Bucs have a top five defense? Other numbers matter more
The Bucs are ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense. That's right. Only the Jets, Broncos, Titans and Seahawks have allowed fewer yards per game than Tampa Bay this season.
Perhaps even more shocking, they are fifth in the league in yards allowed per play with a 5.1 average. Only the Broncos, Jets, Panthers and Eagles -- three division leaders and a second-place team -- are better.
But it's a bit of fools gold. Cubic zirconia.
That's because what matters are things like points allowed per game, where the Bucs rank 31st in the NFL at 29.6. Only the Chicago Bears (29.8) have allowed more.
Other mileposts such as as winning on third down and limiting scoring in the red zone, are more important to coach Lovie Smith.
"Your stats, your record, that's who you are,'' Smith said. "What else can you go by? But for us, it is a little bit bigger than that. We haven't played our best defense here. It's as simple as that. If you look at total yards and some of those things, how everybody else judges the league a little bit, you can feel good about some of the things we've done and we do that.
"But the things we need to do better, yes, I'm going to go to the points. I'm going to go to takeaways. To third down conversions. Those are the things that will really help us win football games. We have to get better at that and we will. We're pointed in this (right) direction and that's what we would like to see. But right now, we're just jockeying for position. We have a long ways to go and I think every defensive guy would tell you that.''
Of course, there are reasons behind every stat. The Bucs turnovers on offense have put their defense in bad positions. You can take away 14 points from a pair of interceptions thrown by Jameis Winston that were returned for touchdowns. That's not on the defense, but adds nearly three points per game.
Then again, other turnovers have given opponents short fields, when they weren't required to sustain long drives for scores and that skews the yards per game average.
However, cornerback Johnthan Banks believes the Bucs have the talent it takes to be a top five defense.
"Most definitely. I look around at our guys,'' Banks said. "I’m not even going to name Gerald (McCoy) or Lavonte (David). You look at Jacquies (Smith), he’s in the top of the league in sacks. You look at George (Johnson) and the plays he’s made. Look at Kwon Alexander. Look at those guys, especially Bradley McDougald, the plays he’s making and the things that he’s done. You’ve got me, Mike (Jenkins), Tim (Jennings), Vern (Alterraun Verner), I honestly think we really have a top five defense. You look at these guys' history and the past, it’s telling you we have a top 5 defense and we can be the best defense in the league if we go out and put it together.''