The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have long since built their defense around getting after the quarterback. In fact, so does every other NFL defense, but not many still adhere to the Tampa 2 philosophy of using four pass rushers to do so. A failure to consistently pressure passers was part of the team's downfall last year, and now we have some statistics to back that up.
Football Outsiders tracked every defense's efficiency when they managed to pressure quarterbacks, versus when they didn't. The Buccaneers were the eighth-best pressure defense, but just the 18th no-pressure defense, and the difference between the two was the eighth-biggest in the NFL. And the Bucs are likely to rank higher in terms of pressure defense next year, given that the first half of the season the defense was a complete mess.
Complicating matters is the fact that the Bucs weren't actually any good at getting pressure. They only managed to pressure a quarterback 21.9% of the time, according to Football Outsiders, which ranked 28th in the NFL. For a defense so reliant on pressure, that's not remotely often enough.
So what can the Bucs do to improve in that department this year? Blitzing more often really won't be the answer -- while Lovie Smith certainly blitzes at times, his defense is not built to be effective by sending more pass rushers. And given the team's weak secondary play for the first half of last year, more blitzing won't exactly help the coverage hold up.
Instead, the team is going to have to rely on a heavy rotation along the defensive line. They currently don't have an every-down, dominant pass rusher, but they do have a number of versatile players who can make an impact in that regard. On the inside, Gerald McCoy, Henry Melton and Clinton McDonald are all very capable of consistently beating guards.
On the outside it's going to be more interesting. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bucs line up with heavier personnel at defensive end on early downs to defend against the run, with William Gholston being especially suited to this role. On third downs they're likely to mainly feature the lighter pass-rush specialists, Jacquies Smith, George Johnson and T.J. Fatinikun in particular.
Will that be enough to get consistent pressure? I honestly don't know. Having Smith and Fatinikun on the team for a full offseason should certainly help them thrive, and there's no real doubt that George Johnson represents a bit of an upgrade in that respect as well -- unless he goes the way of Michael Johnson. But it's hard to feel secure about this group of players right now.