Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs pass defense struggles in first two games

TAMPA — Be it missed tackles or miscommunication, the Bucs' pass defense struggled badly in Sunday's 40-7 loss at Arizona, giving up six pass plays of at least 20 yards, more than in any game last season.

"Our defense gave up six explosive plays — six plays by the Cardinals accounted for 209 yards," coach Dirk Koetter said Monday. "(They) made some big plays. One of them was a result of missed tackles, the little checkdown to the back, made a nice run up our sideline. We missed a couple of tackles right there. Then of course in our two-minute defense, we let them throw it over our head."

What's more, in two games this season, the Bucs have allowed three pass plays of 50-plus yards. Jaron Brown had a 51-yard touchdown and David Johnson a 58-yard catch Sunday, and Atlanta's Mohamed Sanu had a 59-yard catch in the season opener. That's as many 50-yard pass plays as Tampa Bay allowed all of 2015, and one more than in 2014.

That's a bad sign for the Bucs secondary, but also reflects a general lack of pressure at the line of scrimmage, giving quarterbacks time to find receivers open downfield.

"No matter how good your coverage is, the rush is the coverage's best friend," Koetter said. "Especially after Robert Ayers went out, when we were just in four-man rush, we just didn't have a great pass rush (Sunday). We've seen two really good quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Carson Palmer. Arizona's got good receivers as well. Especially with (Larry) Fitzgerald and a quarterback like that who has that kind of time, it's going to be tough."

The Bucs gave up 10 pass plays of 20-plus yards in the first two games last year, then settled down to allow just one each in their third and fourth games. The Bucs can only hope for as much at home against the Rams and Broncos in the next two weeks.

ROOM FOR GROWTH: Sunday's game has two quarterbacks — the Bucs' Jameis Winston and the Rams' Case Keenum — who rank 35th and 36th in the NFL in passer rating after two games.

The only quarterback with at least five passes and a lower rating is Cleveland's Robert Griffin III, who is out with a shoulder injury.

The good news for both quarterbacks? Neither defense in Sunday's game has an interception yet this season. The Bucs are still seeking their first takeaway of 2016, while the Rams have recovered two fumbles from opponents. The Bucs are allowing a 113.2 passer rating in two games, 10.9 points higher than last year's defense allowed.

Possible pickup: The Bucs are expected to sign DE Ryan Russell, a Cowboys draft pick last year, to their practice squad today, adding depth as they continue to battle injuries to their pass rush.

Russell, 24, worked out for the Bucs on Tuesday, after being waived among Dallas' final cuts three weeks ago and then released from its practice squad last week.

Russell, 6 feet 5, 275 pounds, was a fifth-round draft pick out of Purdue in 2015 but only played one game as a rookie; he was inactive for 10 games then missed the final five after being placed on injured reserve with an abdominal injury.

THIS AND THAT: LB Kwon Alexander, who had 15 solo tackles in the opener against Atlanta, still has the NFL lead with 21 solo tackles through two games. … LB Josh Keyes, waived on Monday, cleared waivers and is eligible to sign back with Tampa Bay's practice squad. The Bucs did not announce a corresponding move for their 53-man roster Tuesday.

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

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