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Message to Mike Smith: Fix the pass defense for once

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Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The past four seasons of Tampa Bay Buccaneers failures on defense have consistently proven one fact: run defense means nothing.

Since 2012, the Buccaneers have allowed teams to run for just 3.7 yards per attempt, ranked second in the entire NFL. Over that same time, they've ranked third, eighth, eighth and ninth in run defense DVOA. Every year, they manage to produce one of the best run defenses in the NFL -- in large part because of the work Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy have done. Those are terrific numbers.

Over that same period, the Bucs defense allowed 5.5 yards per play, ranked 23rd in the NFL. They allowed 1,357 first downs, ranked 28th. They gave up 1,610 points, ranked 26th. In defensive DVOA, they ranked 20th, eighth, 18th and 18th. All of that despite putting up a stellar run defense, year in, year out.

This should not be news to anyone who's followed the development of football analytics over the past decade. One of the first results of all that analysis was that the running game was far less important than the passing game, both offensively and defensively. And we see it play out every single year: great run defenses or offenses are no substitute for a competent passing game. And if you can stop the pass or throw the ball at will, the other half of that unit really doesn't matter a ton.

The last time the Bucs had a competent pass defense was way back in 2008, when DVOA ranked them sixth. The year before they were fourth, and that was not coincidentally the last time the Bucs managed to secure a playoff berth.

The Bucs have gotten their defense perfectly backwards in the past four years. Not necessarily for a lack of trying: Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Michael Johnson weren't acquired for their abilities to stop the run, exactly, and both Greg Schiano's blitz-obsessed scheme as well as Lovie Smith's more reactive approach were aimed at stopping the pass. They just couldn't do it.

This doesn't change one simple fact, though: if the Bucs want to win, they have to improve their pass defense. And that means a concerted effort to do so, starting last week. From the coaches appointed to improve the defense, to the free agents signed, to the players drafted -- this has to be the focus for this offseason.