Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Saints will test Bucs defense

TAMPA

In the evaluation of a quarterback, one must first weigh his impact upon the game. After that, you contemplate the statistics. Then you consider the nuances.

After that, you come to this conclusion:

Drew Brees, technically, is a bit better than Geno Smith.

Uh-oh.

Let's see: Entering Thursday, Brees had played in 170 more games than Smith, and he had thrown for 325 more touchdowns, and he had passed for 46,020 more yards, a great many of them against the Bucs. Using the nifty Geno-to-Drew calculator, Smith's 256 yards last week would have translated to, oh, about 415 by Brees.

Just asking: But do you still feel good about the Bucs defense?

I know, I know. Last week, the defense had enough moments to make you think. Opposing wide receivers weren't running relay races to the end zone the way they were last year. The opposing quarterback didn't have enough time to plan a vacation. This time, the Bucs actually had a bit of scrap, which, frankly, made them look a lot better than they actually were. Playing against a rookie quarterback will do that for a defense.

Still, they gave up 22 first downs.

Still, Smith went 8-of-12 in the fourth quarter.

Still, the Jets went 50 yards in the last 34 seconds to win.

The thing is the Bucs defense gets somewhat of a pass simply because it looked so much less befuddled than the offense. (Who doesn't?) Greg Schiano had a bad weekend, and there are so many things stuffed into Josh Freeman's helmet these days, it's a wonder he can communicate at all.

Along the way, however, the defense had some spotty play, too.

For instance, it allowed Smith a rating of 80.6.

For instance, it gave up five passes of more than 20 yards and another five of 13 or more.

For instance, it seemed to think tight end Kellen Winslow is still on its team.

"Do I think we played well enough?" Schiano said. "No, I think we have so much better to play. But we definitely improved. Certainly, a test is coming that is one of the top-three tests in the league. We will see quickly how much better we have become."

A lot of how you judge the Bucs defense from Sunday depends on how you judge Smith. If you think he is going to be a rookie star, a Russell Wilson or a Robert Griffin III, then the Bucs played okay. Except for Smith's scrambles, the Jets only ran for 43 yards, and the Bucs had five sacks. Cornerback Darrelle Revis spent most of the afternoon guarding decoys.

But if you remember that these were the first snaps ever taken by Smith, then you probably expected a little more from the Bucs, especially in the final quarter. That is where the very good defenses turn off the light. This one didn't. It made repeated penalties. It allowed too many third downs.

Time was a rookie quarterback was an in-between meals snack for the Bucs. They would hit him and harass him and get after him so hard that the quarterback seemed to forget what sport he was playing.

Were the Bucs good enough?

No, they weren't.

"In hindsight, after watching the film, we didn't feel that way," said defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. "There were two areas where we thought we could be distinctly better. One was third down. Not that they killed us, but in our weekly measurements, we didn't reach our goal. We wouldn't view anybody being good enough on third down. Then tied in with that was quarterback efficiency. Not that it was off the scale for them, but we thought we could have done a lot better and put ourselves in position to secure the win there at the end."

What more can the Bucs do? They can defend the deep middle. They can contain a running quarterback. They can shut down the penalties, which gave the Jets five first downs. And they can get a sack or two from their defensive line, which only had one of the five Bucs sacks.

"If you look at the plays we did get the sacks on, I thought we were creating pressure with our down guys," Sheridan said. "They may have been chewing up the protection and allowing some second-level guys to come clean. Maybe our numbers didn't show it, but I thought we had a very aggressive up-the-field push in the pocket."

Is there hope? Yeah, there is. Revis erases much of the field for an opponent. That helps. Penalties aside, linebacker Lavonte David is excellent. And Sheridan raved about defensive tackle Gerald McCoy on Thursday.

"He's definitely someone who has to be game-planned against," Sheridan said, "because he can be unstoppable. He's definitely a nightmare for opposing teams. You better figure out how you're going to try to block him in pass protection and how you're going to take care of him in the run game as well. Gerald is a potentially dominant player week-in and week-out."

In other words, there is better personnel on defense than a year ago. But the Bucs need to raise their standards. If this team is going to win, after all, it won't be because of the offense. The Bucs need to control third downs. They need to stop the big plays.

No rush, guys.

Any time between now and Sunday will do.

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