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Bucs 2017 Routes Snapshot, Part 4: Defense

What if the secondary wasn’t the biggest problem?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Dec 31, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) is tackled by Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) and cornerback Brent Grimes (24) during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Previously, in Parts One and Two, we looked at the receivers. In Part 3, we looked at quarterback Jameis Winston. In Part 4, we’ll look at the defense, which was the worst in the NFL last year, finishing 32nd in DVOA. They ranked 31st against the pass, with a DVOA of 26.4 percent, and 19th against the rush at -5.1 percent. Unlike previous entries focused on the offense where the higher the DVOA the better, for defenses it’s the opposite; the lower the DVOA, the better.

So how did the Bucs defense do last season against the twelve most common routes, and can the results tell us anything?

Curl - (-0.6 percent)

The defense ranked 18th vs curl routes with a 5.1 percent DVOA. While they allowed a below-average catch rate, the yards per attempt allowed (ypa) was 7.0, higher than average.

Out - (-7.1 percent)

The Bucs were fifth-best in defending the quick out with a -18.9 percent DVOA, giving up 6.1 ypa.

Dig - (7.6 percent)

They ranked ninth here, with a DVOA of -15.2 percent. They gave up 8.5 ypa, but they allowed catches at twelve percent higher than the league average.

Slant - (7.2 percent)

More touchdown passes were off slants than any other route last season. The Bucs rank 21st here with a bad 12.6 percent DVOA. While the ypa allowed was lower than the league average, the catch percentage was higher.

Drag - (-9.6 percent)

Despite Winston being a good drag route thrower, the defense is poor at defending them. They ranked 28th with a 35.5 percent DVOA, far worse than the league average. Their yards per attempt allowed is a full yard higher than average and their catch percentage allowed is 16 percent worse than the average. If I had to guess I’d say the linebackers could do a better job in coverage.

Go/Fly - (5.8 percent)

The go/fly route is a huge problem for the offense, but what about the defense? Here they rank 16th with a 9.6 percent DVOA. They only faced 12 such attempts last season, perhaps in part because the quarters coverage is designed to take away big plays. The ypa allowed was higher than the average, but not by much. It connects about a quarter of the time, but the Bucs gave it up about a third of the time.

WR Screen - (-27.5 percent)

The Bucs were the fourth-best defense against screens, with a DVOA of -66.5 percent! They faced 25 screen attempts and gave up an average of just 3.2 yards per attempt.

Post - (36.1 percent)

The post is the only other route besides the slant to yield at least 60 touchdown passes last season. The Bucs faced 27 post attempts, and gave up an average of four yards less than the average. They helped them rank seventh-best with a DVOA of -25.7 percent. That’s almost 62 percent better than an average defense would be expected to allow. They also gave up about half of the expected yards after the catch. But, there’s a pretty big disclaimer here:

Offenses dropped a league-high five post routes against Tampa Bay last season.

Comeback - (-6.6 percent)

We know Winston to Evans is unstoppable on this route, and it hurts the Bucs that they have Julio Jones in their division. Perhaps that’s why they ranked 24th, giving up 31.3 percent per-play worse than average. Their 8.9 ypa allowed is two full yards worse than average, and the catch percentage is eight percent worse.

Broken Play - (-12.6 percent)

The Bucs surprisingly rank in the top ten yet again, this time eighth with a DVOA of -66.2 percent. Football Outsiders (FBO) counts eleven of these attempts against the Bucs last season, and they allowed about a full yard less than the average. FBO had this to add though:

A lack of pressure on the quarterback can certainly lead to fewer broken plays. We saw it in 2016 when the Colts faced a league-low seven of these plays with a terrible pass rush. It happened again in 2017 when Tampa Bay tied for the league lead with 11 broken plays after having the league’s worst pressure rate. However, the Buccaneers were tied with Philadelphia, which had a great pass rush, so it’s not as simple as that.

Why do you think the Bucs faced the same amount of broken plays as the Eagles, despite the two teams having wildly different pass rushes?

Fade - (-12.5 percent)

Despite the Buccaneers having tiny cornerbacks last season in Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves, teams attempted just two fade routes against the Bucs last season. One of them was completed, and the high variance from the incredibly small sample size ranks the Bucs 30th with a 51.4 percent DVOA. I don’t think we can place too much on these results, though I’d probably guess that opponents didn’t really have to rely on a low-percentage play like the fade when other routes were often open.

Seam - (27 percent)

Lastly, we have the seam route. Against, quarters coverage, putting speed in the slot and running a seam can be problematic as it can match-up a receiver on a safety. While the Bucs only faced eleven seam routes last season, that could be why they finished 24th with a 75.5 percent DVOA, far worse than average. Their catch percentage was nearly twenty points worse than average.

Conclusion:

When you add up all of Tampa Bay’s DVOA rankings and average them out, the Bucs come out ranked a surprising 15th! But how is that possible? Well, the pass rush last season was just that bad:

One team that really stood out to me was Tampa Bay finishing 15th here despite having the No. 31 pass defense by DVOA. That just goes to show how the totally inept pass rush the Buccaneers had hurt their ability to cause havoc as a unit. Remember, these numbers don’t include sacks.

The Bucs tried to entirely revamp their defensive line this offseason. They signed Vinny Curry, Beau Allen, and Mitch Unrein in free agency, traded for Jason Pierre-Paul, and then drafted nose tackle Vita Vea with the 12th pick in this year’s draft. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy also just made the initial 53-man roster.

Improving the defensive line is also the fastest (but not only) way to improve a defense. But, this conversation wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging that the Bucs wouldn’t have been in the position of having to sign several players in free agency and trade for a player just to field a competent defensive line if they had drafted and developed properly. That’s something this staff will need to do a much better job of going forward. A lot of these veterans are just patches or short-term answers, and Gerald McCoy, while still explosive and an elite 3-tech when healthy, is on the wrong side of 30. For a player whose game is dependent on his quick-twitch explosiveness, the Bucs are on borrowed time, and have to get this unit fixed sooner rather than later. Hopefully that comes this year.