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How the Buccaneers defensive line worked over the past five years

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Before diving into defensive line stats, I would like to re-introduce the five year review of the defensive rankings from Football Outsiders.

TB Bucs
Football Oustiders Defensive Rankings, 2011 - 2015
Year Total Def Rank Total Def DVOA Pass Rank Pass Def Rush Rank Rush Def Head Coach
2011 31 14.20% 31 21.30% 30 7.60% Morris
2012 20 2.90% 26 16.90% 3 -19.60% Schiano
2013 8 -6.80% 11 -0.10% 8 -14.90% Schiano
2014 18 1.10% 23 14.90% 8 -14.50% Smith
2015 18 3.30% 26 20.60% 9 -16.50% Smith

We know now that the pass defense improved in year two of Greg Schiano's reign, despite us fans saying we were utilizing Darrelle Revis incorrectly. In that second year, we also noticed our rush rank dropped.

Under Lovie Smith, our pass defense got worse and our rush rank did take a dip in production. Can we make any connections with our defensive line play in respect to sacks and tackles for loss (TFL)?

Tampa Bay Bucs
2012 - 2015 Sacks and TFL's
Year Dline Sacks Total Sacks DL% of total sacks Dline TFL's Total TFL's DL% of TFL's
2012 17 27 62.96% 24 95 25.26%
2013 20 35 57.14% 36 58 62.07%
2014 33 36 91.67% 31 67 46.27%
2015 27.5 38 72.37% 17 59 28.81%

In Schiano's first year, 2012, he made a concerted effort to stop the run. Notice the 95 TFL's, but only a quarter of the TFL's were from the defensive line - meaning we threw the kitchen sink at the line of scrimmage. It did affect the secondary play.

Despite losing DE/DT Michael Bennett during the 2013 free agency period, the Bucs did improve their defensive line sack total and overall sack total. Over 60% of the TFL's in 2013 came from the defensive line. This is what allowed the secondary play to become more effective because it did not have to dedicate as much pressure at the line of scrimmage.

Lovie's first year, 2014, had DC Leslie Frazier in full control of the defense as Lovie had to babysit the offense due to unforeseen circumstances surrounding the health of OC Jeff Tedford. As we can see, the defensive line created over 90% of the sacks, but required help to create TFL's.

The second year of Lovie's regime should have revealed some kind of improvement, but we notice both the pass and rush defenses regressed. Why did it regress in the second year of its implementation? Lovie decided to take over the reigns as the DC. Although the sack total increased by two, the defensive line sack production actually dropped by 6.5 sacks, or nearly a 22% sack production drop from the previous year. A similar 20% drop occurred with defensive line TFL's in 2015.

So what does the drop in defensive line sack and TFL production mean for 2015? In this particular case, it means the linebackers and secondary personnel were made to become more aggressive at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. This is similar to Schiano's first year where the focus of the defense was to stop the run, but it was at the detriment of the pass defense. I suppose Lovie could have predicted this pattern because he is a defensive guru - except he did not.


In 2014, I did a defensive drive split of the season. The split occurred at the bye week. That should have been enough time for the new defense to acclimate itself. From the split, we can identify that in the first six games of implementation of the Tampa-2 the defense struggled. After the bye week, the defense clamped down with a 10 game sample set.

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

Then I did a split of the sacks and TFL's, again, using the bye as the splitting point.

TB Bucs
2014 Sacks and TFL's
Game Set Total Sacks DL Sacks Total TFL's DL TFL's
Games 1 - 6 9 8.5 34 17
Avg per Game 1.5 1.42 5.67 2.83
Games 7 - 16 27 24.5 60 33
Ave per Game 2.7 2.45 6 3.3

There was more pressure from the defensive line after the bye week in terms of sacks and TFL's. From the Defensive Drive Analysis chart, there were fewer 60+ drives allowed after the bye week, nearly 100 less yards allowed, and 11.53 less points allowed on average. Because there was more pressure generated from the defensive line, it did not need too much outside help against the quarterback. That should have been the template going into 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 12 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

Instead of improving either the pass or rush defensive aspects, the defense regressed in both. We allowed more 60+, 70+, and 80+ yard drives in 2015. The change of focus of the defensive line and its responsibilities hampered the secondary more so. This is denoted with more TFL's from outside the defensive line, more long drives, and more yards allowed.

It is disturbing to see a young defense get rearranged when there is ample proof of progression during the Schiano era. It is even more disturbing to see regression in the two years under Lovie Smith. Although it may not seem much of a difference because the defense was a Tampa-2 defense for both years under Lovie, he took over play calling and was more involved with the defense in year two. This little research reveals there was a significant change in game play of the Tampa-2 between the two seasons. Instead of following the game play established at the conclusion of the 2014 season, the pattern was altered for the worse.


Sacks headline of what many believe is the truest metric of a great defense. I, myself, keep thinking how terrible it was for the Bucs to have let go of DT/DE Michael Bennett during the 2012 - 2013 offseason, but the numbers do not reflect a massive degradation of rush and pass defense. In fact, the defensive line produced more sacks without Bennett, but that does not mean it could not have been better with Bennett - just that it was not as detrimental in 2013 as many of us are willing to recall.

The team has increased the number of sacks every year since 2012. The only year the pass defense improved was in 2013. In 2014, Leslie Frazier had the defensive line wreaking havoc as it accumulated over 90% of the total sacks, but the defense line required or relinquished more help to stop the run outside of the four man front. Last year, the sack total increased once again, but the defensive line was aided tremendously in both sacks and TFL's. Those stats in 2015 do not reflect the Tampa-2 productions that most of us have come to remember.

Tampa Bay Bucs
2012 - 2015 Sacks and TFL's with Football Outsider Def Rankings
Year Dline Sacks Total Sacks DL% of total sacks PFF Def Rush Rank Dline TFL's Total TFL's DL% of TFL's PFF Def Pass Rank
2012 17 27 62.96% 3rd 24 95 25.26% 26th
2013 20 35 57.14% 8th 36 58 62.07% 11th
2014 33 36 91.67% 8th 31 67 46.27% 23rd
2015 27.5 38 72.37% 9th 17 59 28.81% 26th

From the four year small sample, the best indicator for improved secondary play is dependent on the defensive line creating the most pressure with tackles for losses (TFL's). If the four man front does not need added help most of the time in stopping the run, then that means there are more players in passing lanes, in more zones, or more landmarks.

Adrian Clayborn had the most TFL's from the defensive line with 16, twice as much as the next player in Gerald McCoy in 2013.  Gholston had lead the defense in the previous two seasons in TFL's, the highest with 8 TFL's in 2014. Stopping the run makes the offense more one dimensional.  I love sacks, but maybe forcing the opposing offense to become more one dimensional from our front line might be a better aspect to look at from our defensive line players. Forcing third and long can also help the team incur more sack opportunities.  Maybe those stunts we fans made fun of during the Schiano term were more effective than we gave credit?