Joy over DC Mike Smith’s return turns to sorrow
Roy Cummings, Florida Football Insiders, published 27 November 2017

There might not have been a more joyous day at One Buc Place this past year than that day in January when it was learned that defensive coordinator Mike Smith was coming back for another year. A lot of that joy has probably turned to sorrow in the months since.

A Buccaneers defense that seemed to be on the rise under Smith at the end of last year has simply fallen flat under the direction of the former Falcons head coach and it might have reached rock bottom on Sunday.

With no answer at all for either wideout Julio Jones or the Falcons running game, the Bucs gave up a season-high 516 yards during their 34-20 loss at Mercedes Benz Stadium. That’s 110 yards less than the Bucs gave up to the Raiders in an ugly overtime loss last year, but that was overtime and that was last year and so what Sunday represented was yet another step in the wrong direction.

The Bucs have now allowed 400 yards or more in seven of their 11 games this year and it probably won’t come as any great surprise when we tell you that six of those seven games have been losses. Ok, so maybe the surprising part is that the Bucs actually managed to win one of those games. By the way, that lone win was the 30-20 victory they posted last week against the mighty Dolphins in Miami.

That’s the one in which the defense took the ball away four times all on its own but also allowed backup quarterback Matt Moore to light them up for 232 yards and a touchdown in the second half. That effort by Moore should have been a warning sign that tough times were still ahead for the Buccaneers, and in fact, five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suggested just that.

While so many others were praising the Bucs for all their takeaways, McCoy was making it clear he didn’t think their effort was an indication the Bucs had suddenly turned the corner.

He was right, obviously, and he was forced to remind everyone of that on Sunday after the Bucs allowed Jones to run free for 253 receiving yards as well as 15 of the 148 rushing yards the Falcons piled up. “Like I said earlier in the week, people don’t need to be saying that we turned the corner,’’ McCoy said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and it showed today.’’

Here’s the worst part. Most of that work will have to be done in the offseason, and it very well may have to extend beyond the point where the Bucs just add another pass rusher or cornerback or two. This Bucs defense looks broken. The only thing it does well is take the ball away and a lot of those takeaways are simply the result of opposing players making horrible mistakes.

Sure, some of those takeaways are also the result of Bucs players making big plays and forcing the takeaway, but takeaways alone are not enough to carry the Bucs. That much has become obvious. The Bucs have 20 takeaways this season. Only two teams have more and yet the Bucs have reverted back to being one of the most vulnerable defenses in the league.

That’s what they were the first half of last year, when the argument was that Smith’s defense was so complex that the players simply needed time to learn and understand its intricacies. It was easy to buy that argument after the Bucs defense rallied in the second half last year, but that rally has died out, which makes you wonder if that eight-week stretch late last year was an anomaly.

Based on what we’ve seen this year it sure seems like it and based on what we’ve seen of the defense this year you have to wonder how much longer Smith has to prove that wasn’t the case. The Bucs were nothing short of giddy when Smith agreed to come back and signed a multi-year to stay for a while last year. Funny, but you have to believe some would be just as happy right now to see him go.