- Lavonte David
- Jason Pierre-Paul
- Antoine Winfield Jr.
- Carlton Davis III
- Sean Murphy-Bunting
- Jamel Dean
- Richard Sherman
- Jordan Whitehead
In case you're confused, that's the list of Tampa Bay defenders who have missed at least one game this year. Do you know what they all have in common?
They're all starters. All eight of them.
It's rather fair to say the Bucs defense has been hit hard with injuries this year and it's wild to think that eight players have already missed at least one game. Yet, the Bucs defense has found a way to succeed despite all the medical turmoil.
Tampa Bay has given up the second-fewest points per game over its last three games and the fourth-fewest total points since Week 4. The Eagles are the only opponent to score more than 17 points against the Bucs over the last four games and that came with a garbage-time, backdoor touchdown that covered the (+7) spread.
All of those injuries in the secondary? Well, they certainly haven't had the effect that usually comes with that type of scenario. The Bucs have allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards per game over the last three games and quarterbacks average a rating of 68.0 against the Bucs secondary, which is the third-lowest quarterback rating over a team's last three games. The pass rush is getting home, too, evidenced by the the Bucs averaging the fifth-most sacks over the same timeframe.
“It’s the next-man-up mentality," safety Antoine Winfield Jr. said after the game. "Somebody is going to come in and fill those roles, and we don’t plan to drop off if somebody goes down. Everyone is expected to play at the same level, no matter who you are. It’s great that those guys were able to step up and have great games tonight.”
This past week's game summed it up best: The Bucs created more takeaways (5) than points allowed (3).
Sure, quality of opponent helps. The Bucs went from facing the Cowboys, Falcons, and Rams to playing the Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles, and Bears. But the key with the Bucs' recent stretch of defensive play is they haven't just been good - they've been dominant.
While it's not easy to pinpoint one reason or catalyst as to why something works in the NFL, it's rather easy in the case of the Bucs defense: it's Todd Bowles.
"Todd (Bowles) is putting in a hell of a plan where we have pressure, mixing up our coverages, our safeties are doing a really good job of disguising and those corners have stepped up and played," Bruce Arians told reporters Sunday after the game. "Rashard (Robinson) went in and played good. Pierre (Desir) goes in and has an interception. Dee (Delaney) has an interception. That is really good coaching. I have to give Todd a ton of credit for that.”
"Coach Bowles does a great job of putting us in great positions to make plays," said Winfield. "As long as we’re out there and making those plays, that’s all I can be happy for.”
Bowles could have even more to figure out this week. Dee Delaney left Sunday's win over the Bears early with an ankle injury and Jamel Dean hurt his shoulder. While there is no official word on either one, there is currently a chance one -or both- players could miss this week's game.
But even if that happens, one has to assume the Bucs will be prepared based off the last three to four weeks.
“It’s a heck of a roster," Arians told reporters Sunday. "When you look at all of the guys who have not played the last three weeks and who stepped up, it’s a credit to Jason (Licht), (John) Spytek and those guys for giving us good players, but it’s a hell of a job by the coaches coaching those guys in a week or two weeks and getting them ready to play against a really quality football team. I think it speaks volumes. I wish and hope we get a bunch of guys back if not this week, for sure two weeks.”
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