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The final four games' defensive performance doomed Lovie Smith

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The season has come and gone, with yet another post-season spent at home. Head coach and defensive guru Lovie Smith was fired at the end of the season. When the Buccaneers were 6-6, they had playoff aspirations. Afterwards, the Bucs faltered and lost the concluding four games as well as a chance at playoff relevancy.

So why was Lovie tenure cut short? Expectations - not meeting nor surpassing them.

Here is my conclusion to the 2014 Defensive Year End Review :

Promise.  This defense shows a lot of promise for the next season.  It put up top 10 defensive production in the 10 games after the bye week.  Add in talent via free agency and the draft, then the defense will not only improve, but may also have improved talent depth.  Although the defense cannot help the offense to produce more points, it does need to help its own self by learning how to close out games to hold onto leads in the fourth quarter.  Closing out games is what will separate this defense from just being a very good or top 10 defense to a dominant defense.  It may take an extra season to get to such a dominance, but for what Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier have laid down in foundation, that gives a lot of Buc fans dreaming of relevance sooner than later.

And here is the statistical split for 2014:

Opposing Offenses vs TB Defense
2014 - 2015
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
2014 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

Now that the stage has been prepped for 2015, here is how things transpired on a quarterly basis, just as Lovie Smith broke down his seasons into quarters.

Quarter break down

Quarter 1:  Wins - 1, Losses - 3.

TB Defense vs Opposing Offense, Qtr 1
Team Drive Plays Yards Off Scoring 40 + yard Drives 50 + yard Drives 60 + yard Drives 70 + Yard Drives 80 + Yard Drives 90 + yard Drives Total
Ten 10 50 307 35 0 2 1 0 1 0 4
NO 13 70 329 19 1 2 0 0 1 0 4
Hou 14 89 449 19 0 1 1 2 0 0 4
Car 13 60 316 30 2 0 2 0 0 0 4
Totals 50 269 1401 103 3 5 4 2 2 0 16
Avg 12.50 67.25 350.25 25.75 0.750 1.250 1.000 0.500 0.500 0.000 4.000
Percent of drives over total number of drives 6.0% 10.0% 8.0% 4.0% 4.0% 0.0% 32.0%

That is an abysmal start more yards and points given up than the last 10 games of 2014 average. Please note, scoring only denotes what the defense allowed, which does not include interceptions or fumbles returned for touchdowns.

Quarter 2:  Wins - 2, Losses 2.

TB Defense vs Opposing Offense, Qtr 2
Team Drive Plays Yards Off Scoring 40 + yard Drives 50 + yard Drives 60 + yard Drives 70 + Yard Drives 80 + Yard Drives 90 + yard Drives Total
Jax 11 57 342 31 0 1 1 2 1 0 5
Was 11 61 391 31 0 1 2 1 1 0 5
Atl 10 75 456 20 1 0 1 2 1 0 5
NYG 11 74 365 26 2 1 1 0 1 0 5
Totals 43 267 1554 108 3 3 5 5 4 0 20
Avg 10.75 66.75 388.50 27.00 0.750 0.750 1.250 1.250 1.000 0.000 5.000
Percent of drives over total number of drives 7.0% 7.0% 11.6% 11.6% 9.3% 0.0% 46.5%

The next quartet is even worse than the first quarter as it allowed one extra long drive per game, 38 more yards given up per game, and 1.25 more points per game. The fact that the team won two games is quite surprising as it meant the offense showed up. Yet, the team could have won one more game, but allowed the Redskins to roar back with 24 points scored in the second half.

Quarter 3:  Wins - 3, Loss - 1

TB Defense vs Opposing Offense, Qtr 3
Team Drive Plays Yards Off Scoring 40 + yard Drives 50 + yard Drives 60 + yard Drives 70 + Yard Drives 80 + Yard Drives 90 + yard Drives Total
Dal 10 56 226 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Phi 13 73 388 17 1 1 1 0 1 0 4
Indy 10 75 358 25 1 2 0 2 0 0 5
Atl 10 70 299 19 0 1 2 1 0 0 4
Totals 43 274 1271 67 2 4 3 3 1 0 13
Avg 10.75 68.50 317.75 16.75 0.500 1.000 0.750 0.750 0.250 0.000 3.250
Percent of drives over total number of drives 4.7% 9.3% 7.0% 7.0% 2.3% 0.0% 30.2%

Just by looking at the average for the third quarter, this was a great success! But upon further inspection, the Dallas game skewed some of those numbers - a game where the defense dominated! Yet, the defense did an impressive job preventing scoring like it did in the previous two quarters.

Quarter 4:  Win - 0, Losses - 4

TB Defense vs Opposing Offense, Qtr 4
Team Drive Plays Yards Off Scoring 40 + yard Drives 50 + yard Drives 60 + yard Drives 70 + Yard Drives 80 + Yard Drives 90 + yard Drives Total
NO 10 79 378 24 1 0 3 1 0 0 5
StL 12 53 326 31 0 1 0 1 2 0 4
Chi 12 71 329 26 3 0 1 0 0 0 4
Car 11 63 378 38 2 2 0 1 0 0 5
Totals 45 266 1411 119 6 3 4 3 2 0 18
Avg 11.25 66.50 352.75 29.75 1.500 0.750 1.000 0.750 0.500 0.000 4.500
Percent of drives over total number of drives 13.3% 6.7% 8.9% 6.7% 4.4% 0.0% 40.0%

In the concluding quarter, the defense simply could not prevent the other team from scoring at will. This proves the 3rd quarterly performance was an aberration. Although it was not the worst yards on average given up nor long drives, but the points allowed was the highest average among the quarters. With the playoffs on the line heading into the final quarter of the season, the Bucs' defense imploded.

Points Per Game Allowed Average

By the quarterly mark

2015 Def Qtrly PPGA

Sometimes, a chart can say a thousand words.  The fourth quarterly mark can be summed up in three (MS count) words, "Lovie, you're fired."

Comparison 2014 v 2015

Opposing Offenses vs TB Defense
2014 vs 2015
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
2014 Avg 11.81 69.31 367.00 24.13 0.81 1.13 0.81 0.63 0.75 0.13 4.25
2014, Last 10 games 67.60 329.70 19.80 0.80 1.40 0.70 0.50 0.50 0.10 4.00
2015 Avg 11.31 67.25 352.31 24.81 0.88 0.94 1.00 0.81 0.56 0.00 4.09

2015 presents an overall improvement in allowing fewer plays, fewer yards, and fewer long drives per game when compared to the 2014 overall stats. The only statistic that did not improve was points per game allowed.  Defensively, the Bucs had a regression in respect to points allowed. Points have a direct connection to winning and losing.

This season was about expectation, which is why I interjected 2014's last 10 game average. The 10 game set occurred after the bye week and signified improvement since the implementation of the new defense. Thus, the 10 game set had created a standard for 2015 defensive metrics. A second year of Lovie Smith's implementation of his defense was promising as it headed off into the sunset of 2014. Hence, we fans should be comparing the concluding 10 game set of 2014 with the 2015 stats, again, considering 2015 is supposed to be a continuation of the implementation.

When comparing the 10 game set of 2014 with 2015 stats, the number of plays and long drives were very similar.  One should expect everything else to be similar, but it was not the case. 2015 season defense was permitting an extra 22.61 yards per game as well as 5.01 points per game. The quarterly report makes three out of four quarter reports that failed to live up to the expectations of the concluding 10 game set from 2014. Although the third quarter metrics were amazing, the fourth quarter is where the defense bottomed out.  Ultimately, the fourth quarter results are what doomed Lovie.

Conclusion

Relevancy was at hand with the team at 6 - 6 and four games to go. The team lost all four games in a row, with the defense permitting the most points allowed average out of all of the quarterly reports. With high expectations coming into the 2015 season, the defense regressed drastically from the bar set at the conclusion of the 2014 season. A veteran defensive guru faltering upon his defense on his second season is a negative trend that the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wish not to continue, considering that a possibility their productive offensive coordinator had gained interest to be a head coach from other organizations.

With the Bucs' offense boasting Tampa Bay historical marks, the defense floundered. The defense prevented the opposing offense to score under 19 points only twice this 2015 season. Last year, the defense did that on three occasions. This year, the Bucs' defense allowed the opposing offenses to score 30 points or more in six games; last year, the Bucs' defense allowed that to occur in only four games, three of the happening in the first six games and just once in the last 10 game set.

While many believe, including the media, that Lovie got the shaft, the numbers prove that us fans were given the shaft with that abysmal performance on defense in the second year. Nostalgia often clouds logic. The Glazers gambled by bringing back what was once good in Tampa in Lovie Smith to establish the organization into relevancy sooner than later. Lovie place a premium on hierarchy on his defense first, followed by special teams, and finally the offense. Winning only two games in 2014 should have drawn more ire, but nostalgia held many at the gates.  Winning six games in the following year is a vast improvement, but that improvement occurred on the offensive side of the ball.

Licht said in his press conference, when announcing that Lovie Smith has been fired by the organization, that the decision was not made in haste, but by a compilation of weekly reports and year end reports. I tracked the Bucs for the past two years in detail, often in weekly drive analysis articles. My reports probably run parallel, albeit a more simplified one, to the reports Licht delivers to the Glazers and they reveal how glaring the regression has been for the defense.

Rookie head coach Greg Schiano was relieved of duty after two seasons because Lovie Smith was available.  Banners of fire Schiano appeared everywhere in Tampa. Lovie's record was worse than that of Schiano in a two year span. With Koetter becoming a hot commodity, it seems as though the pattern has been set. The firing of Lovie may have been surprising, but it is only surprising if one is living in nostalgia because performing worse than the coach before you should have drawn more vitriol from the fan base. For the Glazers, it is all about the business of winning and improvement. The decision was made using logic and we fans should be appreciative the Glazers combated nostalgia and fired a legend in Lovie Smith.