De­fense eyes take­aways

First half pro­duced the worst turnover dif­fer­en­tial in NFL

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS FRIDAY - By Ed­uardo Encina

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.”

JOHN AMIS/AP

Ger­ald McCoy and the Buc­ca­neers’ de­fense have forced just six take­aways this sea­son, sec­ond fewest in the NFL.

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