Lovie Smith says Bucs' best defensive effort of season started in secondary

Teammates swarm the Bucs' Bradley McDougald after his game-saving interception with 14 seconds remaining in Sunday's victory over the Cowboys. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their best defensive showing of the season in beating the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

So how did it happen? Coach Lovie Smith credits a strong performance by the secondary as one of the main factors.

"When you have good play in the secondary, it allows you do to everything you'd like to do," Smith said Monday. "As a general rule, we just don't play Cover 2 -- Tampa 2 -- every snap. We would like to blitz about a third of the time. In an ideal world, we love playing man coverage and mixing in zones. We were able to do all that yesterday. Improved play will allow you to do that. Good play by the front allows you to do that. Total effort yesterday."

That effort limited the Cowboys to 216 yards of total offense, 42 yards rushing and 12 first downs -- all season-low figures. Quarterback Matt Cassel threw for just 186 yards with an interception, and wide receiver Dez Bryant was held to 45 yards on five catches.

"Our secondary, we have enough guys that know what they're capable of and know what they can do," said Bucs safety Bradley McDougald, who had the game-clinching interception in the end zone with 14 seconds left. "We're not really concerned about outside criticism or things that happen outside of our locker room. We just show up to work each and every week and just try to play better and get consistent."

The Bucs saw more consistency from their defense Sunday after allowing at least 309 yards in all but one of their previous eight games. The six points allowed against the Cowboys were the fewest of the Smith era and the fewest since Tampa Bay surrendered six in a win over the Buffalo Bills in Week 14 of the 2013 season under former coach Greg Schiano.

"We have a system that's proven," Smith said. "And when we play it the right way, we're going to have success.

"Each week, we get a little bit better at it. … We're closer to playing technique-sound football, about as close as we've been in a long time."

It helps that the Bucs appear to have found an effective combination at cornerback with Sterling Moore and Jude Adjei-Barimah. Both started again Sunday and received ample playing time, with Moore appearing on all 54 defensive snaps and Adjei-Barimah taking part in 50.

Meanwhile, former starters Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins continue to play much less. Banks wasn't on the field for a single defensive snap and Jenkins was part of just three.

"We have confidence in what we're doing," Smith said. "As far as a lot of combinations [at cornerback], that's what you do. You give guys an opportunity, they play well, and they continue to play. If not, you keep looking for answers on your roster."

On Sunday, pleasing answers were found.