Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs defense first against the run, last against the pass

TAMPA — The Bucs defense is a study in contrast, a juxtaposition of strength and weakness so dramatic as to be polar opposites.

Tampa Bay is first in the NFL against the run. It is worst in the league defending the pass.

The Bucs have allowed only 77.3 yards per game on the ground and 3.4 yards per rush. But they have been raided through the air, yielding 321.1 yards per game and 38 completions of 20 yards or more.

Bucs coach Greg Schiano could only grin to hide the grimace.

"I only laugh out of frustration," he said. "We should be better in our pass defense. We're working our tails off. The flip side of that, I'm not apologizing for being No. 1 in rush defense, either. The guys are doing a heck of a job playing the run, and our No. 1 goal in our defensive room is stop the run. I think when you make teams one-dimensional, it gives you a chance. I'm pleased with that.

"We need to do better in our pass defense, and we will. We'll get better. But it is odd. Yes, a little bit."

The Bucs' 42-32 win at Oakland on Sunday was a perfect example of their imperfection.

They held the Raiders to only 22 yards on 11 rushes. But Carson Palmer riddled their secondary for 414 yards and four touchdowns.

"It's a little weird," said safety Ahmad Black, whose fourth-quarter interception — one of three on the day for the Bucs — preserved the victory.

To be fair, three of the Bucs' eight games have skewed the numbers. In Week 2, the Giants' Eli Manning shelled them for 510 yards passing. In a loss to New Orleans three weeks ago, Drew Brees passed for 377 yards. Last week, it was Palmer's turn, and he attempted a career-high 61 passes.

Sixty-one!

It won't get easier for the Bucs on Sunday against San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. Since becoming a starter in 2006, Rivers ranks second in yards (26,003) and third in touchdowns (174).

"There are some big plays that have been made on them in the past few weeks. But at the same time, it's a defense that is attacking and fast and takes the ball away," Rivers said Wednesday. "They've given up some plays, but they do a good job of creating turnovers and negative plays. You look at how they've been No. 1 in rush defense. They create a lot of negative plays."

Stopping the run is Job 1 for any defense. Normally, it helps the pass defense by creating predictable down-and-distance situations, allowing linemen to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback.

There are two primary reasons why the Bucs keep beating the odds by getting beat deep downfield:

• The loss of end Adrian Clayborn to a season-ending knee injury has allowed opponents to slide protection toward defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and use a running back or tight end to chip block on end Michael Bennett. As a result, the Bucs rank 25th in sacks with 13.

• The suspension of Aqib Talib for four games took away, arguably, their best cover corner — although he was the culprit in many of Manning's bombs. It forced the Bucs to use Brandon McDonald, who was waived Tuesday, at nickel corner. He was replaced two weeks ago by former Largo High quarterback Leonard Johnson, an undrafted rookie from Iowa State who has produced two interceptions in as many starts. In addition, cornerback E.J. Biggers, who missed all of training camp and the first three games with a broken left foot, has been burned deep several times since returning.

All told, the Bucs have allowed eight completions of more than 30 yards, five of more than 40 and three of 50-plus.

"I think it would be naive to say there's any one thing," Schiano said. "We can make some better decisions, maybe help guys a little bit better, maybe coach guys better. By the same token, we get in those one-on-one situations, we've got to make a play.

"The good thing about this group, the coaches and the players, there's not finger-pointing. Everybody feels we'll get this thing fixed. It's all of us. We've got to coach better. We've got to call better. We've got to play better, and we'll get it going in the right situation."

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