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Bucs will need to tighten up their leaky run defense to advance in playoffs

Tampa Bay was missing inside linebacker Lavonte David and both starting outside linebackers, but it was no excuse for the Jets rushing for 150 yards on 26 attempts.
Bucs linebackers Devin White (45) and Anthony Nelson (98) prepare to defend a play during Sunday's game at the New York Jets.
Bucs linebackers Devin White (45) and Anthony Nelson (98) prepare to defend a play during Sunday's game at the New York Jets. [ ADAM HUNGER | Associated Press ]
Published Jan. 4

TAMPA — Antonio Brown stripped to the waist, flashing a peace out sign on the way into the tunnel while his offense was on the field. Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting had a delayed charter flight and didn’t land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey until an hour before kickoff. Tom Brady needed a 93-yard drive with no timeouts and a touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson to beat the Jets 28-24.

But those were not the only weird things that happened to the Bucs this past Sunday.

There was also this:

Devin White had a career-low two tackles and the Bucs allowed the Jets to rush for 150 yards on only 26 attempts.

The Bucs own the best run-stuffing defense in the NFL over the past three seasons. But until the Jets were stopped on fourth and 2 from the Tampa Bay 7-yard line on a failed quarterback sneak by rookie Zach Wilson, they successfully attacked Tampa Bay on the ground.

The only other time White was limited to two stops in a game was his rookie year when he played only six defensive snaps before getting injured against Carolina.

“It was not his best game, that’s for sure,” Arians said of White’s performance Sunday. “But he’s not hurt, no.”

Several of the Bucs’ key players on defense were, starting with inside linebacker Lavonte David, who missed his second straight game with a foot injury. Veteran Kevin Minter stepped in but was slow to the point of attack. He finished with five tackles but had trouble shedding blocks.

Bucs linebacker Kevin Minter filled in for an injured Lavonte David on Sunday. But it's a big task to try and replicate David's production.
Bucs linebacker Kevin Minter filled in for an injured Lavonte David on Sunday. But it's a big task to try and replicate David's production. [ ADAM HUNGER | Associated Press ]

Of course, much of that rushing yardage came on the first drive when Michael Carter ripped off a 55-yard run. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. made a hustle play, fighting through a block to trip Carter at the Bucs’ 12-yard line. But after a 9-yard tunnel screen to Braxton Berrios, the Jets receiver scored on a reverse from the 1-yard line.

“I thought some of our young guys were just a little bit confused,” Arians said. “Their eyes, their discipline wasn’t good. They ran the ball way too good on us. Credit to them, they had a hell of a gameplan with all the quick motions and stuff and it affected some of our younger players.”

It didn’t help that the Bucs also were missing outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett (knee) and Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder). The Bucs were attacked on the perimeter by the Jets, who stayed away from defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea.

Dean and Murphy-Bunting didn’t enter the game until very late in the first quarter, and backup Pierre Desir overran a couple plays and missed tackles, as did Minter.

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“I think getting out of our gaps and trying to make plays instead of just staying in the gap sound,” Arians said. “Guys were trying to fly over and make plays. We missed some cutbacks. They hit that long one right at the end. We just didn’t whip out blockers.”

White leads the Bucs with 124 tackles. But he’s much better shooting the gaps when he has a player like David erasing some of his hustle mistakes.

Arians acknowledged that as good as the Bucs’ run defense has been over the past three seasons, it’s not nearly as effective without David in the lineup and they hope to get him back for the playoffs.

“Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Arians said. “More of it was just flat missed tackles — the 55-yard run should have been a no gain. The other 20-yarder we had them for a loss, but just make better tackles. But yeah, you can’t replace Lavonte. He is one of a kind.”

The Jets' Michael Carter finds room to run, with no Bucs defender in sight, Sunday.
The Jets' Michael Carter finds room to run, with no Bucs defender in sight, Sunday. [ ADAM HUNGER | Associated Press ]

The run defense has been leaky as of late. It allowed a 33-yard breakout run to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton two weeks ago. The Bills on Dec. 12 rushed for 173 yards, with 109 coming from quarterback Josh Allen.

Ironically, it was the run stop at the end of the Jets game that allowed Brady a chance to work his two-minute magic.

The Jets could have kicked a short field goal to extend their lead to seven points. But they didn’t want to give Brady the ball back to author his 67th fourth-quarter comeback.

The decision was a good one. Two yards and the game is essentially over.

But the execution of the play was lacking. The Jets put Berrios in motion for a jet sweep. But Wilson elected to try a quarterback sneak. Rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka crashed down inside and Winfield came downhill to stop Wilson for no gain, setting up Brady’s heroics.

“To come back and win that game, we were just talking about how the defense just jumped up there and stopped them at the end,” Arians said.

• • •

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