The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defense has struggled most of the season and young quarterbacks have been highly successful against the team, especially the secondary.
Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota, playing in his first game, threw four touchdowns in the first half against Tampa Bay. Jacksonville second-year quarterback Blake Bortles threw a career-high four touchdown passes against the Buccaneers and Washington’s Kirk Cousins, making his 21st start, led the Redskins from a 24-0 deficit to a 31-30 victory on Sunday. He threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns, leading Washington on an 80-yard drive in the final 2:24 to get the victory.
“When things happen with coverage, I think you have to be careful about just saying what happened in the secondary,” said Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith. “That was a combination. To me coverage and for offense to get passing yards in general, we didn’t get the type of pressure we need to get, simple as that. On the back end, yes, it’s unacceptable with what we got.”
The Redskins hurt the Buccaneers with short passes most of the day and the team has been susceptible to slant passes, especially in the red zone. Tampa Bay has allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 18-of-24 possessions inside the 20-yard line, including 4-of-5 to the Redskins. That is a major reason why the Buccaneers are tied with the Chicago Bears in allowing a league-high 29.8 points per game.
Now the Buccaneers’ defense has to face one of the top quarterbacks in the league today. Matt Ryan is the leader of the 5-1 Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were fourth in the league entering Monday night’s game in scoring averaging 27.6 points per game. Ryan was third in the league with 2,002 passing yards and has five passes of 40 yards or more this season.
The Buccaneers have made changes this year in the secondary. They started with Alterruan Verner and Johnthan Banks at corner and Major Wright and Bradley McDougald at safety. Wright was injured in the first game and Chris Conte moved to the starting lineup. In the third game, the team moved Verner out of the starting lineup, for Tim Jennings. Then Banks went down and the two games following, the Buccaneers had Jennings and Mike Jenkins in the lineup. Banks returned against Washington and Jennings was inactive.
“It’s not like we’re giving up a lot of long touchdowns or long passing plays,” Smith said. “Some of the things we’re giving up shouldn’t be the hardest thing we’re asking our defensive backs to do.”
Still, the unit has struggled. Before Sunday’s game, only Jenkins had more than one pass breakup and only Conte and McDougald have interceptions from the unit.
“If we’re making changes and we’re looking at different people, we’re not satisfied with what we got,” Smith said. “If something isn’t right and we feel there’s another option you haven’t tapped into, you have to look at that. That’s what we’ve been doing. I think we’ve looked at just about everybody back there that we have on the roster to see if we can get the perfect combination. We’re not there yet.”
Tampa Bay will need to figure out how to correct their flaws before Sunday. The Falcons have one of the best receivers in the game today. Julio Jones was tied for second in the league with 58 catches. He is also second in the league averaging 104.3 yards per game.
“We’ve got to get better,” Jenkins said. “It’s simple as that. We got to get better. It’s a lack of focus. We got to look in the mirror and get right. It’s just lack of focus. We’ve been giving up a lot of inside routes. Again that’s on us. We’ve got to focus, get a little more mentally focused. That’s something we can correct.”