One person isn’t happy with the way Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith is using his secondary: passively. That person is Louis Riddick, a former NFL safety and former personnel executive for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s generally one of the most insightful analysts out there.
#Bucs defense refuses to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage & play aggressive. Becomes 7 on 7 passing drill for good offenses.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) November 1, 2016
Small corners + high volume soft off man/zone coverage = 28th ranked defense in pass yds per play.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) November 1, 2016
Riddick has a point: the Bucs generally line up their corners off the ball rather than on the line of scrimmage, which means they rarely end up disrupting receiver early in their routes. It makes quick completions easier, and makes it harder for cornerbacks to disrupt a wide receiver’s route.
Of course, some of this just preference. Riddick is a big believer in jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage, and playing with contact and physically within the first five yards of the line scrimmage, where that’s allowed. When it works, it works — but physical play also brings a risk of penalties and can make results a lot worse when your cornerbacks do get beaten — after the jam, they’re often in run-and-chase mode rather than keeping plays in front of them. You need good safeties to cover for that, and the Bucs don’t have the players to do so.
There’s also an upside to lining up your receivrers a ways off the ball in soft coverage: they can often transition more quickly, leading to better jumps on routes and a higher chance of getting interceptions. But that’s not the result we’re seeing with the Bucs. Though their pass defense has had some good games, it looked disastrous against the Raiders, giving up over 500 passing yards. The main reason results weren’t worse was the penalty-record Oakland set.
So far, the results haven’t been good, but not terrible, either. Football Outsiders ranks the Bucs’ pass defense 19th overall, a disappointing result, but that’s as much because of the team’s lackluster pass-rush, caused in part by injuries, as it is by an underperforming secondary. I’m not sure Riddick’s diagnosis is entirely correct, but then again, it probably couldn’t hurt to be more physical, either.