Yardbarker Horiz

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Defense Showing Growing Pains

In the Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions (27-20) the Tampa Bay defense showed it has some growing to do this season.  Not (in any way) to heap blame for the loss on the defensive squad.  Across the team small changes will mean big improvements.  It's just easier to see after-the-fact on the defensive side.

The now famous Tampa-2 defensive scheme, even with the changes added by Head Coach Raheem Morris, is still based around driving play to the middle of the field.  As a consequence, the Middle Linebacker position (also called the "Mike" linebacker) makes a lion's share of the tackles each season.  Going back just five years, the leading tacklers were all Middle Linebackers:

2010 118 tackles, 33 assists (Ruud)
2009 142 tackles, 35 assists (Ruud)
2008 137 tackles, 35 assists (Ruud)
2007 109 tackles, 25 assists (Brooks) (& 114 tackles, 31 assists (Ruud, 2nd leading tackler))
2006 121 tackles, 25 assists (Brooks)

Mason Foster, drafted in the 3rd round this past April, is now the starting MLB for Tampa Bay.  Against Detroit, he recorded 5 tackles and an assist.  Not at all bad for a rookie in his first game and first start.  However, five Buccaneer defensive players finished with more tackles than Foster.  In fact, in the first three games of the 2010 season, the Middle Linebacker lead the team in tackles each game.  Clearly, one indicator of a well-oiled Tampa-2 defense will be when Mason Foster is leading the team in tackles.

Why didn't Foster lead the team in tackles in Week 1?  Coach Morris has already stated Foster is currently not always going to be on the field in nickel situations, so one reason is the summer lockout and lack of OTAs.  Another reason is, no doubt, Foster is still learning the position.

The third reason may be the most important, and it's staggering on the stat sheet.  2011 first round draft choice Defensive End Adrian Clayborn did not record a single tackle (nor an assist) against the Detroit Lions. 2011 second round draft choice Defensive End Da'Quan Bowers recorded 1 tackle, no assists.  The more experienced Defensive Ends on the squad, Tim Crowder and Michael Bennett, each recorded four tackles.

I'm not saying defensive ends should lead the team in tackles -- that is not the Tampa-2 way.  Defensive Ends should contain and force the play inside or stretch the play to the outside and make the tackle.  That is basic defensive end assignment football from pee-wee leagues to the pros.  When defensive ends do this, the play flows to the middle linebacker.

A low number of tackles by the defensive ends could mean they are holding the offensive backfield from running to the edges of the field.  To me, and I think those who were able to watch the game would agree, this was not the case against the Lions.  There was actually a lack of containment by the defensive ends.  Again, lots of youth learning to play on the edges now and I think it shows.

All this is correctable.  When all the defensive ends have similar stats and the middle linebacker leads the team in tackles, the Buccaneers will win.  The questions is will that happen this weekend against the Vikings?

To make the playoffs, the Buccaneer defensive rookies must grow into their new positions sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

  1. Needless to say, tackling will be of the up-most importance, something we did not do well against the lions. If the secondary can play the way it's suppose to and handle one-on-one coverage, we should be able to keep eight or more men in the box, forcing McNabb to throw. Also, I am excited to see the front four that everyone has envisioned since the end of this years draft. I would like to see them together on the field as much as possible together. However, bringing in Gaines for 3rd downs and Okam for short yardage situations will give the unit a few wrinkles and some rest. The linebackers must play well and stop trying to arm tackle everyone. Let's see how the team responds and if they can put the Lions behind them.


Comments are moderated -- Please have something relevant to contribute and back up your facts.