On Monday, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up 37 points in a Week Three loss to Los Angeles, Head Coach Dirk Koetter expressed his confidence that the team's defense will move past its early-season struggles.
"You ask me do I think the defense will come around? Absolutely I think the defense will come around," said Koetter. "I believe in these players and I believe in these coaches. We're not where we want to be right now. Of course, everyone wants us to be 3-0; no one wants that more than I do and we're not, we're sitting here 1-2. We've got to own it and we've got to figure out how we're going to get better."
WATCH: [THURSDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES](Notes: As the Bucs seek to plug the leaks in a defense that has shown promise but given up too many big plays, trusting the scheme is of major importance…Plus injury updates and more//)(Notes: As the Bucs seek to plug the leaks in a defense that has shown promise but given up too many big plays, trusting the scheme is of major importance…Plus injury updates and more//)
Tampa Bay's defense has actually looked quite strong during various stretches in the first three games, but 17 explosive plays have accounted for close to half of the 1,110 yards surrendered so far. There are different causes for different breakdowns, from communication to play-calling to physical mistakes, but team captain Gerald McCoy knows of one unifying factor that can make a difference on every snap: trust.
Specifically, McCoy says he and his teammates have to trust the defensive scheme they spent all offseason installing after the arrival of new Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith.
"We trust each other; we've got to trust each other, trust each other within the system," said McCoy. 'You know, I've got this, but I need to make sure he's doing this, so just in case I'm going to go over here.' No, don't do that. Trust him to do his job within the system."
McCoy, the four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, believes there were times in the Rams game in which Buccaneer defenders missed their assignments because they were going outside the system in an effort to make a big play.
"Guys just really need to trust in each other," he explained. "It's a new defense, you're trying to get it down yourself and you're trying to learn the ins and outs of what you can and can't do, what you can and can't get away with. I think guys just got antsy last week, trying to make a play instead of doing the things it takes to make a play, which is just do your job. If you've got the B Gap, stay in the B Gap. If you're supposed to come downhill in the A [Gap], get in the A. If y'all are supposed to switch in the back end, then switch. It will work. We're just getting to that point."
Tampa Bay's run defense has been strong, as it was for a majority of the game last Sunday. Ten minutes into the third quarter, standout second-year running back Todd Gurley had been held to 34 yards on 16 carries, none longer than seven. However, after a missed field goal kept the Bucs from extending their lead to 23-17, Gurley ripped off a nine-yard run, and then another one three plays later, then a 16-yarder two snaps later. Those were all on first-down runs, which means there wasn't a great element of surprise. Those plays opened up the play-action game for quarterback Case Keenum, who took advantage with several big completions. On the Rams' next two scoring drives, Gurley racked up 48 yards.
"We've got to win first down," said McCoy. "The big thing that Coach Smith preaches is, 'Win first and third down.' In order to do that, we have to win first down first. When you give offenses a chance to put you in third-and-four and down, you're probably not winning first down. So we've got to do a better job of that."
Pictures of the Broncos' starting offense and defense, according to the team's depth chart.
McCoy also noted that this week's opponent, the Denver Broncos, are a good example of a team that has excelled on defense by staying within its system. The Buccaneers' scheme is dissimilar to the Broncos, but Tampa Bay defenders could still learn from the Broncos' path to success.
"The thing about sports is, you just respect and recognize when people are good at what they do," said McCoy. "If you take something, you can take something from the individual person and add it to your game, but they play what they play and we play what we play. But you just recognize that they are a great defense – not good, they're a great defense, and it's because of their discipline.
"So if you do take anything from them it's just, look at how disciplined they are and look at how it's paid off. It got them a Super Bowl."
- The Buccaneers updated theirinjury reporton Thursday, though only minimally.
There was only one change from the week's initial report, but it was a positive one: Starting center Joe Hawley progressed from sitting out practice on Wednesday to participating in a limited fashion on Thursday. Hawley is attempting to return from an ankle injury sustained against the Rams.
Defensive end Robert Ayers (ankle), running back Doug Martin (hamstring), wide receiver Cecil Shorts (hamstring) and tight end Luke Stocker (ankle) missed practice again Thursday. None have practiced since suffering their injuries at Arizona on Sept. 18.
The Broncos also made exactly one change to their injury report. Reserve safety Shiloh Keo made the same move as Hawley, watching practice on Wednesday due to a knee injury but becoming a limited participant on Thursday. LB DeMarcus Ware (forearm), tight end Virgil Green (calf) and tackle Donald Stephenson (calf) were all held out for a second straight day.
- One name that hasn't come up much in discussing the Bucs' wins and losses through the first three weeks of the season is Kevin Pamphile. That's a good thing.
Among the Buccaneers' most prominent signings in last spring's free agency period was former Seattle Seahawks guard J.R. Sweezy. His arrival came shortly on the heels of Logan Mankins's retirement, and he was tabbed as the replacement for Mankins in the starting lineup.
Had the Bucs not lured Sweezy to Tampa, the job would have gone to Pamphile, who proved during several cameo appearances in 2015 that he could handle multiple positions on the offensive line. And, in fact, the job did go to Pamphile because Sweezy has yet to see the field for the Buccaneers due to injury. Sweezy is currently on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and is not eligible to return until the Week Seven game at San Francisco.
A look back at all of the match-ups between the Buccaneers and the Broncos.
Pamphile had his own minor injuries to get past in the winter, which contributed to the team's decision to bring in Sweezy, knowing that Pamphile would eventually serve the team well in some capacity along the line. As it turned out, that was as the starting left guard, and it has gone well so far.
"He's doing really good," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "He's doing a really good job. Kevin's getting better every week. We've said for the longest time that we would be fine if Kevin was starting in our offensive line, and that has proven to be true. The whole J.R. Sweezy thing is unfortunate. We wish we had him out there, but as I've said many times, Kevin was hurt right off the bat so we didn't just bump him into that spot when Logan retired.
"Kevin has done what every player should do. They should come to work every day and get better, and he's done that."
Given that the most prominent (though somewhat vague) statistic associated with offensive linemen is sacks allowed, it's good that Pamphile hasn't been a topic of conversation. Quarterback Jameis Winston has been sacked five times in three games and the Buccaneers rank fifth in the NFL in sacks per pass play. The Bucs haven't put up the rushing numbers they had hoped for yet, but much of that has been due to game situations. Sweezy may be back at midseason to add even more strength to the Buccaneers' offensive front, but for now, the O-Line is doing just fine with Pamphile at left guard.