Bucs’ defense needs to play well in stretch drive

by Gary Shelton on December 9, 2015 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Lavonte David has risen to fifth in the NFL in tackles.

Lavonte David has risen to fifth in the NFL in tackles.

Wednesday, 6 a.m.

Half of the time, they're pretty good. Half of the time, they're not.

Half of the time, they rush the passer. Half of the time, they don't.

Half of the time, they tackle and they cover and they fight. The other half, they give migraines and make you pull your hair and roll your eyes.

They are the defenders of the Tampa Bay Bucs, and when they are good, they give their team a chance. When they are bad, it is no chance at all.

Granted, all of the chatter this week is about the kid quarterback, and the way that Jameis Winston is winning over everyone who sees him. And why not? Winston may be the most charismatic player the Bucs have had in the history of ever. He has a special magic, and you cannot take your eyes off of him.

Ah, but it's still largely a defensive game, isn't it? And on that

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side of the ball, the Bucs have been a mixed bag.

Lovie Smith is a defensive coach at a time the defense needs to stand out.

Lovie Smith is a defensive coach at a time the defense needs to stand out.

This is supposed to be coach Lovie Smith's strength, right? Even though his team hasn't drafted often on defense. Even thought Kwon Alexander is missing. Even though Gerald McCoy has been injured. If this team is going to make a legit push for the playoffs, the defense will have something to say about it.

Oh, overall, they've been okay. The Bucs are ninth in the league on defense, seventh against the run. In the crucial statistic of sacks and turnovers, they're about run of the mill. They're tied for 14th in sacks, tied for 16th in turnovers, tied for 16th in pass defense. They're 23rd in points allowed.

Ah, but if you split this team in two, you'll find different tales in how they play in the games they have won and how they play in the games they have lost. That's not unusual in the NFL. Naturally, teams play better when they win. It's why they win.

Willliam Golson has been an improved player for Bucs.

Willliam Golson has been an improved player for Bucs.

But if you look at the Bucs' six wins and their six losses, it can tell you things about a team that wins half the time.

Take the run defense. Only once this year in a victory has the team allowed more than 105 yards. In the games it has lost, it's allowed more than that four times.

Take the sacks. The Bucs have nine sacks in the six games it has lost. They have 20 in the six it has won.

In the six games they have lost, the Bucs have given up 185 points, and they've given up more than 25 five times. In the six they have won, the Bucs have allowed 112 points. They've held opponents to 20 or fewer five times.

In only one statistic have the Bucs performed better in defeat. That's in passing yards, which makes sense. In the games the Bucs have won, the other team has had to throw the ball more.

All of which leads us the New Orleans Saints, a rather defenseless group, but one that still find the end zone. Drew Brees is still the fourth-rated passer in the NFL, and as a team, the fourth-ranked Saints are just a smidge under 400 yards per game. The Saints are the ninth highest scoring team in the league.

In other words, the Bucs' defense has a lot to play up to this week. No quarterback has ever beaten Tampa Bay more than Brees.

The Saints are only 25th in the NFL in rushing the ball, so it may just be an attempt to make Tampa Bay pay some attention to it.

One thing the Bucs will have to do. They'll have to get after the passer, which they did in their first game against Brees, when they dumped him four times and hurt his arm. They'll have to cover Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead and Marquis Colston and tight end Ben Watson.

Know how last week's game was the biggest Bucs' game in years? This one is bigger, which happens as a team gets close to the playoffs. Lose here, and it'll be hard to reach the post-season. Win here, and the team has a chance. It has a winning record going to into its final three games against St. Louis, Chicago and Carolina.

Look, Tampa Bay ought to be able to score. The Saints have the worst defense in the league. Put it this way: Rob Ryan would recognize his team. It looks the same. Their rushing defense is worst in the league, their passing defense is next-to-last. They've surrendered 425.2 yards and 31.7 points per game.

But it is up to the defense to keep this from turning into a basketball game.

You know. All those years when the Bucs had no offense at all, no direction and no blueprint, they won because of defense. It was the defense that carried them.

Now, it needs to do it again.

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