Bucs need to rethink defensive strategy over bye week

"From every aspect, from start to finish. It was just bad. Bad football all around," Linebacker Lavonte David said of the defense after the Bucs' Week 4 loss at Chicago. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. -- You could have heard a pin drop in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ locker room after Sunday's 48-10 beatdown by the Chicago Bears. Players sat in silence at their lockers -- stunned and speechless. This wasn't Drew Brees or Matt Ryan who had just dismantled them -- it was Mitchell Trubisky.

The second-year quarterback threw six touchdown passes against the Bucs -- five in the first half alone -- after throwing seven all of last season. The Bucs' defense should let that stew for a little while.

Trubisky only completed four passes in the past three games that traveled 20 or more yards downfield, but he managed to do so five times Sunday. The Bears relied on pre-snap motion and misdirection to create hesitation and confusion for Tampa Bay.

Coach Matt Nagy's playcalling outschemed Bucs players and, more importantly, their coaches. Whether it was a pump fake to freeze safety Justin Evans and cornerback M.J. Stewart that allowed a wide-open Joshua Bellamy to score on a 20-yard touchdown, or the "Willy Wonka," where Trubisky faked an inside handoff to Chase Daniel and hit wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on a jet sweep -- Bucs defenders were lost.

When they were in position to make plays, linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David were overpowered on blocks, and Evans was tripped up on a double move by tight end Trey Burton -- and he wasn't the only one.

Combined with the fact the Bucs' front four could only pressure Trubisky five times on 28 dropbacks -- the fewest of any team in the league Sunday -- it was a recipe for disaster.

"We were not as good as we thought we were, and we're not where we want to be right now as a defensive football team," David said. "You all saw it, we didn't look good at all. From every aspect, from start to finish. It was just bad. Bad football all around."

Evans added: "It was like we couldn't find it. We couldn't make the plays that we needed to and it was like a snowball effect, and we couldn't pick it up. We just couldn't get it together."

Yes, the Bucs were without starting strong safety Chris Conte, who was placed on injured reserve this week with a torn PCL, and his backup Jordan Whitehead, who suffered a hamstring injury and was inactive, so Isaiah Johnson got the nod, making his first NFL start. Tampa Bay has been without cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1. Defensive tackle Beau Allen has been out with a foot injury.

But the NFL sees players go down with injuries every week. That can't be the Bucs' only excuse.

They have given up 139 points in four games, more than any other team in the league. They've surrendered 35 explosive plays (run plays of 12 or more yards and pass plays of 16 or more yards), tied for fifth-most in the league, and tied with the Oakland Raiders for most yards given up on explosives (975 yards). But the offense was able to overcome that in Weeks 1 and 2.

"It's a combination of we're not getting enough pressure on the quarterback and we're certainly not covering well enough at any level -- the flat and lower level, the middle level, which is where Chicago really attacked us," Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said.

Sunday's game marked the 19th time in 36 games since Mike Smith was named defensive coordinator (in 2016) that the Bucs defense gave up more than 400 yards. The unit has given up 296 explosive plays under Smith, more than any other team in the league over that time period, and it has also surrendered 36 touchdowns on explosive plays since 2016, tied for second in the NFL.

This season, the Bucs' defense is giving up almost 446 yards per game. By comparison, in Lovie Smith's final season in Tampa, his defense was giving up 340.4 yards per game.

It's gotten so bad that an online petition was created calling for Mike Smith's job, and it had nearly 900 signatures by Tuesday morning. Although, it's far from the first time fans have voiced their frustration about a defense that continues to add talent but has nothing to show for it. The Bucs brass only made one change last season, firing defensive line coach Jay Hayes and bringing in Brentson Buckner.

Koetter reminds: "I think, for those people who think that snapping your fingers and changing your coordinator a quarter of the way through the season -- OK, well what would you do after that? If we fire Mike Smith, then what would the next move be?

"We as coaches have to coach better and that starts with me. But Mike Smith didn't miss any tackles, did not rush the passer, he didn't blow any coverages, he didn't have any communication errors."

Koetter has a point, but Smith's job is to ensure players are in a position to be able to make those plays. They can't make them if they're nowhere in the vicinity.

Changing coaches might not be ideal, but a change in strategy is worth considering, because what they're doing isn't cutting it.