The Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent a majority of their time in the offseason upgrading a defense which was incredibly good against the run and woeful against the pass. Sunday against the New York Jets, despite the Bucs' 18-17 loss, we saw the first indications that the new-look Tampa Bay defense is an improvement in many ways.
The Buccaneers added All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis and hard-hitting safety Dashon Goldson, while drafting Johnthan Banks and weight-room warrior Akeem Spence to add more depth to the defensive backfield and defensive line, respectively.
So how did the finished product look on the field in New Jersey to open the season? Let’s break it down and grade the defense’s performance, beginning with the front four.
This was probably the most disappointing part of the Tampa Bay defense on Sunday afternoon, as the Buccaneers allowed Geno Smith plenty of time to throw.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was a one-man wrecking ball in the middle of the defense, getting into the backfield and commanding respect from the New York offensive line. But against the pass, he didn’t get much help.
Adrian Clayborn was decent against the pass, pushing back his man on a regular basis and getting free late in the game against a tired New York line, but there was no other pressure from the defensive line during the game.
Starter Daniel Te’o-Nesheim has been complimented for his “relentless” nature, as head coach Greg Schiano told Jenna Laine of Sports Talk Florida. But he was unable to generate a pass rush from his defensive end spot.
Young pass-rusher Da’Quan Bowers has been relegated to the bench, and while he showed good pursuit on some plays, he was also unable to get reliable pressure on the passer.
So the Buccaneers couldn’t use the front four to get after Geno Smith. But they did a great job stopping the run.
Adrian Clayborn was a menace in the backfield, flying around and making plays against the run from his defensive end spot. And McCoy was key in shutting down gaps up the middle.
But overall, the defensive line didn’t seem to be able to do much on its own.
The 2013 season might be huge for Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman, but it’s also very important for the future of middle linebacker Mason Foster.
Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller has the Buccaneers selecting a middle linebacker in his latest mock draft. While he mentions Foster as a member of what would be an upgraded linebacking corps, he would likely shift outside and not play on all three downs as he currently does.
Foster got off to an excellent start to his season, getting into the backfield on blitzes and covering the field as a tackle machine. His pass coverage is still a bit suspect, but if he continues to make an impact heading downhill, it will more than make up for the occasional error against the pass.
Lavonte David was also excellent, making plays in coverage as well as against the run. He hauled in an interception on an overthrow by Geno Smith and also shut down a trick play run to Jeremy Kerley on a key third down in the fourth quarter.
But he would make a boneheaded mistake and earn a personal foul that would set the Jets up for a game-winning field goal with two seconds left.
Dekoda Watson also chipped in, contributing as a pass-rusher and chipping in with a sack. The trio of linebackers did seem to leave a few receivers open over the middle, but they more than made up for it against the run and by getting after the quarterback.
But there is a downside to the aggressiveness of the linebackers. The need to blitz means running backs and short routes were often open for Geno Smith, which is where he did all of his damage.
This isn’t 100 percent the fault of the linebackers, but it’s something that has plagued the Bucs for a while and will continue to plague them unless they can get pressure from the defensive line.
Revis Island has officially relocated to Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers brought Darrelle Revis in over the offseason despite a major knee injury, and despite him taking a few plays off to make sure he wasn’t overworked, the payoff for bringing in the best corner in the league was immediate.
Revis showed the ability to stick with his man, including multiple plays where he showed the explosion to dive in and break up passes on the hip of the intended receiver. You can see an example in this photo.
The Jets would eventually stop testing Revis after he proved he was the “real” Darrelle Revis.
He was targeted four times and allowed only one catch for 13 yards, according to the FOX broadcast.
The other high-profile addition, Dashon Goldson, made his presence felt in MetLife Stadium and likely in his wallet as well. The roaming free safety made huge hits all day long, including a massive hit to force an incompletion that would be nullified by a personal foul penalty.
His partner at the strong safety position, Mark Barron, made a hard hit of his own which will also likely earn a fine. Barron wasn’t as visible as Goldson, but that’s not a bad thing. Last season, Barron was victimized by offenses in the passing game, but he had no notable mistakes against Geno Smith and his offense.
But the “non-Revis corners” for the Buccaneers weren’t up to the task on every play, as Leonard Johnson and Johnthan Banks were called for penalties and generally did not cover as well as they could have.
One particular Leonard Johnson penalty late in the game extended a drive that would result in a go-ahead field goal for New York. That cannot continue for Tampa Bay if it wishes to contend this season.
The Buccaneers defense still showed some signs that they’re no better than they were last season against the pass. But that’s when Darrelle Revis isn’t on the field.
Revis made it clear that he’s fully capable of being the best player at his position after recovering from injury, and he changes the entire defense for Tampa Bay.
The defensive line has to get after the quarterback on its own, or the team will continue to allow short to intermediate throws to tight ends and linebackers. Kellen Winslow had a huge game against the Buccaneers on Sunday, and that shouldn’t happen to a good defense.
How do you grade the Tampa Bay defensive performance from Sunday?
There are positive signs, because the defense did almost all it could to put the team in a position to win. There was certainly a “bend but don’t break” attitude, but a few costly mistakes gave the Jets an opening to sneak in and steal a victory.
The Tampa Bay defense must play within the rules and generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks to make the team's investments on defense worthwhile.
Overall Grade: C