After yesterday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Lovie Smith came to his defense's...defense. "Since the bye week they've been playing good defense. Today we got the takeaways. Set our team up to score some points off of the takeaways."
Turns out that Lovie Smith is basically right about that. Where before the bye week they gave up a ridiculous 34 points per game, they've given up just 18 points per game since. Before the bye week they gave up 423 yards per game. Since the bye week, a neat 300 yards per game. The Bucs have been much, much better on defense since the bye week by basically every statistical measure except turnovers, where they've remained stagnant.
Part of that is due to having faced weaker offenses, but even after compensating for that effect, the difference is striking. Looking at Football Outsiders' stats, which adjust for opponent quality, the Bucs have been much better in recent weeks.
After six weeks, right before the bye, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were ranked 30th on defense, by Football Outsiders' estimation. They had a DVOA of 15.2% (the lower the better). And yet, this past week they were ranked 21st, with a DVOA of 2.6% -- and that's over the season as a whole, which includes those games that got them that horrible week six ranking. After yesterday's solid effort against the Bengals, that ranking should go up a little further.
The improvement on defense since the bye week has been real, and it bodes well for the future. That improvement isn't due to any one thing. Jacquies Smith's emergence as a consistent edge rusher has helped. Replacing Mark Barron with Major Wright and now Bradley McDougald hasn't hurt. But every player seems to be improved: they seem better able to understand what their task in the defense is, and what they need to do to be successful.
Johnthan Banks is the perfect example. He had a solid but unspectacular rookie season, but was absolutely horrible early on this year. He didn't seem comfortable, he let receivers routinely blow by him and when he didn't, he played with a huge cushion, giving up easy first downs. But since the bye week he has three interceptions, and really hasn't been picked on much at all.
Unfortunately, no such improvement can be found on offense. After six weeks, the Bucs' offense was ranked 30th by Football Outsiders' stats. After twelve weeks, they're ranked 31st. That's not going to improve this week, either. Despite a draft that consisted solely of offensive players, despite signing a new quarterback, despite overhauling the offensive line, the Bucs are still terrible on offense.
I guess we really are back in the Tony Dungy days.