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Loyalty to DC Mike Smith paying off for Bucs

Since yielding 1,087 yards in losses to Oakland and Atlanta, Mike Smith’s defense has allowed 12.8 points per game.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Since yielding 1,087 yards in losses to Oakland and Atlanta, Mike Smith’s defense has allowed 12.8 points per game.

After the Bucs defense gave up a combined 1,087 total yards and eight touchdown passes to the Raiders and Falcons six weeks ago, it would not have been surprising if the confidence in defensive coordinator Mike Smith had been shaken.

Coach Dirk Koetter was unwavering in his support of Smith and the defensive coaching staff.

The result was a remarkable turnaround in which the Bucs defense has allowed 12.8 points per game and produced 14 takeaways to spark a five-game winning streak.

Koetter and Smith coached together as coordinators in Jacksonville. In Atlanta, Smith hired Koetter to run his offense.

But the Bucs are an organization that fired defensive coordinator Jim Bates after 10 games in 2009.

Loyalty is what Koetter says he's all about.

"That's what football is. That's what coaching is, figuring it out," Koetter said. "You ask anyone who knows me, loyalty is my No. 1 thing. As an assistant coach, as a head coach — I mean, I'm a son of a coach, so I learned all about that loyalty stuff.

"Your staff, that's your guys. That's your generals and your captains. They're carrying the message to the soldiers, the men in the trenches. … That was never in question about whether I was going to be loyal, and I hope it's the same way from them to me."

Smith and his defensive staff used the 10 days after the loss to the Falcons to meet and improve communication while tightening up the coverage in the secondary.

"The way we say it to the players is, 'The calvary is not coming,' " Koetter said. "Whatever the exact word is, we dug ourselves in, it's up to us to get ourselves out."

The Bucs were 3-5 and had run into a couple of hot quarterbacks in the Raiders' Derek Carr and the Falcons' Matt Ryan.

"The way it's worked out, the turnaround from going minus-9 in turnovers to this incredible run we're in from a turnover standpoint, no one could foresee that coming," Koetter said. "But I just know we had a more talented team than we showed.

"Derek Carr could not have been more hot when we played him that time, and he could not have looked more cold when he played last week (a 21-13 loss at Kansas City). His numbers last week, you wouldn't even think it's the same guy.

"But that happens in the NFL. It's going to happen to us at some point. There's going to be a game where we cool off. I hope it's about 2021."

PASS ON WINSTON RUNNING THE SNEAK: In third-and-1 situations, the Bucs are 6-of-10 this season when they decide to run the ball. That's nearly a 12 percent more failure rate than the league average. By contrast, Dallas is at 70 percent with 14 conversions.

Why not try more quarterback sneaks? Well, Jameis Winston is 0-for-1 with a fumble at Atlanta earlier this season.

"How many in a row does Jameis have? I guess we're not much of a sneak team then," Koetter said. "That's a hard play to practice because you really can't practice it live. Some guys, just, they were good at it in college or they were good at it earlier in their career. Right now, we just prefer to let the professional runners run it and the professional passers pass it. That's kind of how we're looking at it right now."

The breakdown on Bucs runs by running backs on third and 1: Jacquizz Rodgers 2-for-2, Doug Martin 2-for-3 (with a TD), Antone Smith 1-for-1, Charles Sims 1-for-2 (with a TD), Peyton Barber 0-for-1.

What's curious is the Bucs were much better on third-and-1 runs last year — 11-for-13 or 84 percent, with Martin going 8-for-9 and Sims going 3-for-4. Winston didn't get the nod for a sneak once on such a call last season.

GIANTS BLUEPRINT? The Giants are the only team to beat the 11-2 Cowboys this season, holding Dallas to a total of 26 points. Can the Bucs defense follow that template?

"You want to see what they're doing and see if there's things that you can take," Smith said. "There's nothing original in coaching, that's for sure. So we're going to beg, borrow and steal any time we can. Beg to get information, borrow guys' game plan and if you can steal something, then do that, too.

"It was fun to watch the Giants play last week, they held them to one touchdown, that's impressive because this offense has been rolling throughout the season."

Loyalty to DC Mike Smith paying off for Bucs

12/17/16 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2016 9:07pm]
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