As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into the 2019 with a revamped coaching staff, there will be close attention paid to the defensive side of the football.
In 2018, the Bucs fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith just five games into the season. At the time of his dismissal, Tampa Bay was giving up an average of 439 yards of offense per game. They finished the season under interim defensive coordinator Mark Duffner but still sat near the bottom of the league in total defense.
During the three season run of the Mike Smith/Mark Duffner era, the Bucs failed to rank higher than 23rd in yards allowed per game.
Enter 2019. We once again find ourselves uttering that familiar phrase that catches on every few years: “It’s a new day in Tampa Bay!”
New captain of the defensive ship
In January, newly hired Bucs head coach Bruce Arians quickly selected former New York Jets’ head coach Todd Bowles as his defensive coordinator. Bowles held the same position under Arians in Arizona in 2013-2014. During those 2 seasons, the Cardinals defense ranked 6th and 24th, respectively.
Bowles has traditionally run a 3-4 defense, but he has set the expectation that there will be versatility and aggressiveness. Don’t be surprised to see frequent blitz packages and shifting from 3-4 to 4-3 throughout games. There will be chances taken. Some plays will be made and some may result in a big gain for the other team. This is simply the new identity of Bucs football. As coach Arians would say, “No risk it, no biscuit.” Tampa Bay will be aiming to throw different looks at opposing offenses to get them off their game and set the tone early. This comes as exciting news to fans who remember the days where the Bucs were known for their suffocating defense and takeaway abilities. At one point, the team had a run of 50 consecutive games (2000-2003) with at least one sack and one forced turnover.
Major changes to defensive personnel
The schemes will not be the only noticeable difference involving the defense in 2019. While a depth chart has yet to be officially released, there are some already known big changes. The most notable is the departure of 9 year veteran and 6 time pro bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. After McCoy was released by the Bucs in May, he signed with Tampa Bay’s division rival, the Carolina Panthers, on June 3rd. Middle linebacker Kwon Alexander also departed, heading to San Francisco in March after signing a deal with the 49ers. In his four seasons with the Bucs, Alexander only played in one full season – 2016. His other three seasons were plagued by injuries and a 4 game suspension that was a result of testing positive for a banned substance.
Tampa Bay will also start the season without last year’s sack leader, Jason Pierre-Paul. Pierre-Paul suffered a neck fracture in a single car accident in May. Although this puts his season in jeopardy, Bruce Arians announced today his star defensive end could return to action in October. Pierre-Paul became the first Buccaneer with a double digit sack season since Simeon Rice’s 14 in 2005, recording 12.5 last year.
The defensive outlook is not all about injuries and departures, however. After the departure of Gerald McCoy, it only took 3 days for Tampa Bay to sign his replacement in Ndamukong Suh. The 3 time all-pro is expected to play alongside second year tackle Vita Vea, who showed signs of promise toward the later parts of 2018 in Mark Duffner’s system.
While it remains to be seen how this will all come together, there is plenty to be excited about with this new Bucs defense. With the implementation of Bowles’ system and the talent and potential that is in place, Tampa Bay is poised for a drastic turnaround defensively in 2019.
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