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Gerald McCoy pushes Bucs defense to be better (w/video)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) takes the field for the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) takes the field for the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Published Sep. 20, 2015

TAMPA

Less than 24 hours after the Bucs' 42-14 loss to the Titans last Sunday — the team's second-worst margin of defeat in the history of Raymond James Stadium — defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David called a players-only film session following practice to study the drubbing. For more than an hour they talked candidly about blown assignments, and how they needed to hold each other accountable to avoid a repeat today at New Orleans.

"When you have issues like we had in Game 1, it's not on the coaches to fix," McCoy said. "They just put us in the right position to win the game. We have to go out there and execute. But when we step across those white lines, the coaches are not out there, it's on us. It's on the leaders to make sure everybody is in the right place. We've got to move as one unit.

"So we just decided, let's get together, let us ask each other questions so we know, 'all right, here, I know Lavonte has got my back. Here, I know Kwon (Alexander) has got my back. I can let this guy go because I know Bradley McDougald has got my back.' Things like that, and hopefully it pays off (today)."

Among those who spoke was defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, who told the defense, "We can't be a family divided.''

As is his custom, Bucs coach Lovie Smith downplayed the players-only powwow.

"No reaction to that," Smith said. "Gerald is one of our leaders. … Players get together at all times. It's a non-story, really. Whether it's coming out that there were players together, I want players together always. But in the end what you need to do in times like this, is get you right and normally the team will be right.

"At the same time, you have leaders on your football team that need to be more vocal when things are going on like that. And that's what we have."

Not only was it the 15th loss in 17 games under Smith, who has yet to win a regular-season game at RJS, it created an unfavorable comparison between rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and the player the Bucs didn't want — Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, who threw four touchdowns in the first half.

Winston melted down, with his first pro pass attempt intercepted and returned for a touchdown. But it was the defense — a group of mostly veteran players and their lone rookie, middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, that made the team look rudderless.

The breakdowns happened at every level.

• Mariota's first touchdown pass, a short post to Kendall Wright, should've been maybe a 12-yard gain. But with safety McDougald abandoning his side of the two-deep zone to bite on the run fake, he was out of position and the result was a 52-yard touchdown pass.

• On a 12-yard touchdown pass to running back Bishop Sankey, both strongside linebacker Danny Lansanah and safety Chris Conte moved to their right with the misdirection of tight end Delanie Walker, who lined up in the backfield in an H-back position. David was unable to get all the way to the perimeter to stop Sankey.

• On second and 17 from the Tampa Bay 13-yard line, the Bucs were showing a single-high safety but Major Wright was supposed to bail into a two-deep zone. But as he was in full retreat at the snap, he stopped and paused on the play-action fake, hanging cornerback Alterraun Verner out to dry on a streak by Kendall Wright. Verner was called for pass interference, but the penalty was off-set by holding on the Titans.

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• A pick play between Harry Douglas and Kendall Wright was poorly covered by Conte and Verner, resulting in a 4-yard touchdown pass.

• On the final 1-yard touchdown pass to Walker, David and cornerback Tim Jennings are lined up side-by-side. A miscommunication had both covering fullback Jalston Fowler in the flat while Walker simply turned around alone at the goal line.

"Defense is pretty simple, when you are where you're supposed to be, good things happen," Conte said. "When you're not, bad things happen. It pretty much comes down to that with guys not being where they're supposed to be. It comes down to us as players."

McCoy, a three-time Pro Bowl player, and David, an All-Pro, each signed contract extensions for a combined $150 million in the past two years. They are the leaders, but the leaders of what? The Bucs defense hasn't finished higher than 17th in the league since 2008.

"It was bad," McCoy said. "Being the leader of the defense, it was embarrassing, so it has to be better. We're playing (Drew Brees), what I believe is a first ballot Hall of Famer, this week so we've got to get better."

The Bucs have had some success against Brees. Six of their 15 pass interceptions last season came against him.

"If everybody does their job well — that's the missing piece, if you do your job well — you've got a pretty good shot to win and play great defense," McCoy said. "This has to change at some point."

Follow Rick Stroud @NFLStroud.

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