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Bucs defense lacking a strong point so far

The Texans' Alfred Blue runs against the Bucs during the first half of Sunday's game in Houston.

[Associated Press]

The Texans' Alfred Blue runs against the Bucs during the first half of Sunday's game in Houston.

TAMPA

It's not my proudest moment but they say confession is good for the soul.

Until Sunday, I'd never heard of Alfred Blue. If my wife had told me she was painting our daughters' bedrooms Alfred Blue, it would've sounded like a great color to get behind.

But there he was, Alfred Blue, running like a spilled quart of Sherwin-Williams all over the Buccaneers defense on Sunday. The Texans tailback rushed for 139 yards on 31 carries, including a 20-yard touchdown run. A bolt from the Blue.

A little research shows that Blue started seven games in four years at LSU, never rushed for more than 123 yards in his career with the Tigers and was a sixth-round draft pick. So maybe the heroes were the Texans offensive linemen?

But it turns out, in three games, Texans coach Bill O'Brien has sewn a patchwork quilt up front and already started two different players at left tackle, three left guards, two right guards and two right tackles.

All of which is getting to this point: What is exactly is the identity of the Bucs defense? You know, what can you count on it to do well?

Do they stop the run? The Bucs gave up 186 rushing yards Sunday. They are 29th in the NFL with an average of 138 rushing yards allowed per game.

Do they pressure the passer? The Bucs had one sack Sunday, a coverage deal where quarterback Ryan Mallett pulled the ball down and was dropped for a 1-yard loss. The Bucs' seven sacks tie for seventh in the league, but four belong to Jacquies Smith.

Do they lock down receivers? The Bucs have two interceptions — Chris Conte's fair catch of a bad-armed pass by Drew Brees and linebacker Kwon Alexander digging out a pass tipped by Danny Lansanah on Sunday.

For the second time this season, the Bucs were beaten on a simple slant route for a touchdown Sunday, DeAndre Hopkins' 5-yarder from Mallett. Bucs cornerback Tim Jennings nearly fell down on the play. It's the sixth touchdown pass allowed this season, tied for 20th.

"You're not supposed to let him run the slant route," Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. "It's as simple as that. You have to stop that, cut out that route.

"Sometimes you out-think yourself a little bit or think they're running something else and you're trying to get a jump on that and you guess wrong. It's not something that should happen. Once you get down on the goal line, that's the easiest throw to make."

And speaking of goal lines, the Bucs defense will never be confused with the border patrol.

Opponents have ventured inside the red zone — the Bucs 20-yard line — nine times and scored eight touchdowns.

Blue is never going to be mistaken for Adrian Peterson and Mallett wasn't even O'Brien's first choice to start the season at quarterback. But Smith isn't the least bit worried.

"This the third game of the season," Smith said. "I think if you look around the league, you have to give the offense a little credit. And (don't) think that I or we invented defensive football and the offense can't move the ball.

"It's a 19-9 game (Sunday). We didn't play the run as well as we needed to … But we're not getting ready to junk anything. Let's just let everything play out a little bit. We'll be fine on the defensive side of the ball."

This much is true. The Bucs have a lot of moving parts. Cornerback Alterraun Verner is in the doghouse. Jennings, who signed just before the season opener, is suddenly a starter. Mike Jenkins replaced Johnthan Banks when Banks injured his knee Sunday.

Speaking of injuries, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said he can't play like Gerald McCoy because of his bum right shoulder.

"When you group everything together, you can get it distorted a little bit," Smith said. "Our defense has given up 19 points the last couple weeks and I think that's pretty good. Look around the league. I think that's a pretty good stat."

He's right. The Jaguars gave up 51 Sunday. The 49ers allowed 47, the Dolphins 41 and the Cowboys 39. Even so, the Bucs offense seems more mentally tough than the defense, with rookie Jameis Winston trying to block J.J. Watt, getting into defenders' faces and screaming at O'Brien for throwing challenge flags.

The Bucs play the Panthers next Sunday and the defense better be ready for some guy named … Cam Newton? Good thing it's not Derek Anderson. Last year, he beat them. Twice!

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.

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All around

Coach Lovie Smith admits the Bucs need better distribution than Sunday, when Mike Evans was targeted 17 times. 3C

Bucs defense lacking a strong point so far 09/28/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 29, 2015 7:57am]
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