We’ve mentioned before how this new Bucs defense has a very attack-oriented mentality – how it focuses on bringing a lot of pressure in various ways and looks to impose its will on the offense, thereby dictating their game plan.
But while that sounds all well and good, how do you do that?
Like a lot of things in life, it starts up front. If we’re oversimplifying, the defense is classified as a 3-4 base and, sure, it’s categorized as such but that doesn’t mean it’s what you expect a traditional 3-4 defense to be. Your run-of-the-mill alignment would be three down linemen, occupying two gaps apiece (the spaces between offensive linemen across the line of scrimmage) with four stand-up linebackers, two outside and two inside.
However, you’d be hard-pressed to find any team that operates out of such a scheme a majority of the time.
“Yeah, we’re not where our defensive line grabs two guys,” Head Coach Bruce Arians said of the defense. “Get in the backfield and make a play. Make two guys block you penetrating rather than standing on the line holding guys for linebackers. We’re not that style of defense, but we do it anyway because of penetration.”
There’s that whole ‘imposing their will’ thing. The defensive front makes the offensive line have to deal with them and make choices on who to block by attempting to penetrate the line. That’s why guys like newly signed Ndamukong Suh and second-year defensive tackle Vita Vea are so vital. They are going to command multiple blockers, leaving their counterparts on the line and linebackers behind them freed up to make plays. Should they be successful in beating those double teams, or if they’re left one-on-one on the interior, all the better; they’re already on their way to the quarterback. They try to beat their blockers by actually getting through the line, not just sitting back and engaging them.
“I think the ability to get after the quarterback is huge, not only with multiple guys, but also with their front,” Suh said. “I’m excited about that. Looking forward to being in a position to just go out there and play and wreak havoc.”
Wreaking havoc a.k.a. rushing the passer. It’s something that the Bucs could stand to improve coming into 2019. Last year, the Bucs had 38.0 sacks, tied with both the Los Angeles Chargers and Indianapolis Colts for 19th-most in the league. But there’s more that goes into pressure than just sacks, of course. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Bucs had a 21.6% pass-rush effectiveness, which is qualified by the percentage of time a defender is closest to the quarterback at the time of the throw, therefore incorporating things like hurries and knockdowns. That rate was good for 17th in the league. Middle of the pack. To move up to the front, however, the Bucs are about to get a lot more creative with the pass rush this year.
“Well, you can create it a bunch of different ways,” Arians said. “It’s not a front four. I know Tampa traditionally had a front four for years. We don’t have a front four, per se. We’ve got a bunch of guys coming after the quarterback. Now, it could be four, could be three, could be eight and it’s that unknown, that’s how you create a pass rush.”
While a front four isn’t the standard in this defense, you are going to end up seeing it a lot. Given the increase in three and four-wideout sets by NFL offenses, teams these days favor packages that get more defenders into coverage. That means having to sacrifice one of the front-seven and will usually switch the defensive front to a four-down front with three linebackers behind them.
This in no way diminishes the impact of the defensive line, though. Creating problems up front only makes it easier on the secondary in coverage. As in, if the quarterback doesn’t have time to get rid of the ball or let plays develop, the threat of deeper routes and therefore, bigger plays, recedes. It all works in concert like a beautifully coordinated orchestra… that will also hit you.
“I think just an aggressive and very intended force of changes of the line of scrimmage,” Suh said. “I think as a collective group when you have four guys and really your front seven just attacking and moving that line of scrimmage back into the offense’s lap, you’re doing your job and you’re being a big force.”
“We have a lot of different blitzes in and it’s fun, but it’s mostly just about getting matchups that we want,” defensive tackle Beau Allen elaborated. “I don’t want to tell you too much of our game plan and that kind of thing, but we have a lot of different stuff in. We have a lot of personnel groups, a lot of guys that are playing a lot of different positions and that’s what you want as a player. You want the stress to be on you and they do a really good job coaching us. So, we have to do everything we can to take advantage of the scheme and really do our jobs well.”
Doing a job well is a lot easier to when you like what you’re doing. Veterans and newcomers alike are getting their first exposure to the kind of defensive mentality coordinator Todd Bowles brings. And let’s be honest, what defender doesn’t like being aggressive?
“His personality, the way he looks at things, the way he wants to attack,” Suh said of what he likes about Bowles. “I think Coach Arians also mentioned in the press conference the other day about being able to attack, be very aggressive, play up the field. Obviously, people have their responsibilities and whatnot, but I’ve always enjoyed being in an attack-style defense.”
And I think Bucs fans are going to enjoy watching it.
View the top photos from the Bucs offseason practices.