By Jeff Berlinicke
Before Buccaneer fans get giddy over the team's surprising two-game winning streak, there's a little matter of defense to discuss.
The Bucs are reeling with injuries and were torched two weeks ago in a 36-35 win over the Washington Redskins, then had to outshoot the Atlanta Falcons, 31-28 on Sunday. Both were wins, but in both games the Bucs were lit up by Mark Brunell who hasn't torched anyone since his days in Jacksonville, and Michael Vick, who isn't known for his passing.
Injuries, of course, are a problem. The last three games, in which the Bucs have surrendered an average of 32 points a game, is the worst stretch in the 10-year history of Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator. They face the Chicago Bears this week, a team not known for its passing, but also a team that shares the Bucs' 7-3 record. It would have been hard to believe at the start of the season that this game could be pivotal in determining home field during the playoffs, so it's important that either someone gets healthy fast, or that the Bucs step it up considerably.
Two weeks ago the Bucs featured the No. 2 defense in the NFL, but they have fallen considerably since. Part of it is a secondary decimated by injuries. Dexter Jackson and Will Allen are suffering from leg injuries, and third-team safety Kalvin Pearson had to start against the Falcons. He was sidelined with leg cramps and replaced by little-known rookie Donte Nicholson while Vick threw for 306 yards and almost stole the game at the end.
Bucs coach Jon Gruden wouldn't use injuries as a crutch during his Monday press conference and lauded the Falcons, but admitted the team can't continue to win while giving up more than 30 points a game.
"Injuries are a part of it,'' Gruden said. "When you don't have your starting safeties and your safeties are inexperienced, that's difficult. So I am not faulting them in any way. But the Falcons were able to beat our coverage.''
It hasn't been all bad. Simeon Rice has been a monster since his suspension prior to the debacle at San Francisco, and the rest of the defensive line has stuffed the run. The defense has been making big plays and forcing turnovers, and they'll get a break when the Bears start rookie Kyle Orten who is winning despite lackluster numbers.
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