Bucs front four out to bring pressure

The Cover 2 defense is built around bringing pressure from the front four. After notching 25 sacks last year, the Bucs sought to improve their pass rush through free agency and the draft. But after one game, the results aren't encouraging.

Tampa Bay needs a pass rush. The Buccaneers knew that entering this season. Last Sunday's loss to Seattle just served as a reminder.

The Buccaneers registered only two sacks and four quarterback pressure against Seattle last week.

While Greg Spires had a sack and five tackles, the rest of the front four had an underwhelming day.

Kevin Carter, an offseason acquisition and the starter at left end, failed to get a sack and had only one pressure.

First-round pick Gaines Adams had one assist and no pressures.

Inside tackle Jovan Haye had one pressure, while the other tackle, Chris Hovan had none.

Free-agent addition Greg White, an Arena Football sackmaster, saw little action.

All of the moves the Buccaneers made in the offseason to provide a shot in the arm to the pass rush didn't help on Sunday.

Spires heard the whispers, and he said Thursday that the pass rush situation isn't as dire as it may be perceived.

"You know what?" Spires said. "It wasn't an ‘A,' but it wasn't an ‘F' either. It was in between. We had some areas, some third downs, where we should have gotten off and didn't and they got a big play. And when we got them off the field and had a couple of three outs. We have something to work off of."

This group started the season behind the 8-ball when the Bucs released elite pass rusher Simeon Rice.

Then Patrick Chukwurah, the starting right end, missed the Seattle game with a partially torn MCL. His absence last week caused the Buccaneers to shuffle their pass rush rotation, and he'll miss Sunday's game against New Orleans.

Right now Spires starts on the right side and Carter starts on the left, with Adams backing up Spires. White can work inside or outside, and fifth-round pick Greg Peterson will likely see more playing time this weekend.

Carter's struggles were unexpected, given than he has 97 ½ career sacks. He had just two tackles last Sunday.

Adams entered the game on the third play and struggled all day on the right side with all-pro tackle Walter Jones, though even elite players struggle with Jones.

The Buccaneers went to great lengths to improve the pass rush in the offseason, but saw little in return last Sunday.

The reasoning wasn't just about sacks, though the Bucs had only 25 last year, one of the worst totals in team history. It was also about creating more pressure with the front four so the Bucs could be less reliant on blitzing their linebackers and defensive backs and play a more fundamental Cover 2 defense.

So far, the results aren't encouraging.

But pressure, Adams said, is what every defensive coach emphasized this week.

"More pressure, we have to get it done," Adams said. "Last week we had some pretty good rushes, but also let the quarterback step up in the pocket and make some big plays. We have to focus this week on the rush, and we have to become one as a defensive line and get more pressure."

The Bucs will likely go deeper into their rotation to help accomplish that. Head coach Jon Gruden admitted on Monday that the Bucs didn't go very deep into their rushing rotation, sticking with Spires, Carter and Adams most of the day. Gruden said the comfortable game-time temperature of 67 degrees had something to do with that. The heat on Sunday will force Gruden to go much deeper.

He only called the pass rush "adequate."

"Spires and Carter gave us an adequate rush and some good physical run stoppage," Gruden said. "Gaines Adams came in and got some good looks for a rookie in his first game. We didn't see a lot of Greg White or Greg Peterson, but because it was so cool there, we didn't feel like we needed to go that deep in our rotation as maybe we will back here in Tampa."

The Seahawks' big plays last week exposed the flaw that crippled the Buccaneers defense last season. The defense would bend but not break, except for a few key plays each game that normally determined the result.

Take Matt Hasselbeck's 49-yard completion to Bobby Engram on 3rd-and-12 from the Seahawks 44, which set up their first points of the game. On that play, the Bucs only succeeded in forcing Hasselbeck to move up in the pocket before he passed. Neither of the ends on the play was able to get a hand on Hasselbeck.

Getting at least a hand on Hasselbeck may have made a difference, but Adams and Carter were a half-step too late.

That gave the Seahawks some much-needed momentum, as they took the lead later in the quarter.

The Seahawks' game-clinching touchdown also came on third down, a 34-yard pass from Hasselbeck to Maurice Morris. On the play, the Bucs were unable to get pressure on Hasselbeck.

The inability to stop a team on third down was a consistent problem with last year's defense. But, the Seahawks were only 4-of-12 on third down last week.

But two big plays led to 10 points last Sunday and the Bucs must correct that, Spires said. The inability to rush the quarterback leaves linebackers and defensive backs vulnerable in the Cover 2, which leads to the big plays.

Applying a constant rush to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is a big key to Sunday's game. Brees was only sacked one time last week, but the Colts put him under so much duress that Brees threw two interceptions and finished with a 58.2 quarterback rating, by far his worst in New Orleans.

The Bucs need to increase the pressure they can impose on starting quarterbacks. If the Bucs keep their current pace, they'll finish with only 32 sacks, which is better than last year's 25.

But not by much.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.

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