I don’t get a lot of readers here (yet), but I think I lost a few readers with the title alone. Those of you still reading, stick with me.
The Buccaneers are a bad football team. You don’t get to 1-3 if you aren’t. To some degree, it is understandable. Jameis Winston is a rookie, and yes, he should just be a rookie. Five turnovers aren’t the mark of a leader. He needs to focus on getting better with his decisions and accuracy, not carrying the team.
Those five turnovers lost the game for the Bucs against Carolina and in turn are informative toward how Tampa’s defense is playing better.
All of Winston’s turnovers came deep in Bucs territory, giving the ball to Carolina on the Bucs’ 21, 30, 33, and 29 (one was taken into the endzone by Josh Norman). The Panthers began each drive within field goal range and scored touchdowns off two of them.
Without the benefit of turnovers, the Panthers offense wasn’t anything special. The Bucs forced four punts, a turnover and ten points in seven drives. The one touchdown Carolina did score was the flukiest play you’ll ever see.
The rub? The Bucs defense was given a cow patty to polish by Jameis Winston, and they might even be much better than any score since the Tennessee game indicates.
On the season, the Bucs allowed opposing defenses to score touchdowns to score on 71 percent of their visits to the red zone. Against Carolina when Winston was handing them the ball at the Bucs doorstep, the defense held them to 40 percent.
Still, not great, but better than it’s been. Last year, the Bucs allowed opposing offense to score from the red zone 61.5 percent of the time.
The Bucs red zone defense is crucial because the Tampa 2 defense is designed to take away the big play. Since the Tennessee game, the Bucs allowed only 6 plays over 20 yards and none over 30. While they have not played great offenses in any of those games, the basic tenets of the Tampa 2 are in effect, save one.
Lovie Smith’s defensive mantra is taking the ball away from the opposing offense. That has not happened a near the rate it should for not just the success of his defense but the entire team which can’t rely on its rookie passer.
It’s not as though there haven’t been endeavors. The Bucs have forced eight fumbles so far with another three coming from miscues by the offense. No other defense has more than eight fumbles, forced or otherwise.
The problem is, the Bucs only recovered four of those fumbles. What’s worse is that they only have two interceptions, despite numerous chances for more. Lavonte David’s dropped pick last Sunday was emblematic of Tampa Bay’s struggles to capitalize on turnover opportunities.
The real power of the Tampa 2 is the fear of turnovers. Coverage won’t be as tight as in a man scheme, but that’s the point. The whole “bend but don’t break” philosophy. The key to making the defense work is finding that groove of regular interceptions and fumbles where both sides of the ball know the Bucs can make them.
No corner will be turned until Lovie Smith’s defense can start racking up turnovers on a regular basis. The opportunities flash, but it’s on the players to make the plays.