The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.3% of their passes this year, a season after allowing them to complete 68.7%. Those are staggering numbers: only eight times has a quarterback ever done better than completing 69.3% of his passes in a single season, four of those seasons posted by Hall of Famers or near-certain Hall of Famers -- and one by Kirk Cousins, assuming he doesn't mess it up next week. Only the 2011 Indianapolis Colts and 2007 Detroit Lions had opponents post higher completion percentages.
Conjure folks' surprise when Lovie Smith talked down that statistic yesterday.
"First off, the completion rating can be misleading," the Bucs head coach said. "You have to look at the context of how it's happening. I don't really go by that an awful lot. You can dump the ball off and get a one-yard gain and there's a completion so I don't put a lot into that. What's discouraging to us right now is we haven't gotten the type of pressure that we need. We haven't intercepted the ball enough and some of the long passes that we've given up - those are the areas that I and that we look to as far as if we are playing the pass good enough or not."
When you're nearly setting records for completion percentage, something's definitely wrong. But to an extent, Lovie Smith is right that completion percentage alone doesn't really mean all that much. It's bad, certainly, but a lot of that has to do with the types of passes the Bucs are allowing. They've only allowed 18 passes of 25 or more yards this year, fewer than any other team in the NFL. They're also ranked 17th in net yards per attempt and 24th in Football Outsiders' passing defense DVOA -- certainly not great, but hardly the earth-shatteringly terrible record one would expect given that completion percentage.
This isn't necessarily a surprise if we look at Lovie Smith's history with the Chicago Bears. While he never came close to allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete that many passes, completion percentage didn't really correlate with defensive success over his tenure. His two worst defenses featured the highest and lowest completion percentage allowed, while his best defenses were mall over the map as well.
The Bucs defense isn't struggling because it allows opponents to complete a lot of passes. It's struggling mostly because it hasn't taken away the ball: they have just 11 interceptions, while allowing 29 touchdowns. That has a lot to do with the team's quality in the defensive secondary (no defensive back has more than two interceptions) and pass rush. Lovie Smith's defenses have always succeeded because they manage to force turnovers. That's the one thing the Bucs haven't done since the late-season slide started.