What Should We Expect From The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defence?

When I heard the inevitable news that Mike Smith had been fired, my initial visceral reaction as a Bucs fan was “Well its about time”. However, now that the dust has settled on the firing I’m left with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. How are things going to improve? What if it wasn’t Mike Smiths fault? What if its actually the players fault? This is clearly going to require some further analysis.

First of all, I don’t think the firing of Mike Smith can be questioned. Last year the Bucs had the worst defence in the NFL and currently the Bucs are on pace to be the worst EVER defence in the history of the NFL. When people said ‘it can’t get any worse’ at the end of last season, the Bucs found a way to prove them completely wrong. The Buccaneers can’t stop anyone trying to pass the ball. Drew Brees, Mitch Trebisky, Nathan Peterman, my 18 month old son, the concept of photosynthesis. All of them are going to put up career numbers against this defence. They can’t rush the passer with a paltry 9 sacks on the season, a figure generously propped up by JPP with over half of those. They can’t turn the ball over with a dismal one…yes only one, turnover on the season. Its clear from both a statistical point of view and from a simple eye test that the Tampa Bay Defence stinks.

So in comes Mark Duffner, former Bengals defensive coordinator and current linebackers coach. Is he the man to turn our season around? Well a glimpse of his CV doesn’t fill you with a lot of confidence. When defensive coordinator at the Bengals his first year was decent with the defence getting a huge amount of sacks (a record setting 48), the next year it tailed off dramatically to only 20. In that season the Bengals managed a terrible 2-14 record. Its also worth noting the defensive performance of his College teams. During his time as head coach of the Maryland Terrapins his defence’s highest rank was 48th (out of 102). I think its fair to say that the Bucs haven’t uncovered the second coming of Wade Phillips.

So what does Duffner have to work with? Well…on paper he’s got a lot to work with. Perennial pro-bowlers and all pros Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. Superbowl winners Jason Pierre Paul, Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. As well as a slew of rookies from this years draft class. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like all that investment has born any fruit. Vita Vea was injured for the first four games of the season and has spent his time getting blown off the ball by double teams. When you draft a player for his size and explosion to anchor the defensive line around, you don’t expect to see him getting blown off the ball time and time again. The secondary boasts 2 rookies, a second year players and an ageing veteran. The growing pains for the rookie DBs has been sharp, however Carlton Davis has at least looked decent when been asked to play man coverage. The only person brought in who looks like they’re worth the money the Buccaneers are paying them is JPP.

This brings us on to my biggest concern with this defence. For all their talent, the players are not being put into the best places to succeed. Every game we are told that there are communication problems in the secondary, yet nothing is being done to address those concerns. Even the commentary team at the Bucs Falcons game were pointing out the defensive miscommunications (you know its bad when the commentary team can spot the problems). Kwon Alexander is also being exposed as not quite being the player everyone expected him to be, still making poor decisions both in pass coverage and in run support. This is his fourth year on the team and third in this defence and he’s still making the same basic errors he was making three years ago. I feel a good coach would have been able to assess Kwons abilities and deployed him correctly. Hell, Greg Schiano managed it so it can’t be that hard.

I think the problem Duffner has is that the rot is too persistent at this point. He hasn’t been afforded time to make the root and branch changes required to the scheme. All he can do is continue with the same scheme and slowly make tweeks to it over time. He might be able to make more aggressive play calls and instil a different attitude, but he still has Mike Smith’s scheme as the backbone of the defence.

Unfortunately for Duffner, the Buccaneers and the fans…things are not going to get a whole lot better until the offseason when a new coach can be brought. Buckle up Bucs fans, because to start winning our offence is going to have to put up at least 40 points a game.

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