Morris relieves Bates of defensive coordinator duties
By RICK STROUD
TAMPA -- Saddled with the worst run defense in the NFL and a 1-9 record, coach Raheem Morris decided Monday night to relieve Jim Bates as defensive coordinator and take over the defensive play-calling duties.
Bates, 63, will remain with the team at least through the end of the season in a consulting role, breaking down film and helping Morris on game day from the coaching box.
Morris is expected to immediately return the Bucs' to their Tampa Two scheme, which will allow their undersized defensive linemen to take advantage of their quickness rather than penalize them for a lack of size.
Morris and general manager Mark Dominik met until late Monday to discuss the organizational shift, one day after the Bucs were routed by the unbeaten New Orleans Saints 38-7, one of the worst home defeats in club history.
Under Bates, Tampa Bay's defense is ranked 26th overall in the NFL and last against the run, allowing 168.9 yards per game. Only the Detroit Lions have given up more points than the 29.4 per game allowed by the Bucs this season.
Bates becomes the second coordinator hired by Morris and Dominik to leave since the start of the season.
The Bucs fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski 10 days before the start of the regular season, saying he had trouble calling plays and that his passing scheme wasn't NFL quality. They replaced him with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson.
It's undetermined whether Morris will retain the defensive play-calling duties next season.
Bates, who ran successful defenses in Green Bay and Miami, faced a tall order trying to replace Monte Kiffin, the Bucs long-time defensive coordinator who branded the Tampa Two defense. Under Kiffin, the Bucs finished among the top 10 defenses 10 times in 12 seasons.
But Kiffin announced he was leaving the Bucs last December to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee.
After that announcement, the Bucs went from 9-3 and a possible No. 1 seed in the NFC to losing four straight games and missing the playoffs.
Bates attempted to change the Bucs old 4-3 scheme, which utilized undersized, penetrating defensive linemen and fast linebackers, to one that requires larger defensive linemen and linebackers.
But to Bates' defense, the Bucs never really changed personnel to fit Bates' scheme.
Consequently, the Bucs have been unable to stop the run and have given up big plays in the passing game. Opposing quarterbacks have a 94.0 rating.
Under Bates, the Bucs defense has yielded 378.3 yards per game and a whopping 5.9 yards per play.
Almost every area of the defense has fallen well short of the Bucs' standard under Bates.
Tackling has been poor, the pass rush has been mostly non-existent, with only 17 sacks this season, six of them coming against Green Bay. The coverage has been suspect, particularly early in the season. The Bucs have given up nine pass plays of 40 yards or more.
By simply returning the Bucs to their Tampa Two roots, it won't cure the Bucs of all their problems on defense.
Although the move is likely to be well received by veteran players like Chris Hovan, Barrett Ruud and Ronde Barber, the Bucs don't have many play-makers on that side of the ball. But Aqib Talib has five interceptions and safety Tanard Jackson has been a force since returning from a four-game suspension, accounting for four turnovers in the past five games.