Posted by Andy Benoit
Just how bad is the Buccaneers run defense these days? Before Sunday’s game, Sean Payton told FOX Sports in the broadcast meeting that he’d be irritated if Saints running back Chris Ivory failed to top 100 yards on the ground. Payton surely presented his expectations as confidence in his player rather than disrespect for his opponent. But come on: how often does a coach place such high expectations on an undrafted rookie?
Ivory, of course, lived up to those expectations. Quite easily, in fact. He topped the 100-yard mark on his 10th carry, which came with just under 12 minutes left in the third quarter. Ivory finished the day with 15 carries for 158 yards. And it wasn’t a Barry Sanders-like 158, either. Ivory’s stats weren’t buttressed by one or two breakaway runs; his longest carry went for 33 yards.
Ivory shows some encouraging traits. He’s compact and runs with very good balance. He’s not a burner, but he accelerates well enough. That said, this was a classic case of a good running offense gashing a very poor run defense.
Ivory wasn’t the only Saint who had success on the ground. The box score shows Julius Jones gaining just 32 yards on nine carries. But a lot of those yards came late when New Orleans was running out the clock. When Jones got touches within the flow of regular offense (i.e. when the Bucs couldn’t load up the box and only think about defending the run), he consistently found daylight.
Tampa Bay currently ranks 31st against the run. Last season, it ranked dead last. The Bucs spent their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. McCoy was a complete non-factor against top-echelon guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks. Price is still coming off the bench behind Roy Miller (who, by the way, was manhandled on more than one occasion Sunday).
As weak as the Bucs are inside, their real problems are outside. If anyone has footage of defensive end Michael Bennett NOT getting stood up and locked by a run-blocker, please send it this way. Playing behind ends that can’t set the edge, finesse-oriented outside linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black are easily exposed as liabilities in traffic.
The Bucs run defense will get better at some point. After all, it’s not uncommon for defensive tackles to struggle as rookies. And Hayes and Black are both capable players when operating in space (at least Hayes is, anyway). But from the looks of things, “some point” won’t come until at least 2011.
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