Communication, pressure key to Bucs' defensive success
Improved communication on the field and increased pressure on the opposing quarterback were major parts of the Bucs' strong play on defense in Sunday's win over the Bears, defensive coordinator Mike Smith said after the win.
The Bucs had given up 73 points and a combined 1,087 yards in home losses to the Raiders and Falcons, and Smith said his defense had a good week of practice, getting everyone on the same page with the defensive game plan and then executing it as they'd been coached.
"We were doing a very good job communicating," Smith said. "The guys were well aware of what we were going to run and they executed outstandingly."
The Bucs forced four turnovers in the first half -- the Bears had nine total turnovers in their first eight games -- including a red-zone fumble forced on a sack by rookie Noah Spence, and a pick-six from safety Chris Conte, set up by pressure from blitzing linebacker Daryl Smith.
"We wanted to put pressure on the quarterback, to get him off the spot and make him uncomfortable, and I thought they guys did an excellent job early on," Smith said. "When you have a 10-minute drive in the third quarter, that helps a lot."
The Bucs got their first safety in three years when Robert Ayers forced a fumble from Cutler that went out of the back of the end zone. Ayers said the credit for the improved pass rush should go to Bucs defensive backs, whose coverage forced Cutler to hold onto the ball longer and give time for the pass rush to get to him.
"You've got to give credit to the secondary -- they were locking down," Ayers said. "Jay couldn't throw the ball anywhere. The receivers weren't getting open. We had some big picks, and they were locking down, giving us the opportunity to get there. I'm a big believer that you play how you practice, and at practice, we made a conscious effort to communicate and get better at working as a unit and not making the same mistakes over and over. Now we have to continue to be on the same page and keep improving week to week."
Conte's first career pick-six came against his old team, and Smith said he was glad to see him have the personal redemption of such a momentum-changing play for the first touchdown of the game.
"I'm so happy for Chris," Smith said. "It was a great play. We had some pressure in the quarterback's face, and he made a great play on the ball."