Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Had NFL's Most-Improved Pass Defense

According to ESPN, the Buccaneers had the NFL's most-improved pass defense in 2016.

Pictures from Mike Smith's first season as the Buccaneers' Defensive Coordinator.

Last Friday, the Buccaneers announced that Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith would remain with the team for the next couple of years. Smith had been considered a top candidate for several head coaching vacancies, and his move would have resulted in a third defensive system for the Bucs in as many seasons.

The impact that Smith had in his first year in Tampa was significant. Based on DVOA, ESPN determined that the Buccaneers were the NFL's sixth-best pass defense in 2016. After finishing No. 26 a year ago, Tampa Bay was the most improved team in the league defending the pass.

The Buccaneers' final snap counts for the 2016 season, according to Football Outsiders.

"There are plenty of reasons behind Tampa Bay's improvement in 2016," ESPN's Aaron Schatz wrote. "A lot of Bucs fans will point to new defensive coordinator Mike Smith replacing Leslie Frazier, and they got worried when it looked like Smith might leave for a head coaching position elsewhere. However, just as important has been a healthy, consistent secondary. In 2015, the (Bucs) had only one cornerback start over half the team's games, journeyman Sterling Moore, who wasn't even on the team this past season. Instead, rookie Vernon Hargreaves and free-agent pickup Brent Grimes each started all 16 games."

Hargreaves and Grimes rarely stepped off the field in 2016. Hargreaves played 97.6 percent of the Bucs' defensive snaps, the most of any defensive back on the team. Grimes was on the field for 93.9 percent of the time, the fifth-most of any Buccaneer defender and third-most of any defensive back on the team. Both will return for 2017.

The Buccaneers recorded 17 interceptions, tied for the fourth-most in the league. The team allowed opponents to convert just 34.4 percent of their third-down attempts, the best rate in the league. They will head into 2017 returning the majority of their starters and, just as importantly, their defensive signal-caller. For ESPN's full list, click HERE.

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