Bucs’ defense hopes to play better, look sharper

by Gary Shelton on August 16, 2017 · 2 comments

in general

Noah Spence seems to enjoy his job./CARMEN MANDATO

Noah Spence seems to enjoy his job./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 4 am.

A dozen plays, and zero points.

A dozen plays, and back-peddling. A dozen plays, and nothing to brag about. A dozen plays, and there was more escape than there was excellence.

A brief look, and what do you think of your Tampa Bay Bucs today?

A dozen plays, and the Bucs are still waiting for their defense to establish itself. Okay, okay. Thanks to an interception by Vernon Hargreaves III, the Bucs' starting defense got off the field with a 3-0 lead. And you can't give up fewer than zero.

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McCoy enters his eight season still looking for the playoffs./CARMEN MANTADO

McCoy enters his eight season still looking for the playoffs./CARMEN MANTADO

But the Bucs gave up two first downs on third downs and a 12-play, 70-yard drive before that. They gave up three consecutive runs of 6, 9 and 5 yards. They led Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton hit four out of five passes.

Yeah, it could have been better.

This week, coach Dirk Koetter says he wants to see the defense go further into the first half. Granted, it's hard to establish a rhythm on one drive. A pass rusher, for instance, usually wins by wearing down the offensive tackle opposite him.

Kwon Alexander leads the Bucs' defense again../CARMEN MANDATO

Kwon Alexander leads the Bucs' defense again../CARMEN MANDATO

Perhaps that's why second-year defensive end Noah Spence didn't make a great impression. He had a penalty, but he had one tackle and no sacks.

Spence, who had 5.5 sacks despite a shoulder injury last year, is expected by many of his teammates to have a breakthrough year. Robert Ayers has predicted as many as 15 sacks.

If Spence can have that kind of impact, there are possibilities for this unit. Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker should be solid inside. Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David are a nice pair of linebackers. Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves are a good set of corners.

Still, a lot of it boils down to Spence. McCoy, Grimes, David and Alexander are more accomplished, but much of the success of this defense rests with Noah. If he can get to double digit sacks -- no Buc player has done that since Simeon Rice in 2005 -- it would provide a weapon the team doesn't have. The corners would have less time to have to cover. The linebackers won't have to blitz as often. The other linemen would get easier blocking.

"He's still learning,” Koetter said. “He's just in his second year. He was a part-time player last year, so I think Noah's just continuing to learn and develop. He's worked on his body.

David still a solid defender../JEFFREY S. KING.

David still a solid defender../JEFFREY S. KING.

"Noah's a 'motor' player. That's his strength is his motor, more than anything else. They can talk about quickness, size, speed, toughness but the guy gets by on having a great motor. I think his game is going to show up as a game wears on more so than just a three or four-play set."

"Last year, the Bucs were 23rd in the league on defense and 15th in points allowed. But much of that was because of a second-half improvement as Tampa Bay became comfortable under first-year defensive coordinator Mike Smith. The Bucs allowed the fourth fewest points in the season's final eight games. They led the league in interceptions (17) and gave up the fewest touchdown passes (6) while allowing the second-lowest passer rating (72.9).

Judging from last week's game, however, the Bucs have some work to do to get back to that standard. Again, one drive isn't a big sample size. A dozen plays won't determine whether this defense is good or not.

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