BY Doug Farrar 08:59PM 12/23/2010

Bucs’ new defense has a few surprises

Tampa Bay’s defense is an offshoot of the old-school, but Raheem Morris is bringing different concepts to the evergreen Tampa-2.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck wil be tested by Tampa Bay's hyperactive defense, but there are chinks in the Buccaneers' armor. (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris may come from the Cover-2/Tampa-2 tree established by Tony Dungy and legendary defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, but he’s worked in a few new wrinkles in his two seasons as the team’s head man. In the early parts of the 2009 season, the Bucs ran a lot of Cover-1 and Cover-3 looks (a single safety up top, with more intermediate coverage) until opposing teams realized that they could go deep on Tampa Bay’s personnel pretty much at will.

Through the rest of that 3-13 campaign, Morris dialed down the fancy stuff as a survival tactic. But through the 2010 season, the Bucs have been as aggressive and multiple with their defensive fronts as any team in the league.

To a degree, they espouse this philosophy because they’re making up for roster holes on the youngest team in the league. This has been especially true up front, where a constant adjustment to a better run defense never seems to pan out.

In 2009, Tampa Bay allowed 4.86 running back yards per carry, the second-worst total in the NFL (only Kansas City was worse). They selected two defensive tackles in the first two rounds of the 2010 draft – Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy and Brian Price of UCLA – and lost them both to the injured reserve list. As a result, they’re even worse against the run this season, allowing 4.98 running back yards per play, which is the NFL’s worst total.

Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who spent 2002 through 2004 in Tampa Bay as a quality control coach and assistant quarterbacks coach, talked about how that defense has changed since he helped design systems against it in practice every day.

“They’re a little different that the Monte Kiffin system I remember when I was down there,” he said. “Raheem’s really doing a great job– he’s mixing it up. They’ve had a lot of injuries, so he’s had to change it up; you can’t just play Tampa-2. He doesn’t have Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks and John Lynch and all those guys, so he has to mix it up. They’re playing every coverage, every blitz, and every front. I think Raheem’s calling (current Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and former Bucs assistant) Mike Tomlin to get some 3-4 information (laughs).

“We have our hands full. I have a lot of respect for Raheem, and Joe Barry, the linebackers coach, and their whole staff over there. Ronde Barber is probably the next nickel back ever; he could be in the Hall of Fame one day for being a nickel back.”

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who has faced the Bucs before, agreed that the film of the current team tells a dfferent tale. “They’re way more aggressive – they blitz much so much more than they ever have; it’s not your standard Tampa team. They’ve got good players. Ronde Barber’s been there a long time, and he’s one of the better nickel cornerbacks going. He does a great job blitzing and a great job tackling. He’s probably the best defensive player, in my mind.”

Barber’s importance cannot be overstated for a couple reasons. First, just as Lawyer Milloy does for a young Seahawks defense, Barber is the kind of mentor/leader who has seen it all and commands the respect of the players around him. Second, as a great nickel (fifth) defensive back, he provides a crucial asset in an NFL that is seeing more and more nickel and dime coverages.

As offenses pass more out of more multiple formations and find different ways to exploit static schemes, teams like the Buccaneers will frequently sacrifice a linebacker or safety to either bring on that extra coverage defender, or set the edge in a blitz package.

It’s a creative series of ideas that can leave a team vulnerable if the personnel isn’t there to back it up, and the Bucs are still putting it all together. Sending extra blitzers puts their corners and safeties on individual islands against quality receivers, and makes it easier for offenses to find rushing lanes.

That’s the challenge when you’re trying to establish a winning tradition; where do you have to use smoke and mirrors because the tea you want isn’t quite there yet? The Seahawks offense, another unit facing that question, must solve the Bucs defense if the playoffs are to be a reality.


The Seahawks put defensive end Junior Siavii on the injured reserve list with a neck stinger and brought linebacker Joe Pawelek up from the practice squad to the active roster. Siavii, who was seeing more and more time as Red Bryant’s replacement at the all-important five-technique end position, started six games and played in all fourteen contests before he was hurt in the Week 15 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Pawelek signed to Seattle’s practice squad on September 6.

After missing Wednesday practice with various ailments, linebacker Lofa Tatupu (knee), defensive end Chris Clemons (ankle), and center Chris Spencer (shoulder) returned to action on Thursday. Cornerback Marcus Trufant (back) was held out of practice, as was linebacker Will Herring (hamstring).