Todd Bowles reveals where the Bucs defense needs to improve

Any coach in the NFL will tell you that there is room for improvement on the team they lead. Not every area is as recognizable as it is for Todd Bowles and the Bucs looking back at the 2022 season and heading to 2023.

The defense was the unit that Tampa Bay got second consecutive NFC South title. And the defense was able to keep the Bucs afloat in games while the offense struggled. The fact that the Bucs had a 7-3 record in games where the defense allowed 21 points or less indicates how important they were to keeping Tampa Bay competitive. That includes going 4-0 in those games for the last nine weeks of the regular season.

Todd Bowles knows exactly where defense needs improvement

That said, there were glaring gaps of underperformance not seen since Todd Bowles started calling defensive plays four seasons ago. He discussed these areas in detail during his speech at the annual NFL meetings this week.

Bucs HC Todd Bowles – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“As a defensive coach, you always want them to do more,” said Bowles. “And they play well sometimes, I don’t take anything away from them, they play well sometimes, but I felt we should have had more turnover, we need to be better at the match game this year. There are always things to get better at.

“I don’t bash them because I think they play hard and I think we’re doing a lot of good things, I just think we need to clear some things up mentally and be on the same wavelength to get better.”

The two areas Bowles identified were turning over and stopping the run. Those are not only perfect, but were very surprising mistakes last year given the high expectations. Tampa Bay amassed 20 turnovers last season, including just 10 interceptions and 10 fumbles. In 2021, the Bucs recorded 30 turnovers off 17 interceptions and 13 fumbles.

It wasn’t necessarily the huge drop in interceptions, but it was the dropping of the football on interception opportunities and the inconsistent ability to knock the ball out of the opponents’ hands. Bucs fans should be thrilled to have the dynamic duo of Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean back together at cornerback. But one place where those two struggle is creating takeaways. Only three players on the roster had at least two or more interceptions last season. They had double that amount the year before.

But what came as the most stunning drop was Tampa Bay’s struggle to stop the run game. For many years this was the calling card of a Bowles-led defense. Teams previously refused to run the ball against the Bucs, opting instead to make short passes because it was typically a futile thing to do.

For example, teams averaged 92.5 rushing yards per game against Tampa Bay in 2021. Those numbers went all the way up to 120.7 yards per game last year. Maybe it was injuries along the defensive line, players getting older or the young guys who weren’t ready yet. But the Bucs’ struggle to stop the run was surprising.

Lavonte David mirrors the feelings of Todd Bowles

Bucs Lb Lavonte David and Co-Dc Larry Foote

Bucs LB Lavonte David and co-DC Larry Foote – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Interestingly enough, a week before Todd Bowles commented on defense, legendary linebacker Lavonte David talked about where he thought the unit could improve heading into the 2023 season. It’s no surprise that both men had similar answers, and David even identified another issue that needs to be addressed.

“Take the ball away and third downs,” said David. “[Those are] the most important things. When you look back at the season and think a little bit, you get a lot of free time and you look back and watch a movie like I did. You see the things that hurt us and I would just say that we didn’t take the ball away as much as in previous years and we didn’t come off the field on third downs as much as we used to.

“That’s something we have to get back to, but ultimately that’s something we have to work on as a group. That’s something we need to put a little more effort into [not having] blown covers and everyone uses the right technique and understands the situations.

As Tampa Bay begins its offseason schedule next month, Bowles and Co. exactly what their focus will be on in the 2023 season.

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