Buccaneer Breakdown: Defense

The Bucs defense really struggled against the Falcons
The Bucs defense really struggled against the Falcons /
The Bucs defense really struggled against the Falcons
The Bucs defense really struggled against the Falcons /

Yesterday, the Buccaneers defense didn’t play like they were the best team in the NFC. They played like a unit that needs another draft before they’re going to be capable of shutting down an offense for a game. Yesterday the Falcons exploited several weaknesses in the Bucs defensive unit that made for a difficult game for Tampa.

When I look at this Buccaneers defense I see a lack of leadership from it. I think that’s a huge issue with this unit. When you look at the Buccaneers offense it’s easy to find who runs things, who they look to. It’s Josh Freeman. Who is the Bucs defensive leader? Earlier this week I said Mark Dominik is an underrated GM and I don’t mind he made the tough decision to let Derrick Brooks go now that I’ve seen some of the other, good moves he’s made.

That should have come with one caveat. He’s clearly been unable to find anyone to replace the leadership void left by Brooks. That’s not all on Dominik’s shoulders, but at the same time it’s a pretty big problem. Ronde Barber is a leader, but he’s not the type whose going to call a player out or jump down someone’s throat. I don’t know who could step up, possibly a younger guy like Geno Hayes. But right now I see a painful lack of leadership.

Where is the Front Four?

You know what you didn’t see yesterday? A sack, a pass rush or any real resistance to the Falcons run game. The front four for this Bucs team is approaching the point where even despite their youth you could label them as awful. Gerald McCoy wasn’t as active as I’d have liked to see yesterday, Styles G. White is the best player on the line right now and that’s really not saying much. It hurts that the Bucs have had some injury woes and they’re highly inexperienced along the line. And I’ve even made some excuses for them that they were over-scheming and stunting too much, and they would get better if they just simplified things. But at some point the truth becomes evident, this line still needs more attention.

I’m not labeling anyone a bust or saying that there isn’t some potential in the unit, but I am saying this first half of the season has not been a stellar debut for the Buccaneers revamped defensive front. Brian Price is already on IR, Gerald McCoy has struggled to be impactful, Roy Miller and Kyle Moore rarely show up. This Bucs front four was pushed around yesterday, and that really can’t happen when you run a 4-3.

The Bucs linebackers were hardly a factor.
The Bucs linebackers were hardly a factor. /

Not Sold on the Linebackers

The Bucs have an unremarkable set of linebackers. I like Geno Hayes and Quincy Black, but I don’t think either are even second-tier linebackers at this point in their careers. But Barrett Ruud just doesn’t really do it for me. I think the Bucs may want to start considering new MLB options next season because I’ve just never seen Ruud evolve into the type of defensive signal-caller the Bucs need.

I mentioned earlier the leadership vacuum. Barrett Ruud certainly doesn’t seem to have filled it. There have been murmurs about the Bucs preparation and defensive work ethic in the past weeks and they certainly won’t grow any quieter in the wake of this loss. Ruud is in on plenty of tackles but rarely around the line of scrimmage. I realize in a 4-3 a huge part of the tackles’ job is to keep hats off the linebackers and as I just mentioned, the front four has been bad all year. But week in and week out I watch Ruud and wait for him pop at me, and it just never comes. Fans may like him, but I think it’s time for the Bucs to find someone else to man the middle.

The unit as a whole had a rough game yesterday, though. Tony Gonzalez absolutely had his way with the Buccaneers defense, not pointing any fingers but usually the duty of covering tight ends fall to the linebackers and safeties. The safety unit is depleted, the linebackers really needed to help shut down the tight ends yesterday and didn’t.

They weren’t effective stopping the run, as Michael Turner had 107 yards and they surrendered over 100 yards to the tight ends and backs. Not a banner day for the linebacking unit.

Secondary Struggles Too

The Secondary played the best of the three defensive units, but that’s not saying much. Matt Ryan was able to complete 24 of his 36 attempts for 235 and a score. Granted, a huge part of that success was predicated on Tampa’s inability to stop the run or get a pass rush and about half of the yards were to backs and tight ends. But the Bucs secondary didn’t play phenomenally either.

I will say that after Roddy White came out and trashed Aqib Talib, Talib certainly seemed to hold him in check. White left the game for about a quarter with a leg injury and was held to just four catches for 49 yards. But he also had a costly offensive pass interference penalty when he shoved Talib to prevent him from catching a pick.

Ronde Barber also contributed a few good plays, but on the whole the unit still struggled and Matt Ryan had no problem completing two-thirds of his passes. I will say this though in the secondary’s defense. This unit holds its own despite having no pass rush, and no ability to stop the run. If the Bucs can fix some of their problems in the front seven, the secondary will improve naturally. This unit isn’t the problem.