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Buccaneers defense is simple, but not easy to learn

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Learning anything new is a difficult task.  There are several studies that focus on the strategies of learning such as Bloom's taxonomy‘s Cognitive domain, consisting of six stages, or Fitts and Posner's three stage model.  There exists a certain process before one can self-actualize their potential, or sometimes know where they may become stuck.  Yet, it is within this context that Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans can place their faith in the optimism of a great defensive performance for the upcoming 2015 NFL season.

At an off-season 2014 season ticket holder event, then new head coach Lovie Smith had stated that he would take his defense over any divisional offense. After a 4 - 12 season, the hiring of an established defensive-minded head coachhad set expectations very high. In retrospect, it was a lofty goal. So lofty that the Bucs could be Icarus and the height of his flight the goals for the team. Unfortunately, like Icarus, hubris in the Lovie's defense abetted in owners of the worst record in football, by strength of schedule.

Being ranked 25th overall in team defense suggests that the wax liquidated at a much faster rate, which was a co-conspirator to our demise of a 2 - 14 season.  Or was did the wax really melt?

Bloom's Taxonomy

Implementation of any new learned subject takes time.  It also takes even more time for the implementation to be executed at a very efficient rate.  Let us take a look at Bloom's taxonomy, or the hierarchal levels of learning.

Survey this chart as if it one were to build a house.  One must start from the bottom and build up.  Although there are six components in Bloom's Cognitive domain, the updated leveling system differentiates into four levels.

Level 1 is remembering, or recognition of knowledge.  This is the recalling of facts, terms, basic concepts and answers.  Football terms: Knowing what scheme you are in.

Level 2 is understanding, or comprehension.  Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions, and stating main ideas.  Football terms: Knowing what your position is required for you of this scheme as well as those around you.

Level 3 is application.  This is the implementation stage based upon levels 1 and 2.  Football terms: Put it all together into practice and live game events.

Level 4 represents the upper echelon of cognitive thinking which involves analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

  • Analysis is accomplished by breaking down information to parts by identifying motives or causes. Football terms: Knowing what the opposing team is trying to create pre-snap and post-snap.
  • Synthesis is compiling information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing an alternative solution. Football terms: If the pre-snap does not pan out to the post snap, then how does the player, players, or defensive scheme react?
  • Evaluation, or creation, presents and defends opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria. Football terms: Reviewing tapes to identify pros and cons of how the game was played.

Here is an example of Blooms' Cognitive domain, level 1 to level 3, courtesy of :

One Tampa Bay player who admits he had a difficult time learning those techniques was cornerback Alterraun Verner, a 2013 Pro Bowler with the Titans who was signed by the Bucs as a free agent last March.

"The way I played in Tennessee was more reaction-based,'' Verner said during an interview this week on the NFL Network's "NFL AM" show. "(But) in Lovie's system, you have to kind of be in the right spots.

"You have landmarks, and you have to be very disciplined and be very trusting in your teammates. And since it was my first year, most of the guys were new to me and the whole system being new, I think that trust factor was not really lost but being built over time.

"I think that's why you saw it toward the end of the season, us playing a little bit better as a group because we were together, especially in the back end, and I think that's why it's going to be even better this year."

Fitts and Posner's Three Stage Model

Fitts and Posner's model of learning helps to identify beyond the cognitive domain.  The three stages are cognitive, associative, and autonomous.  Essentially, the breakdown is differentiating between an NFL player, a very good NFL player, and an elite NFL player.

Cognitive stage, stage 1, represents the development of basic movement pattern.  This is an NFL player.

Associative stage, stage 2, reveals refinement of movement pattern.  This is a very good NFL player.

Autonomous stage, stage 3, exudes performance of movement virtually automatic.  Not everyone can reach this stage.  This is an elite NFL player.

Fitts and Posner's model, in respect of football, represents players for that player's team or team scheme.  In respect to Bucs' football, former Bucs' safety, Mark Barron, was traded mid-season because he could not grasp the cognitive stage of a Tampa-2 being implemented in, of course, Tampa.  Barron could not grasp the basic movement in a Tampa-2.  Although an unpopular move to the fans, there is statistic that support the trade was the correct move.  The trade occurred after the Minnesota Vikings' game, one game after the bye week.

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
Avg Games 1 - 6 72.17 429.17 31.33 0.83 0.67 1.00 0.83 1.17 0.17 4.67
Bye Week
Games 7 - 16 67.60 329.70 19.80 0.80 1.40 0.70 0.50 0.50 0.10 4.00

As you can tell, the trading away of 2012, 7th overall pick, Barron, did not hurt the defense.  Lovie and his defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, know their defense and the personnel needed to implement it.  There had to be a huge learning curve for the defense to learn to properly implement the Tampa-2.  During the bye week was when the players and defensive scheme clicked.   Basically, games before the bye week, including pre-season games, the team was stuck in level 1 of Bloom's taxonomy and the players involved were in stage 1 of Fitts and Posner's model.

Even our beloved superstar linebacker Lavonte David had a season not as prominent as his previous two seasons.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lavonte David Stats
Season G Tackles Sacks Safety Pass Def INT FF Coach CAV
Total Solo
2012 16 139 112 2 0 5 1 0 Schiano 9
2013 16 145 107 7 1 10 5 2 Schiano 14
2014 14 146 101 1 0 4 0 4 Lovie 6
FF = forced fumbles
CAV ref=

While the totality of season closed upon what perceived to be yet another lost season, the progression of the defense can be seen.  As players become more comfortable with the scheme and repetition, refinements upon their games can be seen, this is stage 2 of Fitts and Posner along with levels 2 and 3 of Bloom's taxonomy.  Hopefully, in the second year of the Tampa-2, the defense can focus beyond basic understanding and transition onto a higher form of cognitive reaction and preemptive movements.

From, here is Bill Polian commenting:

The Bucs finished the 2014 season ranked 25th in the NFL in total defense but were already showing signs of improvement, ranking in the top 10 over the final nine weeks.

That improvement, Polian said, is an indication the Bucs have already adjusted defensively to Smith's scheme. He also believes the team's overall comfort level with Smith will allow for improvement, too.

"They're used to Lovie now and the way he does things. So I would say, those two things (are working in their favor). One, Lovie's blue print works, and two, they've (gone through) their learning curve as a defense and it will get better.''

This trend was identified during the season and it was written in a year end review about the defense: 2014 TB Bucs Defense Year End Review.

Although the Bucs' defense did improve to be a top 10 defense after the bye week, there is this nagging hitch to all this improvement - blowing fourth quarter leads.

2014 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Blown Leads and Point Differentials
Team Opp Score Bucs Score Point Differential Win Blown 4th quarter lead QB
1 Car 20 14 -6 M
2 StL 19 17 -2 Yes M
3 Atl 56 14 -42 M/G
4 Pit 24 27 3 W G
5 NO 37 31 -6 OTL Yes G
6 Bal 48 17 -31 G
Bye Week
7 Min 19 13 -6 OTL Yes G
8 Cle 22 17 -5 Yes G
9 Atl 27 17 -10 Yes M
10 Was 7 27 20 W M
11 Chi 21 13 -8 M
12 Cin 14 13 -1 M
13 Det 34 17 -17 M
14 Car 19 17 -2 M
15 GB 20 3 -17 M
16 NO 23 20 -3 Yes M
M = McCown, G = Glennon.

Inspecting the Blown Leads chart, we can account for six blown fourth quarter leads.  There is one caveat to one of those blown leads, the last game of the seasons against the Saints had numerous amounts of players not many fans knew existed on the roster playing on the field in the second half of that particular game.  Now, let us focus on the five blown leads.  Two of them occurred before the bye and the three just after the bye.  Fortunes changed with a dominant defensive performance against the Washington Redskins.

Outside of the second New Orleans game, we do not know if the Bucs' defense had a chance to defend a fourth quarter lead.  So I broke down the games after the bye week in half scoring in order to possibly identify a pattern.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 After the Bye Split Scores
G Opp 1st half Scores 2nd half Scores Opp Score
7 Min 3 16 19
TB 0 13 13
8 Cle 9 13 22
TB 10 7 17
9 Atl 13 14 27
TB 10 7 17
10 Was 7 0 7
TB 13 14 27
11 Chi 0 21 21
TB 10 3 13
12 Cin 7 7 14
TB 10 3 13
13 Det 17 17 34
TB 10 7 17
14 Car 9 10 19
TB 10 7 17
15 GB 10 10 20
TB 3 0 3
16 NO 7 16 23
TB 20 0 20
OPP 82 115 206
TB 96 61 157
OPP 8.2 11.5 20.6
TB 9.6 6.1 15.7

In the final 10 games of the season, Tampa had the lead at the half in six games.  And yet in all 10 games, not one of them had the Bucs down by more than a touchdown at the end of the first half.  It is surprising to see the Bucs' defense allow more points to be scored in the second half than in the first half.  The average differential of points allowed between the first and second half is - 3.3 points, or in terms of possible wins, three more wins against the Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, and second New Orleans Saints games.

An overview would show the Tampa defense not properly adjusting to the opposing offense in the second half, but very prepared in the first half.  As a whole, the coaches and defensive players can utilize this past year to create a volume to synthesis and expound upon for improvements to not have a letdown in the second half.

The fourth quarter blown leads is part of a bigger problem despite the massive improvement between the bye week.  The bigger problem is the defense has an inability to close games down defensively.  Scrutinizing only the defensive side, they are allowing more points to be scored in the second half of games.

Yet there is a shining beacon of hope.  Before the bye week, the Bucs were atrocious.  After the bye week, the overall defense improved to a top 10 status over a 10 game sample.  The defense did allow more points to be scored in the second half of those games.  There is measured improvement.  That measured improvement coincides on how players learn the system as denoted by Verner.  Allow me to present you with two more charts:

Chicago Bears
2003 - 2005 Defensive Ranks
Year Team Coach Def Rank Record
Points Yards Wins Losses
2003 Chicago Jauron 22 14 7 9
2004 Chicago Smith 13 21 5 11
2005 Chicago Smith 1 2 11 5

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2013 - 2014 Defensive Ranks
Year Team Coach Def Rank Record
Points Yards Wins Losses
2013 Tampa Schiano 21 17 4 12
2014 Tampa Smith 25 25 2 14

If the Bucs improve defensively, then the pattern here with Lovie is you have to take a step backwards to move two steps forward.

That is the great thing about implementing a scheme one is already comfortable with to reach its fruition of being a productive defense.  It can easily be transposed to the methods of learning, which gives credence to following progress throughout the season, as opposed to simply taking the whole season as a loss.

Although the defense will continue to improve, it must need to upgrade pass rushing at its ends.  To possess that upgrade in talent or talented depth can help to sustain pressure in the second half of games.  Possibly improving the coverage at the middle linebacker position can thwart the passing game.  In doing so, hopefully it can reduce the scoring in the second half as well as possess the capability to close out games.

As for the offense, the Bucs are starting over once again.  We do know Koetter adapts to his personnel, read here from  So predicting a pattern from a fluctuating scheme is more difficult to project, unlike the established Tampa-2 scheme being implemented by the defense.  That adaptability will be an important trait as the Bucs are set to teach a rookie quarterback how to play offense at the NFL level.