The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense has been outstanding the past five weeks, driving the team’s winning streak and its playoff chances. So naturally, a few outlets decided to go in depth and analyze the Bucs defense.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com notes a lot of moving parts: the Bucs’ defensive line, led by Gerald McCoy, and its efforts to confuse quarterbacks before the snap, while dropping back into fairly simple and easy to execute coverages after the snap.
While the constant shifting and movement confuses the opposing QB, the coverages (Cover 2, Cover 3, Quarters and Man-Free) are straight from a high school playbook. Thus, young defenders are able to quickly master the nuances of the coverage with minimal reps (see: Vernon Hargreaves' promising performance in Year 1). In addition, the simple concepts allow explosive athletes to play without hesitation. Considering the spectacular athleticism displayed by linebackers Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, the simple scheme allows Tampa Bay's second-level defenders to play like big-game hunters.
All of that is important, but none of that is particularly new. The Bucs have been doing that since the start of this season, and under Lovie Smith as well. The difference is that now players are starting to play fast, and the defense has been mostly healthy the past weeks.
Which is exactly what Pete Prisco over at CBS Sports notes.
Now, the players seem to get it. The communication busts from early in the season aren't happening. The vacated areas in coverage are far fewer than they were in the first eight games. The players now know where to go, know how to communicate in this communication-heavy scheme, and that gives them the chance to show off the strength of this defense
What stands out here is how similar this all sounds to Lovie Smith’s defense. Lots of Cover 2 and Cover 3, a few pre-snap disguises, not many blitzes, relying on a good front four and keeping things simple for defenders so they can play fast.
The difference: Mike Smith’s players are better than Lovie Smith’s. Part of that may be the result of coaching, but mostly it’s just an influx of talent. Noah Spence, Robert Ayers and Brent Grimes have given this defense a significant boost this season, while Lovie Smith had to make do with Michael Johnson and Johnthan Banks.