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The Buccaneers defense is on track to be great, when healthy

If the Bucs can overcome their injuries, the defense could be very good.

New Orleans Saints v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played four games, so we get quarterly reports. First up: defense.

Since this defense is in the second season under defensive coordinator Mike Smith, we will re-visit 2016 before going onto 2017.

Quarter 2 looks bad, but the defense had an OT loss and then played a Thursday Night Game against the high scoring Atlanta Falcons. Those two games totaled 73 points. The previous two games, the Bucs defense only gave up 31 points. Afterwards, look at the scoring production drop. That coincides with the long drives dropping. Fewer longer drives means fewer chances to score, usually.

Recap links to Defensive Drive Analysis

Game 1: Chicago

Game 2: Minnesota

Game 3: NY Giants

Game 4: New England

This first quarter chart looks confusing. It has a low scoring against average, but they are giving up 4.5 long drives per game. The 4.5 long drives is very high considering the average drives are 10.5 drives per game, or 42.9% of the drives are long drives. Then factor in the average Red Zone appearances over the long drives, and we have 83.3% of the long drives reach the Red Zone. Yet the average scoring is still low.

As you can tell, the Bucs’ defense started off dominantly against Chicago. In fact, in the Chicago game, three long drives occurred late in the second half, after the Bucs went up 29 – 0. Then all hell broke loose against Minnesota. But since Minnesota, the defense has progressively improved in lowering the points against scoring. It culminated in limiting the second best offensive scoring machine in Tom Brady and the Patriots from their usual 32.3 points per game average to only 19 points, with only one touchdown scored.

So what could be the cause of such a fluctuation between game 1, Chicago, and game 2, Minnesota? Key injuries.

Chicago game: Lost MLB Kwon Alexander after 17 defensive plays.

Pre-Minnesota game: MLB Alexander, CB Brent Grimes, and DT Chris Baker

Minnesota game: WLB Lavonte David gets injured and had to leave the game for good. I think only DE Gholston, MLB Beckwith, and S Conte were the only players who did not leave the game for a short period due to an injury.

For the Minnesota game, the Bucs were missing starters at all three levels of the defense, with Kwon being the play caller for the defense. The defense could not stop the run. The defense could not stop the pass. It was disheartening to witness after seeing the dominance the previous week.

In the Giants game, Baker and Grimes returned, but Alexander and David were not available. Eli Manning burned the linebackers for three touchdowns, but the offense saved the day on come from behind score.

Finally, with more games under all of the backup linebackers’ belts of MLB Kendell Beckwith, WLB Adarius Glanton, and SLB Devante Bond, they were able to help mitigate the damage that a Tom Brady led offense would usually lay waste to a defense. Rookie safety Justin Evans also had his first start againt the Patriots and earned an interception against Brady. The defense seems to be heading back to where it started the season – becoming more dominant.

3rd Down Defensive Efficiency

The trend of the 3rd down defense is looking very promising with each passing week.

Red Zone Defensive Efficiency

The average looks terrible for Red Zone defensive efficiency, but with context, a different picture is painted. Injuries beset the defense going into the Minnesota game. The backup linebackers were gashed in the NY Giants game. In the New England game, everyone on defense has been slowly getting on the same page.

QB Pressure, TFL’s, PD’s, and Defensive Turnovers

In this chart, there is the same pattern of improvement from the Minnesota game onward. Although there was not a lot of QB pressure against the Giants, they did improve in TFL’s and PD’s. Against the Patriots, the defense was back to generating turnovers again.

Football Outsiders’ Defensive Metrics

2016 Overall = 13th , Pass Def = 6th, Rush Def = 26th

2017 Overall = 22nd, Pass Def = 27th, Rush Def = 6th

Mike Smith noted that our underneath coverage was not helping out the passing game. Kwon Alexander’s absence has left a void in coverage. His speed and coverage is something that rookie Kendell Beckwith does not possess. Then add in weak side linebacker David missing due to injury as well.

In the Chicago game, the Bucs defense gave up 185 yards passing in Chicago’s final three drives with the score 29-0, Bucs firmly in the lead. Those passing yards given up represented 60.5% of the total yards given up in the game. Before those final three drives, the Bears only manage 105 yards passing in three quarters.

Maybe missing Alexander is a major factor in a porous passing game?


There are three important factors that help to increase chances to win a game: talent, experience, and communication. The Bucs defense came into game one healthy and the production in the game reflected that. Then the defense was beset with the flu and injuries that it could not make up for with talent, experience, and communication – especially communication between the defensive backs and linebackers as David got injured and rookie Kendell Beckwith had to call the plays. Each game since, the Bucs have returned a couple of talents and the backups have earned more experience. The communication still needs to improve to be dominant, but seeing the work they put upon the second highest scoring offense in the league in game four should quell some fears about the defensive play.

A lot of credit goes out to general manager Jason Licht for the players he added on defense this past off-season. The defensive acquisition seemed bland compared to the offensive explosion acquired, but Baker aids in the rush defense as well as the defensive line rotation, and Evans has already paid dividends as he was forced to start against New England due to injuries. Cornerback Robert McClain beat out last year’s starter for slot corner position in Javien Elliott and McClain has notched a pick-six. Finally, trading up to the bottom of the third round to draft LB Kendell Beckwith has proved to be a very invaluable snag. Beckwith dropped in the draft due to his ACL injury recovery concern. He was drafted to compete for the starting strong side linebacker position, but Beckwith has played a lot of middle linebacker.

The Bucs defense has weathered the injury storm and is still nursing injuries. They look to be on the correct track of being a good defense despite the injuries. Preventing two teams from scoring 20 points in four games is a accomplishment and something the Bucs defense did often in 2016.