When you look at successful teams in the NFL, you often times see these teams win the war in the trenches. We saw it last year with the Philadelphia Eagles. They arguably had the best offensive and defensive line in the entire league. What was so impressive about that defensive line, was that they weren’t just four deep. The Eagles, had seven or eight players that were constantly rotating in and keeping each other fresh, which helped them at the end of football games. It has been a long time since the Buccaneers have had the ability to do that, but this upcoming season will be different.
The Buccaneers play mainly a 4-2-4 defense or what many people call the nickel package more than any other team in the league. The Buccaneers ran 423 plays which accounted for 40% of the defensive snaps. The league average is 26%. The second most popular formation for the Buccaneers last season was the 4-3-4, which is typical for a 4-3 defense. They ran the 4-3-4 383 times, which accounted for 36% of the total. Occasionally, last season the team lined up in a 3-3-5 formation last season to try and get extra bodies to the quarterback, but they simply didn’t have the personnel to run that that formation effectively, so it never really worked. The numbers on the 3-3-5 were 191 plays, which accounted for 18%. Those numbers were provided by Cam Mellor of Pro Football Focus.
Below I will map out some of the possible formations, and who will be playing with who on obvious passing and running downs.
In obvious run situations, which calls for a 4-3-4 defense, I expect to see a defensive line of Vinny Curry, Vita Vea, Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre Paul. I also expect the same defensive line when the team lines up in the 4-2-5. That will most likely be the starting defensive line and they will get the bulk of the snaps. However, the team signed Beau Allen to stop the run, which is why I expect him and Vea to share the load on early running down situations. Pierre Paul and McCoy will very rarely come out of the game as both are considered work horses. Pierre Paul played 91% of defensive snaps last season, which was among the top three out of all defensive ends. McCoy played 76% of the teams defensive snaps.
The Buccaneers will have a nice three man rotation at defensive tackle with Vea, Allen and McCoy. We also can’t forget about Mitch Unrein and William Gholston, those two also specialize in stopping the run. In years past, Tampa Bay was shorthanded along the defensive line, and defensive ends were being signed off the street to come in and try and make an impact. Whenever Curry or Pierre Paul need a break, Unrein and Gholston, who are proven players in this league will be able to step in and make an impact. Those two guys won’t get you many sacks, but they will make it hard to run the ball .
This is where it gets interesting. On obvious passing situations, based on personnel, it’s hard not to see the Buccaneers going into that 3-3-5 formation. The formation consists of three defensive lineman, who for the Bucs would be Vea, McCoy and Pierre Paul. One player we haven’t mentioned yet is pass rusher Noah Spence. Where does he fit into the equation? Believe it or not, he is a big piece to this defense and a huge reason as to why the team didn’t draft a defensive end. They believe in him, he just has to stay healthy because when he is healthy he wreaks havoc.
If the Buccaneers want to get Spence on the field in pass rushing situations, the 3-3-5 formation is the only one that makes sense. First off, you signed Curry to rush the passer and last season in very limited opportunities, Curry had more quarterback pressures then Ziggy Ansah, so he isn’t coming off the field. Secondly, the team traded for Pierre Paul, who has 58.5 career sacks, so he definitely isn’t coming off the field. I also believe that new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner will want McCoy and Vea penetrating up the middle and collapsing the pocket.
I think that in the 3-3-5 formation, Pierre Paul, McCoy and Vea will play along the defensive line positions with Curry and Spence coming off the edge. It will be interesting to see how the Buccaneers utilize all of their pass rushers on third down, but I think this is the most obvious formation. The goal is to get your best pass rushers on the field, and these guys are just that. When the Buccaneers decide to line up in that 3-3-5, it has a chance to be dominant. All 5 of those players can get to the quarterback and cause disruption. Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton should be a little worried about this upcoming season.