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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' Defense Aiming for 30 Takeaways

The Buccaneers want to improve their turnover production on defense by at least 50% this season, and they know that making that happen starts in practice


When Todd Bowles arrived as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new defensive coordinator in 2019, the team was coming off a season in which it had created only 17 turnovers on defense, the lowest single-season total in franchise history. In the other 45 of their first 46 seasons, the Bucs' defense had averaged almost 31 takeaways per year. The 1982 team only nine games and had 21 takeaways. The 2002 Super Bowl team had 38 of them. The 1985 team lost 14 of 16 games and still took the ball away 40 times. You get the picture.

This did not remain a problem for long under Bowles, who would spend three seasons as the defensive coordinator before being elevated to head coach in 2022. His 2019 defense racked up 28 takeaways, followed by 25 in the 2020 Super Bowl season (and, notably nine more in four playoff games) and 29 in 2021. This was no surprise; Bowles had been a defensive coach for a long time in the NFL, and his crews were known for aggressiveness and turnover production.

It seemed like business as usual in the first month of the 2022 season, as the Buccaneers produced nine takeaways in their first four games. Then something strange happened. The takeaways just vanished like the passengers on Oceanic Flight 815. Tampa Bay's defense stunningly went five straight games without forcing a single turnover and six straight without an interception, and only had multiple takeaways in two of its last 14 outings. "Turnovers come in bunches," coaches often say, and it seems anecdotally true, but all the Bucs' defense was throwing up in 2022 was zeroes, and for no obvious reason.

Since that confounding turnover outage, Bowles has pointed out on multiple occasions that Buccaneer defenders had plenty of opportunities for takeaways last year. They just didn't cash in often enough. So, when Carlton Davis turned in a very strong practice on the fifth day of the Bucs' 2023 training camp, with at least three passes defensed, one on red-hot wideout Mike Evans, the topic came up again.

"That is the biggest thing," said Davis afterward. "We are really trying to push for that. When I look at the film and examine things closer, [I'll] see where there could have been an interception over a PBU. That is what we need. That is what my focus is on."

On Monday, rookie outside linebacker Yaya Diaby made a diving pick of a deflected pass, and when asked about the play Bowles said he was just glad Diaby caught it. The day before, speaking not specifically about Davis but all the Bucs' defenders, the coach had a similar thought.

"Just got to learn how to catch them," he said. "We knock down more balls than we catch. We've got to be able to get turnovers this year – we can't knock them down."

There are two types of defensive takeaways of course, interceptions and fumble recoveries, and the Bucs' numbers declined in both categories in 2022. They had 10 each for a total of 20 takeaways, which is tied for the second-lowest single-season total the franchise has ever had. In 2023, the Buccaneers are aiming to improve that total by at least 50%. Outside linebacker Anthony Nelson is not sure who first said it, but the goal for this season is at least 30 takeaways.

"I've heard a number going around [that] we need 30-plus, we need 30-plus turnovers this year," said Nelson. "That's going to put us at the top of the league; it might not be number one but we're going to be up there in sacks and turnovers, and then just play good, fast and disciplined ball."

That's not an unreasonable number by any means. As noted earlier, the 2021 Buccaneers team had 29 takeaways. The Bucs' defense has hit that number or better nine times since 2000 and come very close on many other occasions. Last year, Dallas led the NFL with 33 takeaways, followed by San Francisco and New England at 30 each. In 2021, four teams forced 30-plus turnovers, leaving the Bucs tied for fifth at 29.

The "coming in bunches" phrase suggests that turnover production can be fluky and that, if one is patient, a good defense is eventually going to start getting a lot of them. But safety Antoine Winfield Jr. says the Bucs can't just wait around for that to happen this season.

"I would say for every defense it's takeaways, but that's really our emphasis this year, create takeaways," said Winfield. "The more opportunities you can put the ball in the offense's hands you have a better chance to win. Making sure we're creating takeaways and making it a habit, instead of just getting to game day [and saying], 'Alright, now we need takeaways.' Naw, we need to do it in practice, so we're trying to keep that mindset."

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