Advertisement

Buccaneers-Bears All-22: Is Tampa Bay blitzing enough? Should Mike Smith be fired?

The Bucs defense isn’t playing aggressively enough, you say? The tape shows the opposite is true. Tampa Bay is playing too aggressively, and opponents are exploiting it.
 
The Bucs have allowed 139 points in four games, the most to start a season in team history, prompting many to call for defensive coordinator Mike Smith's job. [Associated Press]
The Bucs have allowed 139 points in four games, the most to start a season in team history, prompting many to call for defensive coordinator Mike Smith's job. [Associated Press]
Published Oct. 4, 2018|Updated Oct. 5, 2018

“I’ve been in the league for nine years and never got beat like that. Never, ever got beat like that.” — Bucs defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul

Deep breaths.

The Buccaneers’ 48-10 loss to the Bears was an embarrassment. Burn the tapes, pour bleach in your eyes and forget about it.

Because it won’t happen again. Not this Sunday anyway. The NFL’s schedule makers gave the Bucs the day off. If only they could do that every other week.

I have more good news: It probably won’t happen when they return to play Oct. 14 against the Falcons.

The Bucs have lost by 30 points 27 other times. They almost always bounced back to respectability. They’ve lost consecutive games by 30 points only three times — twice during their inaugural season and once in 1986, when they had one of the worst defenses of all-time.

Deep breaths.

And now the bad news: That 1986 defense? The historically awful one that allowed almost 30 points a game? The 2018 edition is on pace to be worse, according to Football Outsiders’ efficiency ratings.

I’ll be direct: There is no quick fix here.

There’s not a player the Bucs can sign. There’s not a coach they can fire.

That’s not to say defensive coordinator Mike Smith wasn’t outcoached. He was. Bears play-caller Matt Nagy was a step ahead all afternoon.

The reality is that no one is remaking the defense in a couple of weeks. This isn’t Love It or List It. This unit is a fixer upper.

RELATED STORY: The Bears expose the truth: There is no defense

There are two reasons for this.

No. 1: In recent years, the majority of players the Bucs have drafted have been offensive players. In 2014 and 2015, general manager Jason Licht drafted one defensive player — linebacker Kwon Alexander. In 2016, he tried to rebuild the defense, drafting cornerback Vernon Hargreaves in the first round, defensive end Noah Spence in the second round and cornerback Ryan Smith in the fourth round. None of those players is a starter.

Some teams can recover from a disastrous draft, but not a team that invests as much draft capital on one side of the ball as much as the Bucs did in 2014 and 2015. You can’t plant a tree today and expect it to be as tall as the tree you planted two years ago.

No. 2, which is related to No. 1: Youth and inexperience.

There were openings all over the field Sunday. Part of that was the defensive line’s ineffective pass rush. Mitchell Trubisky was more comfortable in the pocket than he has ever been in his professional career. It’s no coincidence, though, that the secondary consisted of two players in their second seasons (safeties Justin Evans and Isaiah Johnson), two rookies (cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart) and a 35-year-old cornerback (Brent Grimes).

This isn’t an attack-style defense. It might look vanilla to some, but it’s a line-up-and-do-your-job defense. It occasionally will surrender chunk plays — any defense will in today’s pass-happy NFL — but receivers should never run free like they did Sunday. That happens when players aren’t doing their jobs.

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene

Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter

We’ll send you news and analysis on the Bucs, Lightning, Rays and Florida’s college football teams every day.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Take Evans. Though he’s an athletic and rangey safety, his aggressiveness sometimes makes him a liability. By my count, he was involved in three blown coverages against the Bears:

[NFL Game Pass]
[NFL Game Pass]

• a 39-yard touchdown to tight end Trey Burton, during which he fell down.

[NFL Game Pass]
[NFL Game Pass]

• a 47-yard pass to Burton, during which he vacated his deep zone and ran 10 yards up the field to cover a receiver who was already covered.

[NFL Game Pass]
[NFL Game Pass]

• a 20-yard touchdown to receiver Josh Bellamy, during which both he and Stewart covered a running back near the line of scrimmage.

Experiencing deja vu? From last season’s loss to the Bills:

How do you fix this? If I knew, I’d be the defensive coordinator. What I can tell you is how the Bucs can make it worse, and they can make it worse by calling more blitzes. They didn’t call any in the first half, leading some to argue that they’re not playing aggressively enough. The opposite is true. They’re playing too aggressively, and opponents are exploiting their lack of discipline.

RELATED STORY: The Bucs have benched Ryan Fitzpatrick, and I don’t know why

Deep breaths.

This is not a complicated defense — it’s mostly Cover 4 zone, or quarters coverage, where four defensive backs are responsible for covering a deep fourth of the field. The last thing the Bucs should do when players aren’t executing their assignments is to make their assignments more complicated. After all, communication improves when complexity increases, right?

Here’s another reason to not blitz more often: When the Bucs do, they usually aren’t successful.

They weren’t successful against the Bears. They blitzed Trubisky six times in the second half. He completed five passes, one of which for a touchdown.

Just one game, you say? Nope.

They weren’t successful against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, either.

Or Nick Foles and the Eagles.

Or Drew Brees and the Saints.

That’s four games. They’ve been burned in every one.

This season, I’ve seen a Bucs blitz work once — when Alexander charged through Philadelphia’s offensive line and knocked the ball out of Foles’ hand. Otherwise, quarterbacks have picked Tampa Bay apart. They’ve completed 76 percent of their passes for 409 yards and six touchdowns to no interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

A blitz succeeds when it generates pressure, and that hasn’t been happening — this season or last season. The Bucs are generating pressure on 28 percent of their blitzes this season, the fifth-worst rate. That’s lower than last season, when they generated pressure on 34 percent of their blitzes, the worst rate.

The solution, unfortunately, isn’t as simple as calling more blitzes. Improvement will come in time and with more reps. So for now, the best defense might be a good offense, one that jumps on opponents early and takes care of the football.

Deep breaths.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.