Bucs defensive coordinator Smith takes blame for rocky start

Rams running back Todd Gurley gets a big hole and dodges a tackle for a gain against the Bucs. Coordinator Mike Smith says the defense sometimes makes him scratch his head in puzzlement.
Rams running back Todd Gurley gets a big hole and dodges a tackle for a gain against the Bucs. Coordinator Mike Smith says the defense sometimes makes him scratch his head in puzzlement.
Published Sept. 30, 2016

TAMPA — Welcome to class, students. This introductory course is called Bad Defense 101.

Coincidentally, that's also the number of points allowed so far by the Bucs, a club record for the most yielded in the first three games of a season. And if you scroll down to the bottom of the NFL defensive stats for most points given up this season, you will find Tampa Bay. Dead last.

The guest lecturer today is Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith, who covered all this material with his team beginning in April. Nonetheless, some errors, breakdowns, short fields and bad calls are lowering its grade.

Smith was very successful teaching defense as a coordinator in Jacksonville, so the schemes are well constructed and proven to get results. Nonetheless, the Bucs gave up 24 points in a win at Atlanta, 40 in a loss at Arizona and 37 in a loss to the Rams on Sunday in the home opener.

That equals 101. As in Dalmatians. Or the highway that runs along the Pacific Coast.

"Let me tell you this: The sky is not falling," Smith said Wednesday. "That's for sure. I know everybody is frustrated in terms of what we have put out there the first three games, nobody more than me. It's not any one player's fault. It's not any one coach's fault. It's my responsibility to make sure our guys understand what we're trying to get accomplished. And we have not played the type of football that we need to play.

"There are times when we look like we're going to play good defense, and then there are times when you're like, "Oh, my God,' and you're scratching your head. And I'm going, 'How in the heck did that just happen?' "

How the heck, indeed?

The Bucs have given up six pass plays of more than 43 yards. That's about twice as many as they allowed all last year. So what's going wrong?

Let's go to the slide show:

(Click) This is Rams quarterback Case Keenum on third and 7 at the Tampa Bay 44-yard line. Keenum had not led his team to a touchdown in its first two games. But receiver Brian Quick has gotten behind cornerback Alterraun Verner, who thinks he has safety help over the top. But help never comes. This is known as a Quick touchdown.

(Click) This is third and 17 for the Rams at their 25. That's running back Benny Cunningham on a draw play. What Los Angeles is saying here is "Uncle." "They put the white flag up, and somehow we misfit it," Smith said of the 22-yard run. "That's my fault." The play leads to an eventual field goal.

(Click) This is third and 2 for the Rams at the Tampa Bay 43. The Bucs trail 31-26 with 4:49 left in the game. That's cornerback Brent Grimes, with no career sacks in 11 seasons, blitzing off the edge and leaving backup safety Keith Tandy in man coverage with receiver Tavon Austin one on one. Austin catches the pass, slipping out of a tackle by Tandy at the 20, and scoots to the end zone like he stole something. "I've got to call a better game," Smith said.

(Click) That's second-round draft pick Noah Spence standing on the sideline. Considered the best pure pass rusher in this year's draft, the end played only 12 snaps Sunday. "It was a function of the way I called the game," Smith said. "We've got to get him opportunities to rush the passer, and last week we didn't get it."

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Yes, you in the front row. You asked how the pass rush is coming along?

"I think we're dead average, to be quite frank," Smith said. "We're not rushing the quarterback near at the level we need to, and it doesn't matter who's out there. It doesn't matter how many guys are not there. We've got to go out and put pressure on the quarterback."

Okay, somebody get the lights.

The Broncos are coming to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. They're 3-0 with a sixth-round pick from Northwestern at quarterback. Rookie Trevor Siemian threw four touchdown passes at Cincinnati on Sunday and is the AFC offensive player of the week.

Smith needs to speed up the learning curve. The NFL is a pass/fail league.

"And really, there's one guy, to me, that's got to do a better job, and that's Mike Smith," Smith said. "He's the one that's got to make sure these guys understand what we're trying to get accomplished, what we're trying to get done."