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Buccaneers defensive line is key to defensive performance

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Another game, another prominent piece on the defensive line gets injured. First week it was Jacquies Smith.  This game, Robert Ayers gets hurt as well. For preseason, Smith led the team in pressures. Ayers was a prized free agent acquisition.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Defensive Pressure
Comparison: Game 1 v Game 2
Game Team Sacks TFL's QB hits PD
1 Atlanta 3 8 4 6
2 Arizona 1 3 4 3

The defensive line was the supposed to be talented enough so that rookie second-rounder Noah Spence would be used only in pass rush situations, with Ayers, Smith, Will Gholston, and possibly Howard Jones ahead of Spence on the ends. As you can quickly identify from the chart above, there was not a lot of pressure to the QB and tackles for loss.

Although TFL's are mostly stuffing the running back at or behind the line of scrimmage, there is a hidden implication. In my opinion, TFL's implies defensive line pressure pushing the offensive line backwards, which can result in stuffing a running back, getting a sack, getting a QB hit, or creating pressure to where the QB needs to release the ball sooner than the QB would like to deliver the ball.

Onto the drive chart, unfortunately.

TB Defense vs Arizona Offense
Qtr Drive Plays Yards Result RZ Pts 40 + yard Drives 50 + yard Drives 60 + yard Drives 70 + Yard Drives 80 + Yard Drives Totals
1 1 5 11 Punt 0
2 5 18 Punt 0
* 3 11 67 TD 1 7 1 1
4 6 14 FG 1 3 0
5 3 9 Punt 0
6 8 68 TD 1 7 1 1
7 4 74 TD 7 1 1
Half 0
3 8 5 53 FG 1 3 1 1
9 8 65 TD 1 7 1 1
* 10 3 3 Punt 0
11 6 22 Punt 0
11 3 6 Punt 0
Total 10 67 410 5 34 0 1 3 1 0 5

The defense could not recover as the turnovers kept piling up. Drive 2 was thwarted after Winston threw an interception. Drive 4 was another interception thrown, gifted at the Tampa Bay 39 yard line. Yet the defense pushed back to only allow a field goal. Drive 6 occurred after a fumble lost when RB Charles Sims' shoulder pads bumped the ball out of QB Jameis Winston's hand. That is 10 points off of turnovers.

Lack of communication and understanding of game situations, safety Chris Conte let a speedster do a fly by on him with under 2 minutes left on the clock. Conte should never have let the speedster ever get behind him. That speedster was also not bumped or deterred from his route, which should have been done by the defender initially covering him.  It was 24 -€” 0 at the half.

Robert Ayers got injured just before the two minute warning in the first half. Without that added pass rush, we can see why Arizona's QB Carson Palmer had time to wait for his speedster, Brown, to fly by Conte. It was a gift.

Aside from that obvious miscue, the defense did admirably in the first half as the offense coughed the ball up three times.

Quick Stats

Red Zone Efficiency:          3 for 5

3rd Down Efficiency:          6 for 14

Rushing Yards Allowed:   101 yards  (3.5 yards per attempt)

Interceptions:                      0 INT

Sacks:                                     1 Sack(s)

Pass Defended:                   3 PD(s)

QB Hits:                                 4 QB hits

That Red Zone efficiency does stand out. The first touchdown should have been penalized as an offensive lineman blocked downfield on a pass play. But it probably should not have come to that as the defensive line jumped the gun on Palmer's cadence on 3rd and 3 on the Tampa Bay 8 yard line.

Top 5 Tacklers

Tampa Bay Bucs
Top 5 Tacklers
Game 1:  Atlanta
Rank Pos Name Total Solo Sack(s) TFL(s)
1 CB Grimes 7 7 0 0
2 S Conte 7 7 0 0
3 MLB Alexander 7 6 0 1
4 CB VH3 5 5 0 1
5 S McDougald 4 4 0 0

Compared to last week's stats, this table seems quite lackluster. The Bucs' superhero weak side linebacker registered ZERO tackles. Last week, David recorded 8 tackles, 6 solo tackles, and 3 TFL's. I give the game ball to Arizona's OC for designing plays to negate David's presence.

Conclusion

Keeping Arizona from scoring is an impossible task. The Bucs' offense turning the ball over three times in the first half did not help. The Bucs' offense going 3-and-out with under two minutes left also did not help the defense.  Losing Ayers in the first half is just adding to the misery.

The Bucs offense gave the Cardinals one extra drive in the first half and it was a costly one. There is only so much a defense can do when the offense is not scoring, but giving the ball away needlessly.

Defensive line coach Jay Hayes will have to earn his keep if Robert Ayers is not available for the next game. That would be two prominent pass rushers not available to him, Smith and Ayers. Can Noah Spence and Howard Jones pick up the slack? Can Gholston overachieve? Where is Akeem Spence?