Bucs defense underachieved in 2017

By Ken Filler
Jan. 19, 2018

What began as a season of great excitement and anticaipation ended with the Bucs losing 6 of 7 to close the 2017 season.

The defense was to be the backbone of this team. The way the defense finished 2016 gave us great hope that 2017 was going to to be the break out year for the Bucs. The year that the defense would take center stage in Tampa and get the Bucs back to the playoffs.

The first quarter of the season the defense played Ok. The best game was the opener against a Mike Glennon led Chicago Bears team. The defense allowed seven points to the hapless Bears and had Glennon on the run all afternoon.

A trip to Minnesota the following week would begin to show how inept this Bucs defense would be. They were not ready to play and we saw that numerous times, especially the second half off the season. The Bucs turned in good efforts against the Giants and New England before being manhandled by a poor Arizona team. From that game on the season went south in a hurry.

Yes the Bucs had their share of injuries, but that dosen‘t explain and excuse the poor tackling we saw game after game. Guys were lined up out of position. Some guys didnt know here to be on the field or where to go in certain defenses. It was ugly and this falls on Mike Smith who seemed to not have this defense prepared game after game.

That’s why it was so surprising to me that Koetter elected to bring back Smith for the 2018 season. There is something to be said for loyalty, but Koetter is putting his job on the line bringing back Smith. This decsion will make or break him.

The Bucs had the worst defense in the league in 2017 Giving up 378 YPG. The pass defense was porous as well as they finished last in the league giving up 261 YPG. The run defense was a tad bit better giving up 118 YPG good for 23rd in the league. The Bucs defense was also near the bottom in sacks with 22.

Let’s analyze the defense.

DL Grade Grade D-. The only reason this area gets a minimal passing grade is because of the play of Gerald McCoy. McCoy had roughly 25% of the teams sacks with 6, as he was the only member of the DL to garner some respect from opponents. I found a new respect for McCoy the last quarter of the season. McCoy suffered a peck injury and could have shut it down for the season with nothing to gain by playing. But McCoy being the ultimate professional missed only one game and played through the injury the last two games. He was the Only Bucs player to be voted to the Pro Bowl this season.

The injury to Noah Spence really hurt the defense as far as pressuring the QB. The pressure was non-existent most of the season which put undo pressure on the secondary. Chris Baker was a huge disappointment. For a veteran, I found his work ethic to be lacking and his overall play sub-par. A waste of money and I would not bring him back in 2018.

LB. Grade B+. This was the strength of this defense. Kwon Alexander led the team in tackles with 101 and Lavonte David finished with 97. The rookie from LSU Kendall Beckwith had a very nice season and was pressed into playing early in the season due to injuries to David and Alexander.

The Bucs should be set for a few years with this trio. Kwon Alexander will be playing in the Pro Bowl replacing the injured Boby Wagner from Seattle. A well deserving honor for Alexander.

The LB‘s were the healthiest bunch of the defense this season and their play was the most consistent. Definitely an area that should get better in 2018. Hard Knocks favorite Riley Bullough saw action late in the season as he was promoted from the practice squad. He should get a shot at making the roster next season.

DB. Grade D+. Let’s exclude Brent Grimes from this grade of D+. Grimes when healthy was the best DB on the field. At 34 and with Pro Bowls on his resume, Grimes showed why he is so valuable to this defense. Imagine how bad this defense would have been without the play of Grimes? He wasn’t perfect, but at least he didn't get beat every play down the field and could cover receivers one on one. Grimes is a free agent and the Bucs need to do everything in their power to bring him back.

Before his injury, Vernon Hargraves was really struggling covering receivers and was moved from the outside to primarily inside. Hargraves took a step back from his rookie season and this year is a critical year for Hargraves as this will be his third year in the league. It’s time for us to see the Hargraves we thought we were getting when we drafted him in the first round.

This part of the defense was the worst. They could not cover receivers one on one. They had to play prevent a majority of the time, and all that does is prevent you from winning the game. All year long the theme seemed to be keep the plays in front of you and give the receivers plenty of cushion so you dont get burned long. As a result opposing offenses were able to move the ball down the field at will.

This draft will be a defining one for Jason Licht, as he will need to draft to improve the defense. Licht has only drafted one DL in his tenure as GM, that being Noah Spence in 2016.

The off-season is here for the Bucs. There is a lot of work to do to get this team to where it needs to be in 2018. We will watching closely.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports