Friday, November 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs defense needs to buckle down in red zone

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The Bucs ranking 31st in the NFL in scoring defense should be enough to illustrate what a misnomer it is to tout Tampa Bay as having a "top-five defense" for ranking fifth in the league in yards allowed.

But another glaring stat to show how much room for improvement there is on defense is this: 19 times in five games, Bucs opponents have gotten into the red zone, and 19 times, they've come away with points.

Fourteen of those times, they've come away with touchdowns against the Bucs — that's 73.7 percent, the second-worst figure in the league for red-zone defenses, with only the one-win Titans faring worse.

That means no takeaways in the red zone at all, no fourth-down stops — nothing to show the defense has stepped up in the most important area of the field.

"In key situations we've got to be good," nickel corner Alterraun Verner said. "When we're in the red zone, we're giving up touchdowns. Third downs, we've got to get off the field and get our offense back the ball, and we've got to take the ball away. Those are the things we need to worry about. The yardage sounds good and all of that, but at the end of the day it's wins, losses and points on the board."

This isn't a new development — the Bucs tied for 29th in red-zone defense last season, giving up touchdowns on 61 percent of opponents' trips inside the 20.

There's been some defensive progress in the past three games — the Bucs allowed touchdowns the first eight times opponents got in the red zone. Since then, they've held them to field goals (five) almost as often as touchdowns (six).

If there's a model for improvement, last year's win at Washington is a good start — the Bucs allowed only one breach inside the 20, and when the Redskins got there — recovering a muffed punt at the Bucs' 17 — the defense stepped up.

Washington got to the Bucs' 6-yard line, but after a penalty, Tampa Bay got back-to-back sacks from Gerald McCoy and Jacquies Smith, driving the Redskins back to the 29, where they would miss a 47-yard field goal.

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