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The Buccaneers defense is dominating opponents on third down

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a terrific outing on defense last night, allowing just three points in the first half when the starters and backups faced each other. It wasn't until the third string came onto the field that the Bucs gave up a touchdown, and even then their lead was never threatened. With three takeaways, a pick six and four sacks, the defense looked a lot closer to that of the old days than it did to last year's defense.

That's in contrast to last week, when the defense did not look particularly good. They only managed one sack, couldn't really seem to stop Teddy Bridgewater and the only players who looked good in coverage were Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks. And even with that, they managed to limit the Vikings to just two third-down conversion in ten tries. That means that over two games, opponents have managed to convert just five third downs in 20 tries -- a 25% rate, second in the NFL this preseason.

For comparison's sake: the best third-down defense in the NFL last year was Buffalo, with a 33.18% conversion rate (TeamRankings), while the Bucs allowed opponents to convert a whopping 43.66% of third downs last year.

Those aren't the only encouraging defensive statistics, either. The Bucs have forced six takeaways, tied for the NFL lead this preseason, and with just one turnover of their own, the team's doing very well in one of the other key indicators. The down side: their yards allowed per play and passing yards allowed per play both rank close to the bottom of the NFL.

Still, this represents a massive improvement, but it may also just be an artifact of a small sample size over two meaningless games. This is not the regular season yet, and drawing big conclusions from rapidly shifting personnel groups is not an entirely sound practice. Even so, these statistics are at least encouraging and should lead one to be cautiously optimistic about the Bucs defense this year.