By Mike Jones
Tampa Bay Times
They can’t tackle. They can’t cover. They can’t pressure the quarterback, let alone sack him.
They can’t stop the run. They can’t stop the pass. They can’t protect leads. They can’t get off the field on third down.
So what can the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense actually do?
Well, they can blow football games. They sure as heck blew one Sunday.
Blame receiver Adam Humphries for a costly fumble late in the fourth quarter if you want. Blame Jameis Winston and an offense for not scoring enough first-half points if it makes you feel better. And I won’t argue that you’ll find traces of that in the DNA of Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the Bills.
But if we’re looking to point fingers over what happened Sunday – and what’s gone wrong for most of 2017 – point them at Mike Smith’s defense.
“Not good enough,’’ linebacker Kwon Alexander said.
That’s being kind. This defense stinks. And if Smith and the Bucs don’t fix it ASAP, chuck another non-playoff season onto the pile.
Where are the difference makers? Where are the big stands? Where’s the pride? Where are the moments when the defense runs on the field like a bunch of crazed dogs foaming at the mouth, saying, “This game is over!’’
They had their chance to do that Sunday. Tampa Bay swarmed back to take 27-20 lead with just over three minutes left.
One stop. That’s all the Bucs defense needed. One stop and this game was over. One stop and the season was back to .500. One stop, the season was back on track and all would have been right again over at One Buc Place.
And what happened? The Bills needed three plays to drive 75 yards and tie the game.
Three plays! In 46 seconds! We’re talking the Bills here, not exactly the Greatest Show on Turf. Yet, in another example of the defense’s incompetence, Buffalo converted a ridiculous 10 of 16 third downs, including plenty of third-and-longs that led to points.
“We didn’t finish the game up,’’ defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “You’ve got to finish the game up.’’
What the heck is going on?
“Our personnel is good enough, but our execution isn’t,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.
But you have to ask: IS the personnel good enough? McCoy is a good player. Tackling machine Lavonte David can make splash plays, as he did when he caused and recovered a fumble Sunday. Brent Grimes is a decent corner. And then what? And then who? Do the Bucs have enough play-makers on defense to win consistently?
The defense had as few answers after the game in the locker room as they did during the game on the field. They shrugged shoulders and spewed all the clichés.
We gotta tackle better. We gotta practice better. We gotta work harder.
“I don’t think it’s a special formula or anything,’’ linebacker Kendell Beckwith said. “Everyone just has to line up and do their job now.’’
Yep, anytime now.
This should say volumes about the Bucs defense: Last week, Cardinals running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 134 yards as Arizona racked up 38 points. On Sunday against the Rams, Peterson had 21 yards on 11 carries and the Cardinals were shut out.
The Bills’ 30 against Tampa Bay is the most they’ve scored all season. The Cards’ 38 against Tampa Bay is the most they’ve scored all season. The 34 by the Vikings on Sept. 24 against Tampa Bay is the most they’ve put up all season.
If the NFL had homecoming, every team would invite the Bucs defense to town.
We all thought, based on the second half of last season, that the Bucs had a good defense. Turns out, we got fooled. This defense isn’t good. And now the Bucs’ season already feels as if it’s circling down the drain because it can’t stop anyone.
“It hurts when we lose, it hurts a lot,’’ Koetter said. “But no one’s coming to save us. We dug in. We’ve got to dig out.’’
It’s hard to imagine the Bucs digging out anything with this defense. They don’t create enough turnovers. They don’t get enough sacks. They simply don’t make enough plays.
Here’s what they do: they lose games. That’s what they do.