Did you know that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers losing to the Carolina Panthers was an upset, according to the odds? Did you know that it was the only upset of the week, even? I sure didn’t. But Football Outsiders does, because they were forced to cover this game for their weekly breakdown of an upset.
The Bucs lost this game because their offense put up its worst performance of the year, but Outsiders’ Rivers McCown (that’s his actual name, not a pun on quarterbacks) spends most of his time talking about the Bucs’ general collapse this year. And that’s been led by, well, a terrible defense.
Tampa's defensive problems have come from a few areas. One is that almost all of their important players have missed time this year. Their leader in defensive snaps is third-round rookie linebacker Kendell Beckwith. Gerald McCoy hasn't missed much action, but Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander have, while Noah Spence will miss the rest of the season after tearing his labrum. Another issue is that the players that have made it onto the field have regressed. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has been torched this year, and is the one that the media seems to have picked up on most. But Tampa's three main corners -- Hargreaves, Brent Grimes, and Robert McClain -- were the NFL's three worst qualifying cornerbacks in Success Rate according to Sports Info Solutions' charting numbers through Week 7. McClain is at an earth-shattering 29 percent success rate on 24 targets.
That sounds about right—though Grimes ranking that poorly in success rate is at least a little surprising. Even McClain hasn’t played well. No surprise that missing them in this game didn’t really bury the Bucs’ defense.
There’s also the bit where the Bucs are the worst sacking defense in the NFL. No one has fewer sacks. Which is not surprising, though I do think it tends to overstate their pass rush woes a teensy bit. The Bucs do get pressure, they just can’t turn that into sacks—in part because their secondary sucks.
But basically, the Bucs need to be better in every area of defensive play, and it’s too late for them to fix those defensive issues. That should’ve happened this offseason, when they should have anticipated this collapse. Instead they’re behind the ball, and this is also starting to feel a lot like 2011.
Also, McCown throws in a shot at Dirk Koetter’s tendency to punt the ball on fourth-and-short when well into opponent territory, as he did on a fourth-and-two in this game. It’s just not smart football.