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Instant Analysis: Jets top Tampa Bay in week 1

Jets BucsThirteen months ago, Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano said that he didn’t ever want to be the least penalized team in the league. I don’t think Sunday’s game was exactly what Schiano had in mind.

The Jets and Bucs battled in one of the closest games on Sunday, if not necessarily one of the most well-played ones. I was at the game, rooting on the home team, and can file this game under “all’s well that ends well.” While there are many takeaways from the game, the Bucs’ discipline problems will dominate discussion in Tampa Bay this week.

The Buccaneers looked unprepared at the start of the game and sloppy throughout. The Bucs were having some problems with Josh Freeman’s headset, which might explain why the team had to call timeout after an incomplete pass on the fourth snap of the game. But Tampa Bay followed that timeout with a delay of game (how?), which was followed by another delay of game (how??). That was followed by a sack, a false start, and then another false start.

The discipline problems continued throughout the game. Freeman wasn’t prepared for a Jeremy Zuttah snap, which resulted in a safety (and another penalty when Freeman kicked the ball out of the end zone). New Buc Dashon Goldson committed a brutal personal foul on Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland on one drive; on the next, the other safety, Mark Barron, was flagged for unnecessary roughness on an eight-yard pass to Jeremy Kerley on 3rd-and-21. That gave the Jets a first down, and let to New York’s only offensive touchdown of the game, a seven-yard throw from Geno Smith to ex-Buc Kellen Winslow.

Leading 14-12 in the fourth quarter, the Jets had 3rd-and-6 from their own 27. Smith couldn’t find anyone and ran out of bounds, but a defensive holding kept the drive alive (which led to a field goal). But despite all the penalties, Tampa Bay still managed to gain the lead in the game’s final minute. With 15 seconds remaining, the Jets had the ball at their own 45, a good 15-20 yards away from field goal range. Geno Smith scrambled and ran out of bounds with seven seconds left, placing the Jets at the Tampa Bay 45-yard line. But after the play, second-year linebacker Lavonte David was flagged for a personal foul, putting the Jets in field goal range. Nick Folk connected from 48 yards out, and David’s blunder is up there with Dwayne Rudd‘s helmet toss as the most costly penalties of the last 15 years.
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Under Raheem Morris, the Tampa Bay rush defense was always… what is the polite way to put this… accommodating to opposing running backs. Over Morris’ three-year tenure, the Buccaneers joined the Bills as either 31st or 32nd in all three major rush defense categories: rushing yards allowed, rushing yards per carry allowed, and rushing touchdowns allowed.

This was the case despite the organization’s best efforts to find players that could stop the run. The Buccaneers’ second selection in the 2009 draft was used on defensive tackle Roy Miller.  That season, Tampa Bay finished last in both rushing yards and rushing yards per carry allowed.   The following April, the Bucs used the third pick in the draft on Gerald McCoy and the 35th selection on Brian Price, making them the rare team to take multiple interior defensive linemen with top-40 picks.  That season was the one successful year of Morris’ tenure, but Tampa Bay still finished 28th in rushing yards allowed and 31st in yards per rush allowed.

Linebacker Lavonte David has been a monster for Tampa Bay.

So Tampa continued to focus on the defensive line in the 2011 draft, this time taking Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers with their first and second round picks and middle linebacker Mason Foster in the third round. In 2011, Tampa finished the year 32nd in rushing yards allowed, 32nd in rushing touchdowns allowed, and 31st in yards per carry allowed.

Enter Greg Schiano and defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.  With a horrible run defense for three consecutive years, the Bucs couldn’t ignore the problem just because they had failed in prior attempts to plug the leak.  With the seventh pick, the team selected Alabama’s Mark Barron, an in-the-box safety who was considered one of the safest picks in the draft.

Schiano, Barron, McCoy, and second round pick Lavonte David (who was just named the NFC defensive rookie of the month for November) have completely reformed the Tampa rush defense. The team currently ranks first in both rushing yards and yards per rush allowed. That’s unbelievable. Nothing more could be said about the magnitude of a leap from 32nd to 1st, so let me close with a look at the biggest jumps in rushing yards allowed and rushing yards per carry allowed in NFL history.
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