Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tampa Bay Defense

by: Michael Steffes

The Seahawks are visiting the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday, and the two teams offer an interesting juxtaposition in defense right now. And not only in how they are performing.

To begin with, the Seahawks head into to Tampa with the 27th ranked defense, and are clearly underperforming compared to expectation. The Bucs currently have the 13th ranked defense in yards allowed, and have once again produced one of the better overall defenses in the league. It looks entirely possible that Monte Kiffin will once again find his defense in the top 10 at the end of the year, something that has happened in 8 out of the last 9 years, I believe.

The Seahawks have built their defense on talent. This approach shined last year, with the team producing four defensive Pro Bowlers. The Bucs defense played very well last year with no defensive Pro Bowlers [Derrick Brooks was an injury replacement]. Their strength comes from their system, the infamous Tampa 2. Monte Kiffin teaches his players this system and gets mostly flawless execution of it. They do this without top-notch talent. While the Bucs do have some good players, they seem to get more out of lesser players through the way they play defense. Right now, the Hawks are getting less than their talent would suggest out of their players. There are two reasons for this: one is the offense, and the other seems to be the players trying to do more than they are asked.

The moral of this story is that defense can be played in many different ways, but the best defenses in the league play together as a unit, despite not having Pro Bowl talent at every position. Last year, the Bucs were able to plug in young safeties and improve their defense dramatically from the year before. The Seahawks showed dramatic improvement by signing expensive veteran players who have struggled in their second year and now must be re-evaluated at year's end. Hopefully, in the coming years the Hawks will be able to get their defense to play together as a unit, much like the Bucs. It sure would make it easier to allocate more resources to the offense.

Having a good offense can help a defense dramatically. The only year the Bucs' defense fell out of the top ten was 2006, a year in which they had major QB issues and their offense was barely NFL caliber. By solving that issue, they were able to again bring their defense to an elite level with the addition of only a few young players. The offensive struggles affecting the Hawks defense is something Mike Sando did an excellent write up on earlier this morning. Check it out. I agree with what he is saying wholeheartedly; however, he fails to mention that this defense's struggles really can be traced to the end of last year, a time when the Hawks were moving the ball fairly well.

Later I am going go through the Hawks defense player by player. I think it will better illustrate that, despite this year's performance, Hawk fans can reasonably expect this to be a good unit going forward, assuming the players adapt to whatever system is being used next year and learn to execute it better than the current one. ~END~