TAMPA — The Bucs defense has been swarming ballcarriers this preseason with the starting unit winning on third down and keeping teams out of the end zone. And it has even managed to produce a few turnovers and a touchdown.
The only knock against the unit is that opposing quarterbacks aren't getting knocked down.
"We've got to get more pressure on the quarterback," coach Jon Gruden said. "It's not been good enough."
The Bucs had four sacks in the opener at Miami, none by the starting defensive line. Ronde Barber, Jimmy Wilkerson, Charles Bennett and Chris Bradwell recorded the quarterback takedowns.
The Bucs tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks last season with 33. In fact, only seven teams limited opposing quarterbacks to a lower passer efficiency rating than their 76.2.
But for the Tampa 2 to work, the defensive front four needs to pressure the quarterback without the benefit of blitzes.
"The thing about it is, I think we put ourselves in good situations, and when we had to make plays, we did," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "We had some pressure on the quarterback, but we blitzed a lot, we didn't always get a four-man rush. We had some packages when we had three defensive linemen in the game and we had guys dropping and others blitzing. We did some different things. But for the most part, we did okay."
The Bucs have done better than okay on third down. In two games, opponents have converted 30.4 percent (7-of-23). In fact, the defense is ranked first overall, allowing 186 total yards per game.
With Tom Brady out Sunday resting an injured foot, Patriots quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Kevin O'Connell combined to complete 12 of 25 passes for 118 yards and an interception. Their passer rating was an anemic 45.1. The only troubling thing for the Bucs was that neither was sacked.
Of course, the Bucs are without starting defensive tackle Jovan Haye. Ryan Sims has played well against the run but isn't as effective as a pass rusher.
But the player who has to get the rush started is defensive end Gaines Adams. He started the final eight games as a rookie last year and finished with six sacks but has not had his hands on a quarterback this preseason.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has already begun to tinker, playing to his team's strength — dialing up creative blitzes and taking advantage of coverage skills from a deep secondary. That could mean using Barber more as a pass rusher.
"I hope so. That's the idea," Barber said. "Monte is getting real creative. It's preseason, so we're getting some things he wants to put in. It'll be more interesting for us in that regard for us this year. Creating pressure up front is always the key for us, but if we can do it with some blitzes, too, it'll give us a little different dynamic."
It might be nitpicking, but as good as the Bucs defense has been, it could be better.
"I think we're doing the things we're talking about that we want to do," Carter said. "But we're still a long way off. We'll look at the film and there will be a lot of things we need to improve upon — gap control here, missed tackle there, bad angles to the ball — those kinds of things. But for the most part, it's been a good showing."