Buccaneers: Potential new wrinkles for the defense
With the their linebackers finally healthy the Buccaneers may be ready to implement some new looks on defense.
The 2-3 Buccaneers have struggled in a lot of departments this season, but none more than on defense. They’re 30th in total defense, giving up 403 yards a game, and are dead last in sacks, with just six through five games. It’s enough to give any Buccaneer fan a headache, but could there be hope on the horizon?
Injuries have been a key part of the equation for the Bucs’ defensive struggles this season. For multiple weeks they were without their star linebacker duo Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, and they’ve been banged up at various other positions. This week against the Bills however the team will get Alexander back after getting David back last week, and according to head coach Dirk Koetter, that could mean we’ll see some fresh new looks on defense, like a 3-4 attack.
For a team struggling to generate pass rush, this is welcome news, and not all too surprising. There had been a lot of talk in the off-season about peppering in the 3-4 alignment while remaining a base 4-3 team, especially after signing Chris Baker, who had experience playing in a 3-4 for Washington. Throughout the off-season we heard words like “multiple” and “flexible” used to describe this years’ defense, but injuries have kept that from happening, perhaps until now.
Health and desperation aren’t the only two factors that are tempting Mike Smith to deploy the 3-4. As Koetter discussed in his weekly radio show, the team entered the season only thinking it had two stud linebackers, when really it had three.
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The emergence of Kendell Beckwith as a legitimate play-maker means the Bucs have to find a way to get him on the field with Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, but without coming at the expense of their pass defense. That’s where the 3-4 comes in.
The 3-4 defense is generally set up as follows: three defensive linemen, four linebackers, two safeties and two cornerbacks. Teams like the Steelers and Ravens have employed this as their base defense for years. The Buccaneers don’t have ideal 3-4 personnel (otherwise that would be their base, instead of 4-3), but they have enough scheme versatile guys to make it work in spurts, particularly on third down. In the 3-4 you’re looking for three beefy linemen to clog up space and clear room for the linebackers behind them; your two middle linebackers ideally fly through those gaps, while your two outside linebackers storm the edge. Below is an example of the alignment.
To generate pass rush the Bucs could try standing up Noah Spence as an outside/edge linebacker, with Kwon Alexander and Kendell Beckwith in the middle and Lavonte David on the other side. Though Gerald McCoy is a slightly awkward 3-4 fit, he could play the defensive end position with Chris Baker at nose tackle and Will Gholston on the opposite end. This opens the door for more creative blitzes, and more opportunities to disguise coverages and force the quarterback to hold the ball longer.
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All of this is really in the name of creating headaches for the opposing quarterback. The Bucs have been entirely too predictable on both offense and defense this season, and perhaps utilizing their talent in new ways will be the secret ingredient to success. You can still expect to see the traditional four down linemen formation more often than not, but against the Bills this week, keep your eye on Noah Spence standing up, and all three of the dynamic Buccaneer linebackers on the field together.