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The 2016 Bucs defense was awesome, when pressuring quarterbacks

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Without pressure, the Bucs defense was awful.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows that the key to a quality defense is the ability to pressure the quarterback. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won a Super Bowl based on that fact alone, after all, and the Bucs have struggled to put together a good defense since then, mostly because they can’t find good, consistent pass rushers.

That was true last year, too. The Bucs were outstanding when pressuring quarterbacks. In fact, according to Football Outsiders they were the second-best defense when they got pressure, and the gap between their defensive results when getting pressure and when not getting pressure was the fifth-biggest in the NFL—though their pressure-free pass defense still ranked eighth in the NFL.

But the Bucs only managed to pressure the quarterback on 24.7% of passing plays, which ranked 25th—well behind the number one ranked Denver Broncos, who got pressure on 32.2% of plays. That’s the biggest reason why the Bucs defense struggled: a lack of pressure.

You would expect that this would lead the Bucs to really prioritize getting a quality pass-rush going this year. You would be wrong, as the Bucs really only added a nose tackle in Chris Baker—he can add some pass rush in specific situations, but he’s not going to be making the difference between a good and bad pass rush.

Instead, the Bucs are hoping that Noah Spence and Jacquies Smith will get healthy and take the next step, with perhaps a little extra help from a healthier Robert Ayers. That’s a pretty big risk for a team whose defense gets a lot worse when they can’t pressure the quarterback.