Bucs’ defense growing into a competitive unit

by Gary Shelton on December 5, 2016 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

These days, the Bus' defenses is putting plenty of pressure on quarterbacks.t/ANDREW J. KRAMER

These days, the Bus' defenses is putting plenty of pressure on quarterbacks.t/ANDREW J. KRAMER

Monday, 4 a.m.

Every day, the pass rush gets a bit better. No, it isn't, say, that of the '85 Bears. But it's growing, and it's getting better. It isn't benign anymore.

Every day, the coverage gets a little tighter. No, it isn't the '89 49ers. But it's better, and it's combative. It isn't chasing receivers anymore.

Every day, the linebackers come up with the big play. No, they aren't the '79 Steelers. But they're better, and they tackle crisply, and they know where the end zone is.

Every week, every game, the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs get better, smarter, hungrier. Every time out, at that time when there is a game to be won, they make plays. Their belief grows. Their competitiveness soars. Once again, you can smile when you see the defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs take the field.

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Winston continues to lead Bucs, but defense helped./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Winston continues to lead Bucs, but defense helped./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

For a month, it has been that way. They made Jay Cutler look confused...again. They shut down Alex Smith. They harassed Russell Wilson. And they snatched one away from Philip Rivers. For a month now, they have been the real deal. Call it the rebirth of the bruise.

If you're asking, no, this defense doesn't have the raw talent of the great Bucs' teams. There is no Derrick Brooks, no Warren Sapp, no John Lynch, no Ronde Barber, no Simeon Rice. But these guys play hard, and they seem to have begun to believe that someone in the huddle is going to make a play during the game. And when is the last time the Bucs were over-achievers on defense?

Think about it. Vernon Hargreaves is better now than he was a month ago. Noah Spence is better. Robert Ayers. Bradley McDougald. This is a work in progress, and the good news is this: It's progressing.

Over their last four games, the Bucs have surrendered 53 points. That's 13.25 points per game. A team can win with that. Over their last four games, the Bucs have 11 takeaways (as many as their first eight games). A team can win with that. Over their last four games, the Bucs have a dozen sacks. A team can win with that, too.

“We're one of those teams that are starting to believe,” said Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter. “It's crazy what confidence can do when you start making plays. It starts to build on itself.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Smith – who should be the Bucs' nominee for assistant coach of the year –has credited improved communication. Were the Bucs' speaking different languages earlier? And, furthermore, who cares?

Consider this: The Chargers had the ball five times in the second half. They scored seven points. They had two punts. They threw two picks.

In the third quarter, the Bucs punted to the Chargers' 8-yard line. And you immediately thought: Good teams make a stop here.

The Bucs did better than that. On the first play, Vernon Hargreaves batted the ball away. Bucs' teammate Lavonte David grabbed the ball and ran 15 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

If that wasn't big enough, go back to the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Chargers put together a 10-play drive for their last real shot at the game. Twice, the Chargers picked up a third down. But on second-and-one, Philip Rivers threw to the corner, and Keith Tandy intercepted.

Ballgame.

It has gone this way lately. It is Chris Conte at the goal line against Kansas City. It is Alterraun Verner against Seattle. It is Robert Ayers against the Bears. And so on.

Look, the Bucs have played well enough on offense, too. Jameis Winston was good again, and although Mike Evans was surrounded, Cameron Brate was great.

But with the Bucs, you can see the growth on defense. Gerald McCoy has been a terror. Ayers has been good. David has been possessed. Alexander is fierce. No longer are they playing on marbles. For a change, they can make a muscle.

And so you look at the season's final month. The Bucs play New Orleans twice, and the Saints will be a chore twice. Dallas is ahead. Carolina is ahead.

So what? At this point, the Bucs have earned a shot. Look, there are only six teams in the NFL who have more than seven wins: New England, Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, Dallas and Detroit. No team in the NFC South has allowed fewer points than the Bucs.

In other words, the Bucs are closer to elite than we thought at any time in recent seasons. But these defensive backs aren't matadors anymore. These defensive linemen no longer fluff the pillows of the opposing quarterbacks. The linebackers keep taking the ball away.

Me? I can't wait until tomorrow.

These guys get better every day.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Myers December 5, 2016 at 11:41 pm

I can’t wait for our last series of games! I would so like to sweep those Saints, upset the Cowboys and give the Panthers some much deserve payback! GO BUCS!

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Gary Shelton December 5, 2016 at 11:45 pm

Also, the Bucs could make fun of Kansas State over Josh Freeman.

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