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How the Buccaneers play "Bend but don't break" defense

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play some bend-but-don't-break defensive football, but it's not working as well as they expect.

Clive Mason

"Who's gonna tell you when it's too late?

Who's gonna tell you things aren't so great?

You can't go on thinking nothing's wrong.

Who's gonna drive you home tonight?

Who's gonna pick you up when you fall?

Who's gonna hang it up when you call?

Who's gonna pay attention to your dreams?

Who's gonna plug their ears when you scream?

You can't go on thinking nothing's wrong.

Who's gonna drive you home tonight." - The Cars, ‘Drive'

The 2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the expectation of becoming a top five defense in all of the NFL with the hires of head coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator coach Leslie Frazier. Both coaches are renowned for their defensive approach to the game of football. The defensive scheme is a Tampa-2, which is a "bend, but do not break" type of defense, as it allows many yards to accrue and yet limits the production of scores.

The Bucs currently have a 1 - 4 record. The Bucs allowed the second-most points in the league with 156 points, granted 56 points were from one game. Let us have a peek into how "this bend, but do not break defense" has been faring in respect to drives. (Note: In the Atlanta game, there was an interception returned for a touchdown and a punt returned for a touchdown for Atlanta. In the New Orleans game, there was a safety. That is a total of 16 points, which is the difference in points allowed and Offensive scoring in the chart below.)

Opposing Offenses vs TB Defense

Team

Drive

Plays

Yards

Offensive Scoring

40 + yard Drives

50 + yard Drives

60 + yard Drives

70 + Yard Drives

80 + Yard Drives

90 + yard Drives

Total

Car

11

71

317

20

2

0

1

0

0

0

3

StL

8

64

343

19

1

0

1

1

1

0

4

Atl

13

67

570

42

1

1

1

1

2

0

6

Pit

11

75

375

24

0

0

1

1

1

1

4

NO

13

89

522

35

1

0

2

2

1

0

6

Totals

56

366

2127

140

5

1

6

5

5

1

23

Avg

11.2

73.2

425.4

28

1

0.2

1.2

1

1

0.2

Percent of drives over total number of drives

8.9%

1.8%

10.7%

8.9%

8.9%

1.8%

41.1%

The defense is giving up 28 points per game. Against divisional opponents, the defense is giving up 32.3 points per game; Lovie's preseason meme of "I'll take our defense over any divisional offense" now seems a bit hollow. Of the 56 total drives, 23 of them have been 40 yards or more. The percentage is 41.1% of the total drives are of the 40 yards or more variety. From the 23 drives that are 40 yards or more, 17 of the drives are 60 yards or more! That is a terrible stat that substantiates why we have given up an exorbitant amount of points to opposing offenses.

The increasing amount of long drives should be a concern because it equates to a lot of scoring involved for the opposing team. Reducing the length of opposing offenses' drives should be an imperative goal for any defense, but with more urgency for the Bucs' defense as it seems incapable of preventing the opposing teams from literally running roughshod over the defense.

Atlanta and New Orleans both have the most long-drives against the Bucs.  Not surprisingly, they both have prolific passers leading their respective offenses. If the defense does not make adjustments soon, then expect opposing offenses to continue to have long drives against this defense. The more long drives the opposing offenses have, the longer the defense has to remain on the field. With the notion that the Tampa-2 supposedly has a limit on how may plays they can be on the field before wilting like a flower when winter season comes, the team either improves its endurance or stops the opposing team sooner.

On a tangent, despite the Bucs' defensive abysmal third down conversion rate of 48.4%, which ranks 28th worst in the league, that enables opposing offenses to remain on the field, they will be playing a team who is slightly better this week in the Baltimore Ravens with 47.8% third down conversion rate. Oddly enough, the Ravens are 3 - 2 on the season. The Bucs' points allowed are 156 points.  The Ravens' points allowed are 80 points.  (All stats can be found at your local ESPN.com site.)

So the Bucs' defense is porous. Let us now peer into how our offense performs.

TB Offense vs Opposing Defense

Team

Drive

Plays

Yards

Offensive Scoring

40 + yard Drives

50 + yard Drives

60 + yard Drives

70 + Yard Drives

80 + Yard Drives

90 + yard Drives

Total

Car

11

55

279

14

1

1

2

0

0

0

4

StL

9

54

372

17

1

0

2

2

0

0

5

Atl

14

57

143

7

0

0

0

0

1

0

1

Pit

10

66

365

27

1

0

1

0

2

0

4

NO

11

55

274

24

1

0

0

0

2

0

3

Totals

55

287

1433

89

4

1

5

2

5

0

17

Avg

11

57.4

286.6

17.8

0.8

0.2

1

0.4

1

0

Percent of drives over total number of drives

7.3%

1.8%

9.1%

3.6%

9.1%

0.0%

30.9%

The last two games have the Bucs' offense producing more points than the previous three games.  What is revealing is that our offense is able to sustain longer drives. Instead of settling for field goals or having turnovers, the offense has been able to put up touchdowns. The past two games, the offense has had two drives 80 + yards for each game. This could be because of the change in offensive play calling as well as a change in quarterback. While some may discount the 7 points scored in the Atlanta game, it was Glennon who manned that 80 yard drive. All five 80 + yard drives belong to Glennon being the quarterback.

Alas, the improvement of offensive scoring and scoring drives are all for naught if the opposing team's offense cannot be stopped. The problem with the "bend, but do not break defense" is if the defense is not as disciplined, then the defense will be breaking more than bending. Can the defense save itself from itself? The long drives of the opposing offenses keep the defense on the field, thereby wearing them down. To put any blame on an offense who helped put the team 11 points ahead at the top of the fourth quarter with a 10 play, 81 yard touchdown drive that ate up 6:29 on the opposing defense, seems a bit cheap. The defense was given that much time to rest, including the time between the third and fourth quarters.

If the Bucs' defense does not become more disciplined and prevent long drives, then we have to ask which team will drive it home on us tonight?