A Referendum On Pressure

February 7th, 2018

Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in town. He has hung his hat at JoeBucsFan.com world headquarters since July 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter, Ira busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio Wednesdays during football season, and see him now on Mondays and Fridays at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360. Ira also is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday.


Sunday’s Super Bowl wasn’t exactly a primer on defensive football, but let’s not forget what happened in crunch time.

Tom Brady had the ball with more than two minutes remaining and his Patriots down by only five points. There wasn’t an Eagle fan in North America who was confident in the outcome, not with the greatest quarterback of his generation set to engineer yet another classic comeback.

So what happened? Defensive end Brandon Graham made a play, knocking the ball out of Brady’s hand, and rookie DE Derek Barnett fell on the fumble.

Philly added a field goal and the Pats had to use all of their timeouts to give Brady another chance, which ultimately fell short.

Graham’s strip was perhaps the key play on the NFL’s biggest stage, but it didn’t come in a vacuum. Instead of reaching for oxygen, Philadelphia’s pass rush peaked down the stretch, and that’s a lesson that should resonate at One Buc Place.

“In the fourth quarter, if you have only four rushers, they’re exhausted,” says Tedy Bruschi, the ESPN analyst who earned three Super Bowl rings as Brady’s teammate. “You’re gassed, especially if New England is throwing it over 40 times. With Philadelphia rolling in all these guys, that rush was fresh for four quarters.”

Before the Bucs can even think about matching Philadelphia’s impressive depth up front, Tampa Bay needs to find four effective defensive linemen.

Polar Opposites

The Eagles did such a masterful job adding to the mix, no defensive lineman played more than 64 percent of the snaps this season.

Graham, Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Tim Jernigan and Beau Allen took turns hunting down quarterbacks and stuffing running plays.

As a result, savvy defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had the luxury of dropping seven in coverage. In contrast, Mike Smith was forced to send an assortment of extra bodies in an effort to disrupt the timing of opposing quarterbacks.

“It’s funny,” says Schwartz. “No matter where you go, people want to see the blitz. That’s every fan in the stands: you’ve got to blitz, blitz, blitz. I think what they’re really saying is you have to pressure the quarterback. That’s probably the No. 1 thing in the passing game.

“The ability to do that without blitzing just adds another guy to coverage. If you pressure with four, it just gives you the ability to do so many other things coverage-wise.”

When Dirk Koetter looked back at a disappointing 2017 season, he acknowledged that the lack of pressure from a 4-man rush was a major factor. And by the way, Tampa Bay’s extensive blitz packages rarely generated an effective pass rush.

Game Of Pieces

That’s a story for another day. The point is that New England’s offensive line, so well coached and so cohesive through three quarters, broke down with the game on the line.

During the glory days, the Bucs dominated on defense with a scheme based on pressure from their defensive front. Derrick Brooks, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, registered 13 1/2 sacks in 14 seasons. Fellow linebacker Shelton Quarles dropped quarterbacks 13 times in 10 years.

It helps when you’ve got a Warren Sapp and a Simeon Rice creating havoc up front. Jason Licht knows these Bucs have to overhaul their defensive line. Lack of pressure was a key factor in Tampa Bay’s shocking decline in third-down defense … plunging from first to last.

The Eagles never stopped adding pieces up front and when the last piece of Super Bowl confetti floated down, that commitment to the trenches had fueled a 16-3 season.

Can you blame Buc fans for being jealous?

This upcoming season is shaping up to be a referendum on pressure.

19 Responses to “A Referendum On Pressure”

  1. Bucsfanman Says:

    What else needs to be said?! Seriously?! Nice job Ira!

  2. Pickgrin Says:

    Nice piece Ira.

    Licht needs to draft 4-5 DL players over the next 2 years along with at least 2 promising OL players.

    This team will be in pretty darn good shape once we can get the trenches shored up.

  3. 813bucboi Says:

    we know our needs…..will they be addressed?….

    #NOEXCUSESIN2018!!!!….GO BUCS!!!!

  4. LakeLand Says:

    Too bad Jason Licht haven’t received the Memo.

  5. LakeLand Says:


    Jason Licht will probably draft another Linebacker, Tight End, Safety, with the first 3 picks. I have more confidence in Doug Martin rushing for 2,000 yards next season. My confidence in Licht is at an all-time low. It makes you wish for Phil Krueger to come back.

  6. rrsrq Says:

    Thats why you go all in this year and forget next years draft if Chubb falls to the Bucs, then I would trade back into the first round and get Vita Vea even if it cost next year’s #1. You think Atlanta is crying about what they paid for Julio or the Eagles and Rams for moving up in the draft. Make the defense stout again and you can’t go cheap to get mediocre FA’s, we are not buying that Bucs don’t have 17 million sitting around

  7. Pickgrin Says:

    Lakeland says:
    “My confidence in Licht is at an all-time low”

    Sounds logical considering Licht has drafted 4 solid or better starters with his first 4 picks – TWICE in the last 3 years…

    Can anyone name another NFL GM that has hit on picks 1,2,3 and 4 twice in the last 3 seasons? I’ll wait……

  8. Not there yet Says:

    Teams will compete to get Jim Schwartz next year as a head coach, his offensive coordinator will probably come from Philly coaching staff

  9. StPeteBucsFan Says:


    No Atlanta is no longer crying about the FIVE picks they sent to the Browns for JJ.

    However in his second and third seasons there was plenty of angst. Deprived of draft picks the Falcon defense saw a talent dropoff which probably cost Smitty and Koetter their jobs.

    But I agree with your fundamental concept as long as we’re building the trenches.
    IF we got Chubb…not likely…might as well go all in and trade for VEA. If Noah comes back healthy we would instantly upgrade our Dline which IMHO is our most critical off season challenge.

  10. Dooshlarue Says:


    I support Licht and think he’s done a solid job. I have faith that he will do the right thing and address our horrible DL.
    We need to build a badazz line now!

    If for some reason he flakes out and drafts a TE, LB or K before the late rounds I may have to pay a visit to his house and throw him in his pool.

    In the meantime, be happy and positive….. even though you live in Poke County!

  11. uckinator Says:

    The 1985 Bears made their bones feasting on the quarterback That’s where it starts and ends…!

  12. Defense Rules Says:

    Ira, A-W-E-S-O-M-E article! Jim Schwartz’s line “The ability to do that (apply pressure) without blitzing just adds another guy to coverage. If you pressure with four, it just gives you the ability to do so many other things coverage-wise” was dead-on. Eagles’ DLine depth made it all possible. And that’s what’s killed the Bucs IMO … not only zero depth, but barely adequate starters. No DLine pressure makes your LBs & Secondary easy targets. Now I hope you’re right when you wrote “Jason Licht knows these Bucs have to overhaul their defensive line.” Time will tell.

  13. Defense Rules Says:

    @Lakeland … “My confidence in Licht is at an all-time low.” Mine too Lakeland, but I would love to see him knock it out of the park this off-season. Gut feel is that there’s more to what’s been happening in Licht’s arena than meets the eye. We had $$$ to add oodles of talent last year, yet we went cheap (and yes, signing Baker instead of Campbell was going cheap). We’re presently in the Top-5 in terms of CAP room right now, but we have tons of Priority Needs in several position groups. That’s not on Koetter or on Smitty … THAT’S ON GM LICHT. And on the Glazer Boys (heaven only knows what marching orders they gave Licht prior to last season … all that saving on salaries ended up in THEIR pockets).

  14. B Coburn Says:

    This year we need to both sign two of the best dlinemen we can find and draft two within first four rounds

  15. Kansas95Buc Says:

    So basically Ira is just repeating what the majority of us have been saying for years. The logical question is at what point does the issue get addressed?

  16. BrianBucs Says:

    There is a HUGE difference in the talent level in the Eagles and the Bucs, and not just the defensive lines. Jason did a massive sales job on the Glazers to draft Jameis Winston #1 that he has formulated his draft strategies to get players to make Jameis successful therefore neglecting the defensive line. The Eagles have used very high draft picks to draft some dominators on their D-Line and we see where it got them. And they brought in additions through free agency that played big roles. I wonder if the Bucs even have a DT or DE anywhere on their roster who could break into the Eagles’ DL rotation? Jason has a LOT of work to do to get the Bucs out of the cellar. If he can’t do it then find somebody else who can

  17. RawBucFan Says:

    You must be able to go 10 deep on d-line (4-DT, 5-DE, 1-Swing). Everything starts in the middle by getting McCoy some help & a replacement in case he gets hurt. 1st thing is to resign McDonald to be the backup swing DT. Draft a big, young DT that can start next to McCoy. So now you have McCoy, Rookie DT (Vea, Settle or either NC State DT), McDonald & Stevie T. Find a way to get Bennett back to Tampa(similar to Eagles getting Chris Long), sign Kony Ealy, hope Spence is healthy, draft a young DE either to start or develo, keep either Hayes or Russell. Let Gholston & Ayers battle for swing position. So potentially the d-line has been upgraded to look like this:

    DT- McCoy, Rookie DT, McDonald, Stevie T
    DE- Bennett, Ealy, Spence, Rookie DE, Russell or Hayes
    Swing- Gholston or Ayers

    Just got deeper, younger, bigger. It all starts with a successful free-agent haul.

    Also our 1st Round pick at #7 should be either Chubb, Fitzpatrick, Barkley or Vea.

  18. Mord Says:

    For all the darkness and shade cast on this defensive coaching staff.. what a difference a year makes

    The concern that Mike Smith might leave, and praise for the coaching staff’s improvements on defense were widely discussed around this time last year.




    The need of a pass rush was hotly discussed, too.

    It seems clear that players were not brought in to address that need and take the next step …. and the Bucs pss defense regressed, like described in the Schatz article Joe cited.

    It’s possible that both things are true; could be true that the failure to re-stock and improve the pass rush led to all woes and an overexposure of the secondary .. and could be true that the coaching staff sucks and is ruining young players.

    I don’t feel especially hopeful… BUT .. it does seem possible that adding the right players in the draft and FA could make Mike Smith into an “oh no, he’s gonna leave to be a HC somewhere” story again.

  19. Jim Says:

    What BrianBucs said. You can’t honestly attempt to discuss weakness on the defensive line without noting that last year was all about #weapons4Winston.