TAMPA — Much has been said — and written — about how the Bucs have played better in their old defensive scheme, which has a lot of Tampa 2 tenets.
One move that has had a significant impact on the linemen and linebackers is returning to the one-gap philosophy, as opposed to the two-gap style used under former defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
The difference between the two is the responsibility and mentality of the defensive linemen.
The gaps refer to the holes among opposing offensive linemen, typically labeled A, B, C and D. In the two-gap philosophy, a defensive lineman lines up directly in front of an offensive counterpart and is responsible for two gaps — on either side of the opponent.
In that style, defensive linemen must hold their ground, keeping offensive linemen off linebackers, freeing them to make tackles. It requires discipline and can be tough because linemen must read the play and anticipate which gap a running back might use while holding off 300-pound offensive linemen.
"Two-gap is more like blocking," rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "You kind of step laterally instead of directly at the guy. And you just play more down the line instead of attacking, putting force into a guy. Instead, you're trying to cover him up and kind of mirror step him down the line."
To play the two-gap style, Miller (6-1, 310 pounds) and veteran defensive tackle Chris Hovan (6-2, 296) were asked to put on weight. But the two tackles have felt more comfortable in the one-gap style, which is a better fit for their size and skills.
In a one-gap style, a defensive lineman lines up directly in front of an assigned gap or on the hip of an opposing lineman (which helps leverage). The primary objective is to attack that hole and get into the backfield.
"In this defense, it's pretty much hit it and get it," Hovan said. "There's still responsibility within the defense, but it's more of an attack philosophy. It's more geared toward getting off the ball, creating penetration, creating a new line of scrimmage."
Defensive line coach Todd Wash said the Bucs are racking up more sacks because of it, as more push by the defensive tackles makes it difficult for a quarterback to step up in the pocket and avoid the rush. As a result, ends have five sacks in the past six weeks.
"You can have success in both systems, obviously," Wash said. "But I think this fits our personnel extremely well. Over the last (three) weeks, you can see we're playing better, we're making more plays, we're stopping the run a (heck) of a lot better."
Hovan said the one-gap style fits him better because he prides himself on quickness and being able to move sideline to sideline. He pointed out how there are other larger defensive tackles, such as the Patriots' Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325), who are built for the two-gap style.
While there are advantages to both styles, Bucs linebackers have reaped benefits from the defensive linemen being better fits for the one-gap.
"It gives us a whole lot of freedom," linebacker Geno Hayes said. "Because now, they can change the line of scrimmage right now and not worry about two gaps and go up the field. It gives us a lot of opportunities to make more plays of the run and actually get back in the backfield."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.