Earlier today, JC De La Torre wrote about the Bucs' focus on turnovers, and how that focus may be letting them down despite getting a decent amount of takeaways. There's another part of Lovie Smith's defensive philosophy that the Bucs are executing to perfection, too: they're stopping big plays.
QBs are slicing up the Bucs in little pieces. TB has allowed only 21 completions of 20 yards or more, tied with Denver for fewest in the NFL— Ira Kaufman (@IKaufmanTBO) November 9, 2015
Part of that is the result of the consistently short fields Bucs opponents are getting: prior to this week, the Bucs ranked fifth-worst in average starting field position for the defense, per Football Outsiders' statistics. But a large part of it is that in a sense, the scheme is working. The safeties are keeping plays in front of them, and the team is consistently getting players down before they can turn a short catch into a huge play.
Of course, the fact that the Bucs are getting turnovers and not allowing big plays doesn't actually make their defense good. Quarterbacks have had little trouble using all those small completions to just traverse the field consistently, though the team at least looked better trying to stop Eli Manning on Sunday. Prior to that game, Football Outsiders had the Bucs pass defense ranked 29th -- even with a heroic performance that won't have improved drastically by the time this week's performance is incorporated.
Does that mean Lovie Smith's philosophy is outdated? I don't think so. He's not the only one using it -- Ron Rivera runs basically the same defense in Carolina, and Pete Carroll and his disciples have the same general philosophy, even if the specifics can be a little different. The problem is mainly that the Bucs can't get pressure rushing four, and the cornerbacks are plain terrible. Those issues can't be fixed without getting better personnel, and Smith and Licht just haven't been able to do that so far.
But it is still highly ironic that the Bucs are largely executing Lovie Smith's core philosophies, and still playing terrible football.