TAMPA, Fla. -- When Sterling Moore signed as a free agent in March, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers envisioned him solidifying their nickel defensive coverage. Moore had success in that role during his days with the Dallas Cowboys.
But Moore has become more important than just a third-receiver stopper. Tampa Bay still plays a lot of zone but is more comfortable now playing man-to-man or press coverage, especially with Moore. The fifth-year corner out of SMU has elevated his play to become the team's top cornerback and has been holding his own against top receivers since being inserted into the starting lineup against the New York Giants five games ago.
Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. had nine catches for 105 yards against Tampa Bay, but he was targeted 17 times. Moore didn't cover Beckham solely but did finish the game with an interception, three pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Moore helped hold Dallas' Dez Bryant to five catches and 45 yards the next week. Moore and the Bucs' secondary struggled against Indianapolis' receivers in Week 12, but Moore rebounded against Julio Jones on Sunday. While Jones did have eight catches (17 targets) for 93 yards, Moore had five tackles and two pass breakups and helped hold Jones to just one catch in the second half.
Head coach Lovie Smith said Moore's play has helped the defense during the Bucs' push to stay in playoff contention.
"I think it's just overall play," Smith said Monday. "He's a smart player, he's in position, whether it be man, zone pressure off, stripping the ball as he did a couple weeks ago. I think we've just gotten good play out of Sterling Moore since we've moved him to the starting lineup.
"Again, if you continue to do things right, you'll eventually get an opportunity and then it's up to you to take advantage of it. He has. We matched him up with Dez Bryant a few weeks ago and of course with Julio yesterday, and he's meeting the challenge."