Defense eyes takeaways
First half produced the worst turnover differential in NFL
TAMPA — Sometimes you can want something too much, and that’s the way it feels for the Bucs defense while searching for ways to create takeaways and level out what has become the worst turnover differential in the NFL.
At the Bucs’ midpoint, their identity is one of a top-flight passing offense and a defense lacking in big-play ability. They move the ball at will, but have committed 21 turnovers. Combine that with just six takeaways — tied for the second fewest in the NFL — and it makes for an ugly minus-15 turnover margin that makes any game difficult to win.
There’s no question there is frustration among defensive players.
Last year’s team had a minus-1 turnover margin, and their 26 takeaways were even between interceptions (13) and fumble recoveries (13).
Understanding that creating turnovers is a mixture of execution combined with a little bit of luck — a tipped ball here or a bounce there — they have held faith that the turnover margin would even out. But that hasn’t happened.
“We’ve got to force them,” defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “Takeaways is great, but if you’re not getting that, you have to force that, and that’s just what you’ve got to do.”
The Bucs have gone 24 straight quarters without a defensive takeaway. Their last takeaway came on a punt return fumble in overtime against the Browns.
They host a Washington team Sunday that will present a difficult task. The Redskins are tied for the third-fewest turnovers (seven) in the NFL.
“You talk it, you practice it, you preach it, you push it,” said defensive coordinator Mark Duffner. “And we’re not going to stop doing that. That’s our goal and objective and that’s absolutely the truth.”
Two years ago, the Bucs were also 3-5, then rattled off a five-game win streak — never a small task in the NFL — and a big part of that turnaround was a plus-9 turnover margin.
“In 2016, when we got on that run, we took the ball away more than any team in the NFL,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “So if we are going to make a run, that’s going to have to be a part of it.”
The Bucs would need a much different turnaround this season. Two years ago, they had a minus-1 turnover margin and nearly twice as many takeaways (11). On their five-game win streak that followed, they had 14 takeaways — including 10 interceptions — and just five turnovers.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said that interceptions are down this season — slightly — and that running backs are protecting the ball better, which means there needs to be more emphasis on better coverage and getting more pressure on the quarterback.
“Quarterbacks in this league are playing at an alltime high level,” Koetter said. “So what do we need to do? We need to cover tighter. We need to get more tipped balls. Pressure. The biggest turnovers in the NFL right now are coming on sack fumbles.”
Gerald McCoy and the Buccaneers’ defense have forced just six takeaways this season, second fewest in the NFL.