Injuries, injuries and more injuries on defense
Even if Tampa Bay’s defense were at full health, it would have had its fair share of struggles. However, injuries forced practice squad players and players signed off the street into the starting lineup.
The thin linebacking corps was picked on during the second half of the season. Teams began to run the ball at will. The Bucs fell from a top-ten rushing defense to the 25th, giving up 124.9 points per game through 16 weeks.
Tampa Bay expected some growing pains in the secondary this season, but early injuries made matters worse.
Slot corner Vernon Hargreaves season ended in Week 1, and Brent Grimes was taken along slowly with an injury as well. Without their top two cover corners available, Tampa Bay was forced to play special teams ace Ryan Smith and rookie Carlton Davis on the outside.
Although Davis has performed well, his rookie counterpart M.J. Stewart struggled in the slot. While both Stewart and Davis look to be future pieces in Tampa Bay’s secondary, general manager Jason Licht may have wanted to take them along slowly.
A decimated Buccaneers defense held the team back for most of the season. New defensive coordinator Mark Duffner did all he could, but the mistakes of the original coordinator doomed Tampa.