TAMPA — It was just missed tackles.
Feel better, Tampa Bay?
The Bucs defense allowed 407 yards in their 42-28 loss at Carolina Sunday.
It marked the third time a team had scored 30 or more points on them in the first half. A franchise once built with a dominating defense is now on pace to set an NFL record by allowing 550 points.
But there’s nothing to see here. Just poor tackling by tackle football players.
That was the whistle-past-the-graveyard message delivered by the Bucs Monday.
Of course, one play comically illustrated the fun and futility of Tampa Bay’s defense against the Panthers.
It came during the 33-yard touchdown run on a double reverse to Panthers receiver Curtis Samuel who actually ran 103.9 yards on the play without being tackled.
Quarterback Cam Newton was under center. Receiver D.J. Moore came in motion left. Newton made a play-action run fake to Christian McCaffrey before handing the ball off to Moore on the end around to the right. Moore then tossed it to Samuel going to his left on the double reverse.
Almost immediately, Bucs defensive tackles Vita Vea and Beau Allen collided and Vea wound up straddling Allen. Safety Justin Evans and cornerback Carlton Davis were blocked into each other near the far sideline as Moore cut back all the way across the field, leaving defenders strewn all over the field like broken beads of a necklace.
“We were in man coverage on that pay,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter explained. “Our two D-tackles ran into each other. Our two corners chasing their men — ran into each other and then our pursuit and tackling and effort on that play was just not what it needs to be in any way. It looked like a Keystone Kop play.”
What about the rest of the game?
“Except for that play, all those other plays we had a guy right there to tackle him at the line of scrimmage,” Koetter said. “I mean, look at the tape. There was a guy on the throwback screen. We had two guys right there. On both, they ran two little versions of that and we miss the tackle. Those could’ve easily been no gain. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. And then we’ve got to pursue better. When we do miss tackles, we have to have better effort in pursuit.”
Between McCaffrey going Edwin Moses to hurdle Davis on a 32-yard run, then on the next play, Davis missing a tackle on Moore’s end around for 32 yards more, yes, the Bucs defenders looked as if they were trying to tackle smoke.
“We’ve got to be more disciplined,” Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “All of us. Myself included, especially me. And we’ve just got to tackle better. Yesterday was just a game of not tackling. We just watched film where there were a lot of plays that were 1-yard gains and loss of yardage and we just didn’t tackle.”
When the Bucs were busy not tackling, they were not covering very well.
The Bucs only have one interception in 291 pass attempts. Newton threw TD passes Sunday to tight end Greg Olsen and Samuel.
Koetter says the Bucs defense intercepts passes during the week in practice. Cornerback Brent Grimes had two last week alone, he said.
“I think they’ve been making a conscious effort to do that, but we’ve got to do it in a game,” Koetter said.
“On the touchdown to Olsen, we had two guys right there. They’ve got to make a better play on the ball…we definitely have to play tighter coverage and we can obviously. We talked about this last week, getting more pressure will always help you do that.”
So even though the 35-7 deficit was similar to the Chicago game that eventually got defensive coordinator Mike Smith fired a week later, the Bucs clunker at Carolina was not as bad as you may have thought.
At least that’s the circle-the-wagons, nothing-to-see here message circulating around One Buc Place.
Of course, you really can’t practice tackling in the NFL. Players are only in pads one day a week and tackling teammates to the ground would only add to the injury list.
But after Sunday’s game, players parroted a message that was likely spoken in the locker room. Stick together. Don’t point fingers. There’s half the season to go.
“I could go into all the negatives,” McCoy said. “But I’m not a negative person, so I’m going to speak on the positives. The positive is it’s only halfway through the season. We have a chance to turn this thing around.”
What gives Koetter confidence the Bucs can play better defense?
“We have no other choice,” he said.