-Well, the big news coming out of AdventHealth Training Center is obviously the elevation of linebackers coach Mark Duffner to defensive coordinator, who replaces Mike Smith. The change comes as Tampa Bay ranks near the bottom in total defense and last in points surrendered. Duffner is the logical successor. He has a combined 46 years of coaching experience, 22 of which are in the NFL, making him the most experienced coach on staff. If you want to know a little more about the guy, check out some fast facts about him here. He was probably the most obvious choice and his tenure with the players makes the transition pretty seamless. The position group he is in charge of, and will continue to coach, also gives him a more inclusive view of the defense as a whole. Being in charge of the men in the middle level, he’s had to support both the front four and the secondary, taking both into account when coaching his linebackers who are used both up front and in coverage. Again, seamless.
-His effectiveness as a coach shows through is linebacking corps, which boasts one of the best duos in the league in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. Currently, David is tied for second-most tackles for loss on running plays, which is a big reason for Tampa Bay’s fifth-ranked rushing defense. Yes, the Bucs still have the fifth-ranked rushing defense in the league, letting up an average of just 84.2 yards per game, which means a sub-four-yard per play average on running plays. And before you get into the passing defense, which yes, I know needs work, take a minute to realize what taking away the run game does for a team. Just because some teams are becoming more and more pass-first, doesn’t mean that’s the standard yet. Teams are still going to try to run the ball. If anything, like I detailed last week, the running game can help with explosive plays and the passing game in general. Take that away, and you take away play action which can limit the amount of explosive plays against you or trickeration the offense can throw at your defense. Got to use trickeration there. Sweet. Anyway, run defense is not to be overlooked and it’s definitely a building block for this defense to improve as a whole. Start by making the opposing offense one dimensional – then defend that one dimension. Told you the sky wasn’t falling.
-Speaking of the running game, the Bucs got their own involved in the game against the Falcons. Running back Peyton Barber showed flashes of what kind of back he can be in his hometown (he’s from Alpharetta, which is a suburb of Atlanta). He had 82 yards on the day, his most so far in 2018 and tallied his first touchdown of the season, though it was actually on a pass play. What Barber really did was give the offense more options both on the ground and in the air. The first play Barber broke loose on was actually the inverse of play action, where quarterback Jameis Winston faked a throw and instead turned around to hand it off to Barber who took off for a 28-yard gain. It was on the Bucs’ first possession of the game and set the tone early for the offense: they were going to establish the run game and it was going to pay off in the passing game. That came to fruition on Chris Godwin’s fourth quarter touchdown. Winston faked the handoff to Barber and if you watch the play again you’ll see Falcons’ middle linebacker Foyesade Oluokun bite on play action. By the time he realizes Winston is throwing the ball, Godwin is well behind him on an inside route from the slot and sitting in the end zone to make the grab. That doesn’t work so seamlessly if the run game hadn’t already been established.
-Around the league, or at least the division, you all should be happy to see the Carolina Panthers fell to the Washington Redskins on Sunday. This division is still wide open. After stuttering against the Bucs in Week One, the Saints are sitting at 4-1 but the Panthers are 3-2, the Bucs are 2-3 and Atlanta is 2-4. The Panthers face Carson Wentz and the unpredictable Eagles in Philadelphia this coming Sunday. The Saints were on their bye this past weekend so they gain no ground and will now go to face a red-hot Baltimore Ravens team that registered 11 sacks on Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday. Eleven. And I’m not talking about Stranger Things (when does that come back again? I might actually start watching it). Brees has been sacked eight times already this season, which is nearly half of the Saints’ total of 20 last season. If the Ravens defense can disrupt the NFL’s all-time leading passer, expect the Saints to have a really difficult time up there and maybe even drop one, creating more opportunity within the division.
View exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos from the Buccaneers Week 6 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.