With Bucs on break, coaches seek solutions

Torrey Smith beats Brandon Dixon, center, and Major Wright during a dominating performance against the Bucs secondary.
Torrey Smith beats Brandon Dixon, center, and Major Wright during a dominating performance against the Bucs secondary.
Published Oct. 16, 2014

TAMPA — Bucs players scrambled to catch flights after practice Wednesday, headed to parts unknown with the next four days off during the bye week. But coach Lovie Smith and his staff will have to settle for a "staycation" in an effort to solve their problems on defense.

"Don't assume that because we're in the bye week, everybody is taking it to the Bahamas right now," Smith said. "We have time to really evaluate, to be real with ourselves and see what we need to do."

Bucs defensive backs feel like they've been left on an island — even while playing mostly zone coverage — the way they've been shredded in the passing game. Only the Cardinals have a worse pass defense, and the Bucs are tied with the Jets for the most passing touchdowns allowed (15) this season.

Injuries to cornerback Johnthan Banks and safety Dashon Goldson contributed to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco throwing five touchdowns in a 48-17 win over the Bucs on Sunday. Nickel back Leonard Johnson, who yielded one of those touchdowns, was benched after four plays. Even Pro Bowl cornerback Alterraun Verner has been shaky, beaten for scores by the Falcons' Julio Jones, the Steelers' Antonio Brown and the Ravens' Steve Smith.

And on Wednesday, the Bucs signed cornerback Isaiah Frey, a sixth-round draft pick of the Bears in 2012, Smith's final year as coach there.

"You have to get back to the basics," defensive backs coach Gil Byrd said Wednesday. "There are some things you'd like to do to put players in position and adjust on the run. We're not at that point. But what we can do as coaches is simplify things. Make it so they can play fast and not have too much on their plate that they have to think about it first. That's what we as coaches can do.

"Alignment. Situational football. Understand the situation when it's going on in the game, when it's happening, why it's happening. I wish I would've done a better job of that."

Against the Ravens, cornerback Brandon Dixon was beaten for touchdowns twice by receiver Torrey Smith, once on a slant, the other on a skinny post when he clearly expected safety help. In each case, Smith got a free release and wasn't touched until he reached the end zone.

"The guys are really trying to do the things that we're asking them to do," Byrd said. "And for me, it starts with coaching. If they're not performing out there, then I've got to take a look in the mirror and see what am I doing or not doing to help the players to be successful."

Of course, good defensive back play and a pass rush go hand in hand. The 1-5 Bucs have had neither this season. They are tied for 23rd in the league with nine sacks. They did not hit Flacco once on Sunday. Opposing quarterbacks have a 111.8 passer rating against Tampa Bay this season.

"Coverage in general starts with the rush and it hasn't been good enough," Smith said. "Simple. But from there, we've given up big passes. We're not supposed to give up big passes. You're supposed to earn it the hard way. We haven't made plays on the ball. So we just haven't played consistent football there. Last game, a couple players weren't on our football team when we started the season.

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"I'm sure some guys who have been here would say they're not pleased with their play so far. I would definitely say that. But hopefully the next time we go out against Minnesota, we can correct some of those things."