Isn’t it time the secondary made a play?

by Gary Shelton on November 9, 2023

in general

Thursday, 4 a.m.

This season, the Tampa Bay Bucs do not play against Patrick Mahomes. Good thing.

In further news, they do not play against Joe Burrow. Whew.

The Bucs also will not play against Tua Tagovailoa, or Justin Herbert or the surprising Sam Howell. They will not play against Lamar Jackson or Trevor Lawrence or Deshaun Watson.

Good thing. Any more difficulty, and the cornerbacks of the Tampa Bay Bucs might spontaneously explode.

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They don’t cover. They don’t intercept. They don’t get in the way. For that matter, they rarely tackle.  Mostly, they run around in circles.

This is but one of the many keys of the Bucs. In the five games they’ve lost, opposing quarterbacks have lit them up. In the three games they have won, two came against quarterbacks who were either ailing or inefficient. You can say what you want about a feeble pass rush, or a clumsy running game, or penalties or missed tackles or batting balls. But it starts with a secondary stopping something as simple as a forward pass.

Hey, it isn’t as if the Bucs haven’t invested in corners. Carlton Davis is on a three-year contract that averages $14.8 million a year. The average for Jamel Dean is $13 million a year. And neither of them (like the starting safeties) have an interception.

You want a horror show? Try this.

Detroit’s Jarad Goff had a quarterback rating of 107.5 as he beat the Bucs.

Buffalo’s Josh Allen had a rating of 106.7.

Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder, since benched, had a 107.1 rating.

Houston rookie C.J. Stroud had a staggering 147.7 rating.

And so it goes. The only team this year that the Bucs have beaten when their quarterback was playing well was Minnesota in the opener. Kurt Cousins threw for 344 yards that day. Since then, they’ve beaten a struggling Justin Fields and an injured Derek Carr. Nobody else.

It’s odd, because the Bucs’ secondary is paid as if it supposed to be a strength of the team. But it hasn’t been. Blame the scheme or blame the quarterbacks, but it’s getting tiring to see opponents throw for hunks of yardage every time out.

Consider this. In five losses, opposing passers have averaged 334 yards a game. That’s three-and-a-half fields. Quarterbacks are competing a shade more than 70 percent of their passes in those five games.

Overall, the Bucs' secondary is next-to-last in the league in yardage allowed, 24th in completion percentage and 25th in quarterback rating.

Hey, we all know the Bucs need a better pass rush. We all agree a better running game would keep the secondary off the field a bit.

But the simple truth is this. It’s a passing league, and to stop it, someone has to make a play every now and then. A simple slant. A screen pass for 15 on third-and-13. A lob up the middle to the tight end. 

This week, the Bucs get a rookie in Tennessee’s Will Levis. Of course, playing against a rookie didn’t help them against Stroud.

But if Tampa Bay has a shot to stop this backpedaling, it’s going to start in the secondary. Chasing receivers across the goal line simply won’t cut it.

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