Lions Expose Bucs Run Defense in Loss

Coming into Sunday’s game, the Lions’ running game was averaging a mere 3.8 yards per carry. Looks like the Buccaneer defense didn’t get that memo.

For the second straight week, the Buccaneers gave up 180+ yards rushing to the opposition. The Lions ran wild for 181 yards on the day, with 49 yards coming in overtime, in Detroit’s 23-20 overtime win on Sunday. Maurice Morris ran for 109 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown. His 26-yard scamper on the first play of overtime, followed by a 14-yard run by Jahvid Best against a gassed Buccaneer front, put Detroit on the edge of field goal range on the first drive of overtime. An acrobatic third-down catch by Calvin Johnson along the sideline, his tenth catch of the day, put the Lions well in range for K Dave Rayner, who booted a 34-yard field goal for his second career game-winning kick. Johnson, despite facing safety help over the top for most of the game, finished with 152 yards receiving on the day.

It’s never been more obvious just how much of an impact Gerald McCoy made in the middle of the defense. Since McCoy left in the first quarter of the Washington game, the front seven of the Buccaneer defense has been shredded. Roy Miller, Al Woods, and Frank Okam saw time at defensive tackle Sunday, and, according to Raheem Morris, the big guys up front had problems with missing gaps with the game on the line.

“We didn’t lose chute awareness as bad as we did versus Washington, as far as getting the guy on the ground, but it did happen at the end of the game twice,” Morris said. “Those are the two breakout runs against 8-man fronts. But, you’ve got young guys in there. They missed their gap. They didn’t get in their gap assignments.”

Although he insisted that he was not making excuses for Sunday’s loss, Raheem did hint that playing new guys up front might have had an effect on the guys playing around them.

“Missed two gaps up front,” Morris said. “Frank Okam missed a big gap. Al Woods missed one big-time one. Sean Jones missed a fit there. We had guys making turns missing fits. A lot of it sometimes is because you’re not sure, you haven’t played together for a long time. You don’t trust that body in front of you quite the way you should.”

It was interesting to me that Raheem chose not to slide Michael Bennett back over to 3-technique from his left defensive end position. Bennett’s speed was a big weapon against Washington’s zone blocking scheme a week ago, so it begs the question of why he wasn’t put in the middle to utilize that speed in one of the interior gaps on Sunday.

In addition to poor gap responsibility late, Raheem noted that the tackling was not up to par.

“It was the first time we had a bunch of poor tackles or missed tackles that I felt was not our best effort from a defensive standpoint,” Morris said.

Despite the crippling loss, the Buccaneers remain alive for the playoffs. They need a Saints loss to Atlanta in the Georgia Dome and a Giants win at Green Bay to enable the Bucs to control their own destiny again. The good news is that both results are certainly feasible. Even if Green Bay wins, there are Week 17 scenarios that could still land the Bucs in the playoffs.

However, if the Bucs aren’t able to find a quick fix for their suspect run defense before Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle offense come to town this weekend, it might all be academic anyways.