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Is the Bucs' Defense Progressing?

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gents, we have arrived at the bye week for the 2015 season. After five games, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won two games. Now would be a perfect time to reflect on averages compared to last year under the Lovie Smith era.

On defense, this will be year two under the same direction. The only exception is that Lovie Smith will be making defensive calls. Roster additions are S Chris Conte, S DJ Swearinger, MLB Kwon Alexander, LB Bruce Carter, DE George Johnson, DT Henry  Melton, DT Tony McDaniel, and CB Tim Jennings. A few of the players have had previous experience in the Tampa-2 style defense.

We should expect either maintaining play or improving play from last season. Imperative word here is "should".

Opposing Offenses vs TB Defense
2014 v 2105 (First five games)
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
2014 Avg Games 1 - 6 72.17 429.17 31.33 0.83 0.67 1 0.83 1.17 0.17 4.67
Bye Week
Games 7 - 16 67.6 329.7 19.8 0.8 1.4 0.7 0.5 0.5 0.1 4
2015 Games 1 - 5 65.20 348.60 26.80 0.60 1.20 1.00 0.80 0.60 0.00 4.20

The defense has regressed when comparing all of the games in 2015 against the last 10 games for 2014. This year's defense is giving up more long drives, more yards per game, and, more importantly, more points per game allowed. Points allowed differential between after the bye week 2014 with 2015 is that the 2015 defense is allowing 7 more points per game, or a touchdown per game average!

No one should be happy or encouraged by this result. After an offseason to add players to the defense as well as add one via the draft, the 2015 should become better or at least maintain the high level of play from late last season.

Football Outsiders
Defensive Passing Stats - Basics
Rank Week/ year Left Rank Middle Rank right Rank Deep Rank Short Rank
23 2014,        WK 16 -8.0% 14 20.4% 21 8.7% 24 33.60% 24 -0.90% 20
22 2015,    Wk 5 -22.1% 6 45.1% 21 30.3% 30 -22.90% 4 28% 32

Here are stats from Football Outsiders. As you can compare between the last stat of 2014 against the past five games of 2015, the pass defense has regressed. The negative numbers equates to better stats for the defense because Football Outsiders does this stat from the offensive side perspective.

Now, focus your attention to the 2015 Deep pass rank. The Bucs are ranked 4th overall. That implies several things such as fewer big plays allowed. If this is the case, then that would also imply there would be less scoring against the defense. Except, that is not the case this year as the defense is allowing 26.8 ppg.

Next, shift your eyes to the Short pass rank. The Bucs are ranked 32nd overall, or dead last. Why would any team want to take chances with big, long plays when the defense cannot stop the high efficiencies of the short passing game?

Football Outisders
Defensive Passing Stats - Deep and Short
Deep Short
Rank Week/year Left Mid Right Left Mid Right
23 wk 16, 2014 3.8% 35.6% 54.8% -10.3% 16.1% -2.3%
22 wk 5, 2015 -81.0% 39.9% -13.6% -8.0% 46.0% 44.0%

A closer look into the breakdowns of the deep and short passing could help reveal things, hopefully. Just for basic purposes, deep passing would attack the safeties and the short passing would be cornerbacks and middle linebacker. In 2014, the starting corners were Banks and Verner. This year, Banks has played in only the first three games and Verner has been displaced at the starting cornerback position. Yet in the short passing game, the corners did a great job as they posted a negative percentage result in 2014. The 2015 team is getting burned in the middle and the right side in the short passing game.

The safety play has improved vastly. There are many factors here. The Bucs do have some pressure to not allow an efficient long pass play to occur. At the same time, the pressure applied is not quick enough to disrupt the short passing game.

To conflate the matter, the Red Zone defense is bad. What is much worse than that are the long drives these Red Zone opportunities come from.

Tampa Bay
Defensive Red Zone Stat
Red Zone Drives
Game Team Success Attempt 50+ 60+ 70+ 80+ Total
1 Ten 4 4 2 1 0 0
2 NO 3 3 1 0 0 1
3 Hou 1 2 0 1 1 0
4 Car 2 5 0 1 0 0
5 Jax 4 5 1 1 2 1
Total 14 19 4 4 3 2 13

A total of 19 times the opposing offense has breached the Red Zone threshold. Of those 19 opportunities, 13 of them are drives of 50 yards or longer. Of those 19 opportunities, nine drives were 50 yards were 60 yards or longer. That means the defense has had ample distance to prevent the opposing offenses from reaching the Red Zone, but could not stop them.

There is a difference of implementation of the defense between this year and last year. I think Lovie is gambling a lot on defense. He wants to create pressure. He wants that killer instinct. And he was eaten alive in the first game of the season by a rookie QB who excels in the short passing game. The old Tampa-2 philosophy was "bend, but do not break,"; give up yards, but not the points. Let the opposing offense make a mistake in trying to dink and dunk their way.

In the last game against the Jaguars, it was feast or famine. Six drives went three plays of less. Unfortunately, the other five drives all resulted in scores and all of those drives were 50 yards or longer, as denoted in the Defensive Red Zone Stat.