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Bucs Defense Building Something Special

Posted Dec 9, 2013

Following their best performance of the season, Tampa Bay's defenders are seeing great things ahead and striving to become a unit the team can count on week-in and week-out

  • Mostly healthy, Tampa Bay's defense has a chance to finish the 2013 on a strong note
  • LB Mason Foster is encouraged by the team's mix of veteran leadership and young talent
  • Tampa Bay has risen to 13th in the league in yards allowed and tied for 11th in points allowed
During the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' three-game winning streak in November, the most prominent storyline was the poised and efficient work of rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month.  Glennon posted a 119.7 combined passer rating in the Bucs' November games, which also included an overtime loss at Seattle, and Tampa Bay nearly doubled its scoring from roughly 14 points per game in the first eight to almost 28 in the next four.

Still, it's worth noting that the Bucs only improved their offensive ranking from 31st to 28th during that span, and that in two of those three wins they were held below 270 total yards.  Tampa Bay's defense (and, more often than not, the special teams), has been just as important to the team's second-half turnaround, helping the Bucs win four of five after starting out 0-8.  Moreover, the Bucs' injury woes have been largely concentrated on offense, as the starting defense remains largely intact in the season's final month.  The Buccaneers won't make the playoffs in 2013, but they do have a chance to show that they are on the cusp of putting together yet another excellent defense, which has long been the franchise's trademark.

Against Buffalo on Sunday, running back Bobby Rainey broke off an 80-yard touchdown on the second play of the game and Glennon executed a brilliant scrambling 38-yard scoring pass to Vincent Jackson two drives later.  However, for most of the day, it was Tampa Bay's defense that stole the show, racking up seven sacks and four interceptions and allowing just 214 yards and six points.  Buffalo's fourth-ranked rushing attack could muster just 67 yards, including a mere 22 for C.J. Spiller and 12 for Fred Jackson.

Tampa Bay's offense had its finest day three weeks earlier in a 41-28 drubbing of Atlanta.  As is the case in almost every season, however, there are days when the offense shoulders most of the load and days when it is on the defense to secure the win.  The Buccaneers' defense took center stage against Buffalo, and they want to be the type of unit that can be counted on to do so every week, much like the famous Tampa Bay D of the mid-'90s to early-'00s.

"When we go out there, we want to make plays," said linebacker Mason Foster, who had one of the Bucs' four interceptions off Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel.  "We want to take control of the game because we know that we can. We know we’ve got the players in our room to do it. Gerald [McCoy] always says, ‘If they don’t score, we win,’ so you’ve just got to try your best to keep playing great, making great plays, getting the ball back. We want to be a great defense. We feel like we’re a lot better than what our numbers have shown in the win column. We feel like we’re a lot better than that, and we’re trying to come out here and prove it, finish this year strong."

-- LB M. Foster and his defensive teammates had a lot to celebrate on Sunday against Buffalo
Actually, the numbers aren't that, beyond the all-important 4-9 in the standings.  The Bucs have risen to 13th in the NFL in yards allowed and tied for 11th in points allowed.  There are a couple more severe tests waiting before season's end, including a home date next Sunday against the NFL's 11th-highest scoring team, San Francisco, and a season finale in New Orleans against Drew Brees and company.  Still, the Bucs think they can continue building defensive momentum through the final month of the campaign.

“We’ve been able to – with the exception of [linebacker] Jonathan Casillas – been able to stay relatively healthy on that side of the ball," said Schiano.  “Going forward it’s exciting, but I’m more concerned about going forward to next Sunday, six days from now. I think that we need to get our guys [ready], and this is going to be quite a challenge. We’re going to need our veteran guys. That’s where we have some veteran guys that have played at a high level and that are relatively healthy for this time of year."

In fact, the Buccaneers have a pretty promising mix of proven veterans in their prime and young standouts who look to be on the verge of stardom.  Cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson provide veteran savvy; fourth-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is probably headed to his second straight Pro Bowl, is already an unquestioned leader; and linebacker Mason Foster, linebacker Lavonte David, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Johnthan Banks are all in their third year or less and producing big numbers.

It's an impressive collection of talent, but also a hard-working group that sees the possibility of greatness and is determined to get there.

“There are a lot of great defenses in this league, a lot of great defensive players, so it’s tough to say," said Foster.  "But at the same time, I know everybody that plays on this defense personally, and they’re all my good friends, like my brothers. I know how hard they work and how much everything means to them, how much football means to them.

"I’m excited. These guys work hard day-in and day-out. We compete on a daily basis, trying to get better. I think the sky’s the limit for us. We’ve just got to keep working and keep progressing. Guys are getting smarter and understanding the defense [better] each and every day. We’ve got a lot of great, young players on this defense, so I’m excited."