Here’s the real reason why the Buccaneers defense was so awful

In 2018, Tampa Bay suffered injuries to a record-breaking degree.
[21st Century Fox]
[21st Century Fox]
Published May 15

So who or what is to blame for the Buccaneers having the NFL’s worst defense last season?

The coaches? The players? Bad luck?

All were factors.

But the biggest culprit?

Injuries.

Yes, every team has them. As Dirk Koetter said late last season, “That’s the NFL. No one’s feeling sorry for you.”

And that’s true. No one cares.

But when we talk about the Bucs’ defense last season and how bad it was, we absolutely should feel sorry. If Tampa Bay’s injury situation had gotten any more tragic, HBO would have created a show about it. Game of Groans?

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It started in the offseason when Kendell Beckwith fractured an ankle in a car crash, continued into preseason when Vita Vea strained a calf and persisted into the regular season when Vernon Hargreaves tore cartilage in a shoulder. Then Chris Conte went down. And Vinny Curry. And Kwon Alexander. And Justin Evans.

That’s a lot of games lost because of injuries, and we haven’t even considered players who played through injuries and the corresponding decline in their effectiveness.

The statistics gurus at Football Outsiders have. They’ve developed a metric called adjusted games lost, which is based on injury-report data and takes into account players’ roles (starter, situational player, reserve, etc.), hence the “adjusted.”

Football Outsiders found that the Bucs were the least healthy team in the NFL last season. Their adjusted games lost: 128, 50 more than in 2017.

That probably isn’t a surprise to those of you who spent your Sunday afternoons alternating between watching games and Googling unfamiliar names, so let’s drill deeper into that number.

Of Tampa Bay’s 128 adjusted games lost, 92 came on the defense.

“The Bucs’ 92 (adjusted games lost) on defense absolutely shatters the prior record of 77.5 held by the 2014 Oakland Raiders,” Vincent Verhei wrote this week in a post at footballoutsiders.com. “Tampa Bay had the most injuries at linebacker — which is particularly astounding because they were a 4-3 defense and theoretically used linebackers 25 percent less often than several teams — and the second most in the secondary, and the Bucs were in the top 10 for defensive-line injuries as well."

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Looking for a silver lining? Well, if a high adjusted games lost is bad — and in general it is — then a low adjusted games lost is good. A couple of nuggets from the Football Outsiders post:

• “Six of the seven teams that made the playoffs in 2017 but missed them in 2018 did so in part because they suffered more injuries than they had a season prior; the Jaguars had the biggest decline in the league, and the Falcons, Panthers, and Titans also had a long list of ailments.”

• “Four of the teams that took their place in the postseason field — the Bears, Ravens, Seahawks, and Texans — had significantly better injury luck in 2018 than they had in 2017.”

If the Bucs beat expectations this season, coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will get a lot of the credit. Chances are, though, that good health will be an even greater factor.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected]. Follow @tometrics.

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