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Buccaneers’ ‘defensive triplets’ are pretty good, but defense is about more than that

NFL: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After ranking the offensive triplets of every NFL team, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell decided to do the same for the defensive side of the ball, selecting the best three players on every defense. The Tampa Bay BuccaneersGerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Brent Grimes came in nineteenth in this list.

Few teams in the league can sport a one-two punch as good as McCoy and David, who combine to give the Bucs a devastating interior penetrator and one of the league's rangiest linebackers. The only knock on those two: McCoy has struggled with injuries for most of his career, missing chunks of his first two seasons before throwing in four more absences over the past two years. The problem is that the Bucs have to line up nine other guys on defense, and that hasn't gone well. Tampa has repeatedly shopped in free agency to fill those holes and almost immediately regretted its decision to do so. This year, the team is taking shots to improve longstanding holes at cornerback (Grimes) and defensive end (Robert Ayers), with the Bucs hoping that investments in players on the wrong side of 30 will manage to keep their defense from making major mistakes.

Okay so first of all, this is a pretty low ranking for Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David, although it’s somewhat justifiable with Brent Grimes there. He is getting old and showed some signs of decline last year, after all. But you won’t get a much better one-two punch than David and McCoy, even though both had a bit of a down season last year.

More importantly, though, maybe this whole triplets thing doesn’t really work for the defensive side of the ball. On offense, you can emphasize strengths and cover up weaknesses largely because you select which plays and personnel groupings you put out there. On defense, though, you’re mostly reacting to what the offense does — and the offense will always try to target your weaknesses. Which is why having three really good players will never compensate for the terrible players you’re walking out there with them.

The Bucs have tried to attack that problem of consistency for years, both through the draft and through free agency. Usually, it felt like carrying water to the ocean — temporary improvements in specific spots, sometimes, but mostly a whole lot of nothing and a losing season as a result. Will this year be different? We’ll see, but if things go according to plan, the defense will at least get more leeway because of a finally competent offense.