the first 10 games of that season. And in 2010 the defense seemed to improve further, Over a full season the Bucs gave up 20 points per season, while the pass defense was ranked 13th in the NFL by Football Outsiders. The run defense continued to be very weak, but that could be explained by a very young defensive line lacking quality play at defensive end.
But Raheem had improved the pass defense, and with two new defensive ends and projected improvement from the young defensive tackles a better defense could be expected in 2011. And then reality happened.
During the season so far, the Bucs have given up a massive 27 points per game. And while they've faced a tough schedule, including the Green Bay Packers, the New Orleans Saints twice and the Houston Texans, even when adjusted for opponents they've had a very poor defense. Worse, the pass defense has completely collapsed, despite that being Raheem's specialty. And despite some good performances against the run earlier this season, it seems the Bucs have once again reverted to being incapable of stopping any above-average running game.
As a former defensive backs coach, Raheem is supposed to be very good at evaluating and coaching up cornerbacks and safeties. And while he's gotten decent play out of low-drafted players like E.J. Biggers and Cody Grimm, the pass defense as a whole has been pretty much terrible this year. Lackluster and inconsistent play from Aqib Talib and basically every safety on the roster has been a major part of that collapse, but it is certainly disappointing.
Another part of the problem is the extensive use of man coverage by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. There are two sides to this coin: playing man coverage as a major part of the scheme allows the Bucs to be more creative and aggressive with blitzes. In addition, playing man coverage against good quarterbacks is almost a must these days, as they all know how to carve up zone coverage.
On the other side of the coin, the Bucs do not have the depth at defensive back to consistently play man coverage. While Aqib Talib has the skill to be a very good man coverage cornerback, he hasn't been consistent this year - or at any point in his career. Ronde Barber, meanwhile, is too much of a gambler and has lost his recovery speed to be a great man coverage cornerback, while E.J. Biggers, Elbert Mack and especially Myron Lewis can easily be exploited by quality third receivers.
So, Raheem doesn't really have great personnel in the secondary - but that doesn't excuse him. For one, he's had three years to collect the personnel he needs. More importantly: he doesn't need to put Myron Lewis in man coverage on Jordy Nelson with no safety help on a crucial third down. That's on Raheem Morris.
Three years in, and the Bucs still have a poor defense. While there was an uptick last year, all that progress has disappeared. The run defense continues to be horrible, and the pass defense is back to its old ways of being terrible. The results don't lie, and unless the defense starts playing well the rest of the year, the results say that Raheem's tenure as a Defensive Coordinator has failed.