The Bucs return home to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, playing three of their final four games at home, and that's excellent news for their defense.
Most teams play better at home — it's only natural. But the Bucs defense has a polar and nearly inexplicable disparity: They have allowed the fewest points at home (76) of any NFL team this season, and they've also allowed the most points on the road (212) this season.
"I wish I could tell you why we can't play at the same level when we are at Raymond James Stadium and we take our show on the road," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said Wednesday. "We have not been able to handle the wear and tear of going on the road. It's a fact when you look at it. It's alarming in terms of what type of numbers we are giving up on the road (compared to) what we are doing at home. It's probably the biggest discrepancy of any team in the league."
Smith is correct — the Bucs allow 30.3 points per game on the road and 15.2 points per game at home. The difference of 15.1 points per game is easily the biggest home/road split in the NFL, with the Rams (+10.6) and Colts (10.4) the only other teams with a double-digit change on the road. The Patriots are at the other extreme, allowing 24.2 points/game at home and 13.0 on the road for an 11.2-point differential in the other direction.
Why? For one thing, the Bucs have faced tougher teams on the road — their five home opponents have a combined winning percentage of .467, while their seven road opponents combine for .571. Every team they've faced on the road has at least five wins, while they've faced the Bears (3-9) and Giants (2-10) at home.
The Bucs offense has also scored less at home — they average 22.4 points on the road and 17.2 on the road, but some of that can be ascribed to falling behind and scoring late when a game is out of hand. They've scored almost as many points in the fourth quarter on the road (75) as in the first three quarters combined (82).
The Bucs have nearly two different defenses, depending on whether a game is in Tampa or not. At home, they've allowed more than 20 points just once, and 23 at that in beating the Giants. On the road, they've allowed at least 20 every game, and 26 or more points in six of the seven road games.
If that can continue, it bodes well for the Bucs being able to finish the season with better play on defense, if not even a win or two.
"We've got three of the four at home," Smith said. "Hopefully we can keep eking up and doing enough things to help this football team win."