No Distractions From The No. 1 Task

July 2nd, 2018


Let’s keep our eye on the ball, people.

This season was always going to be about defense — and that hasn’t changed a bit. Fact of life: if Mike Smith’s group doesn’t improve dramatically, the Bucs are heading to the NFC South cellar for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.

And if that happens, Mr. Smith won’t be invited back for 2019. Simple as that.

Jameis Winston’s suspension may hang over training camp and the preseason, but the real story remains a franchise that has lost its way, along with its identity.

As Brentson Buckner tells it, Tampa Bay’s fan base loves big-time defense. He just got here, but Buckner knows our town.

That was true in 1979, when Lee Roy Selmon led a marauding unit, and it was true in 1999, when Warren Sapp strutted through opposing team’s stretches to announce it was going to be a long day. On both occasions, the Bucs boasted the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Buc fans still love defense, but that affection hasn’t been reciprocated and Smith knows it.

“It’s got to be a hell of a lot better than what we put out there last year,” he says. “I’ve said it many times, the numbers are not anywhere close to what we’ve to go to do. We’ve got to be more consistent in everything that we do and it starts in the meeting rooms and building trust with one another across the board. I think that’s the most important thing.”

While Winston has surely lost some trust with the fan base, this defense has lost touch with its past. Instead of tarnishing the NFL shield, this unit has tarnished a franchise’s reputation for aggressive play.

By The Numbers

No matter what metrics you invest in, Tampa Bay’s defense the past two years has been abysmal … with the exception of a five-game stretch in 2016.

Let’s start with yards allowed. In the past 32 games, Buc opponents have topped 350 yards 17 times. Last fall, Tampa Bay ranked last in total defense. More importantly, the Bucs have yielded 24 points or more 17 times in that same two-year span. And if you take away the glorious five-week stretch that now looks like a mirage, opponents scored at least 24 points 17 times in the remaining 27 games.

No wonder Jason Licht added five new defensive linemen in the offseason.

Hits = Ws?

Gerald McCoy and his new teammates had better hit the Superdome floor running if Tampa Bay has any chance of causing a stir this fall.

Within the first five games, the Bucs will face Drew Brees, Carson Wentz or Nick Foles, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan. Think about it. Brees and Roethlisberger have already earned busts in Canton. Ryan may be on his way to the Hall. Wentz could be the best young quarterback in the league and Foles is a noted Buc-killer.

Not convinced?

When it comes to career passer rating, Brees ranks sixth all-time.

Roethlisberger stands at No. 9, three spots ahead of Ryan. That’s why inspired defense, or more specifically pass defense, is the gateway to a Tampa Bay turnaround.

“Last year, we weren’t really being real with ourselves,” says Lavonte David. “Everybody on the outside had these certain expectations about us, but we weren’t really looking in the mirror and focused on ourselves. This year, we really focused on that.

“I think Coach Koetter and his staff did a great job on that, focusing on getting that out of our past, basically saying that we were poor last year, we were terrible. We weren’t where we needed to be and we need to change that. From that day forward, everybody has been hitting the ground running.”

You can run, but this defense can’t hide. Keep your eye on the quarterback hurries.

If the hits keep on coming, this could be a Buc season worth cheering for.

Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in town. He has hung his hat at 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 at 10:30 p.m. on Spectrum Sports 360 (aka BayNews 9). Ira also is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday show and enjoys beet salads, Riesling, Chiefs victories and needling Joe.

24 Responses to “No Distractions From The No. 1 Task”

  1. Pete I Says:

    While IRA is correct about the D the hope for no distractions is far less likely to occur.

  2. Jim Says:

    What’d he say? I’ve been distracted…

  3. Roy T. Buford Says:

    “Jameis Winston’s suspension may hang over training camp and the preseason, but the real story remains a franchise that has lost its way, along with its identity.”

    Unfortunately, I think the real stories, good and bad, won’t be in the news because of the crap cloud Winston has caused. Few to no one past a few county lines will care about the Bucs. Any national media will always pre or post mention the Winston debacle. This will be jammed in fans’ faces until Winston is in the Bucs rear view mirror. And if the Bucs do really well, or really bad, the refrain of how Winston screwed us all and Tampa suffers will only be bolded.

    Agreed, Smith needs to do well.

  4. Duthsty Rhothdes Says:

    Ugly black cloud looms over this season and the franchise, hoping the bucs D is better but Licht has not signed one single FA that has panned out, and Buckner might be better but why is he in Tampa on a lame duck staff when there were 5 new HC staffs hired in off season w more security?

  5. The Buc Realist Says:


    Any truth to the rumor of all the new techniques that the coaches are going to employ this training camp???? For example, they are going to paint female genitals on the football to cut down on JW3 fumbles????? For some reason THAT he never fumbles/drop!!!!!!!!!!

  6. stpetebucsfan Says:

    Well done IRA.

    With the rolling carnival that will be the FHITP/Grope crap constantly swirling around our team as long as we have Jameis it’s going to be hard to focus and avoid the MASSIVE distractions. Defense and building a decent running game to control time of possession will be our new focus. And IRA is spot on. I’ve fought this most of my fandom here. I love wide open offense…the old AFL stuff…but this fan base…like D.R. believe defense rules. At this point Jameis has forced me to join them. LOL Given the carnival that is already emerging that is where we’ll have to get our jollies…a dramatically improved violent defense and a down your throat running game would cheer me enormously.
    It’s all we have.

    Imagine you were a Buc’s WR/TE. How sick would you get about Jameis questions? In EVERY city…EVERYDAY. How would you feel deep down inside about the guy who was so stupid he went out at 3AM with two notorious dudes? Might you blame all these tedious media questions on him? Just a little?

    We can already see how the fan base is reacting. Anecdotally here at JBF it seems split pretty evenly but very passionately on both sides. That’s cool. Let’s pit our fans against each other. *snark font off*

    There is a solution that could benefit Jameis and the team. Find a team with an aging star QB (not New Orleans obviously I still respect Jameis talent) The Pats and Chargers come to mind. Jameis backs up the star for a year of two…the issue finally cools and he makes one FINAL attempt at saving his career.

    Best the Bucs can hope for is cut their losses. NO it’s not going to set the franchise back five years. For whatever reason this franchise seems to be destined, as IRA pointed out, to be a defensive monster…Chicago is in a similar situation. So we accept our fate and continue building this D while improving our running game. Build both lines. It’s a lot easier to find a Brad Johnson/Dilfer/Flacco and perhaps even a Fitzpatrick than a Dan Marino.

  7. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Ira, no truer words have been spoken here.

    Yes, Jameis screwed up but he is an individual (yes a QB) important but still one person.

    The defense on the other hand is half of the team and they are vital to our success. I am not overconfident like last year but it sure looks like it could be far better…..a superior Dline can solve many problems. Go Fitz, Go Bucs!!!

  8. Mort Says:

    No free agent that’s panned out? Brent Grimes says “Hi”.

    Also maybe Buckner has respect for the HC/DC and the talent we have here and that’s why he signed…

  9. Defense Rules Says:

    Oh Ira, what an awesome article! And it’s about F-O-O-T-B-A-L-L, not about the midnight escapades of Joe’s America’s QB (proud of ya for only mentioning his name once BTW).

    So many great nuggets in there. “The real story remains a franchise that has lost its way, along with its identity.” For sure. This century has not been good to the Bucs’ faithful … yet.

    And this beauty … “Tampa Bay’s fan base loves big-time defense.” Yea verily! Our Bucs have ALWAYS been known for defense, especially during our glory years (yes, I’ll stick with plural).

    And my personal favorite … “No wonder Jason Licht added five new defensive linemen in the offseason.” I’d submit that you left out one word Ira that’s made all the difference. That word is FINALLY. “Jason Licht has FINALLY added five new defensive linemen in the offseason.” Successful teams tweak their starting lineups year-to-year, maybe adding 1 or 2 at the most to the trenches. Teams like the Bucs & Browns get to the point where they continually blow things up, adding a handful of players at a time to a single position group just to look respectable.

    Personally don’t envy what Smitty & company are facing. A MAJOR infusion of new talent, only ONE of whom (JPP) has ever been an NFL starter. A very young Secondary, with 3 rookies vying for a starting gig. An injured starting LB (Beckwith) who may or may not be ready for Sept. Add to that the Jameis ‘hassle’ (that is what it’s now being called, isn’t it Joe?) and yes, Smitty has a LOT on his plate to deal with. That’d be a LOT to ask of any DC, much less one with vultures circling overhead waiting to pick his bones. I really hope that this Bucs’ defense ‘kicks ass & takes names’ like it did back in the days of Sapp, Brooks, Lynch & others. And I’m convinced they will this year. Go Bucs!!!

  10. 813bucboi Says:

    that’s right sage….

    this staff has to produce wins…..point blank period…..


  11. RustyRhinos Says:

    Thank you Ira for what you do. Still sadly laughing.
    “No wonder Jason Licht added five new defensive linemen in the offseason.”

    Add in a more vocal Dline coach, who has his own selection of good tape in the same stadium these new guys will also play in. Shows that it can be done here. Several of these new Defensive Lineman have tap of their own on this same field. I am excited to see how this dynamic works out for us.
    Go Bucs!

  12. Not there yet Says:

    Tampa Bay’s defense the past two years has been abysmal … with the exception of a five-game stretch in 2016.

    So now we say this and give them a 5 game stretch because you don’t want to mention the final stats on the 2016 season. They still barely missed the playoffs and still had a winning season that year last year was different as is every season. Don’t take away the one decent season we’ve had in a decade to exaggerate your point IRA.

    The league takes on its own life every year and the reason for losing has been different each year. It’s not worth mentioning how bad the defense was last year with all the turnover in defensive personnel. Let it go, the bucs aren’t 5-11 anymore that season is over. Jobs are on the line and so are player contacts so I believe this is going to be the most entertaining season we’ve had in a long time. Win or lose this will be the year they turned it around or started over at quarterback and coach.

  13. Joe Says:

    Tampa Bay’s defense the past two years has been abysmal … with the exception of a five-game stretch in 2016.

    >>> So now we say this and give them a 5 game stretch because you don’t want to mention the final stats on the 2016 season. <<< Joe wrote about this much of the offseason.

  14. The Buc Realist Says:


    when did the offense with the QB groper ever have a 5 game stretch?????

  15. Pickgrin Says:

    Nice piece Ira.

    Of course many righteous posters are so obsessed with Ubergate and running the only real franchise QB this franchise has ever had out of town – that their brains can think of nothing else to comment on regarding the Bucs. SMH

    Major defensive improvement is indeed the key to the Buccaneers having a good 2018 season!

  16. rrsrq Says:

    Spot on Ira,

    this is a 53 man roster and yes, Jameis was supposed to drive this engine. This is still likely the most talented offense we have had if Ronald Jones II pans out, we have had a solid running duo with (WDamd Mike Alstott with no receivers(. even when Doug ran wild, we had no receivers), now we have a deep receiving core (we do not know if we have a running game yet). However, I believe Ira said it before, if Jason Licht and DK believe they put a team together, then let’s see a team win. What if jameis got hurt the first game of the season, then they did not do a good job of putting the team together if they go down in the toilet. Did you bring in Fitz to mentor JW or to win if JW went down?

  17. I Bleed Pewter Says:

    We can’t solely rely on our defense now that the league has changed the rules of the game to benefit more offensive scoring. The days of the past are gone, teams just can’t win anymore based solely on defensive play, with a mediocre offense. There has to be balance in a offensively slanted game. The Eagles are a great example of balance, they have a high scoring offense complemented with a really stout defense.

  18. Mike Johnson Says:

    Our the key!! Beleive that. But Ira, I do not like the negative publicity we are getting on the national front. The networks very seldom mentioned us anyways. Now, they can’t stop talking about us…with all the Jameis negativity.
    Jameis needs to WIn this year to turn the tide back. He’s certainly in the Observation Box now more than ever. I see no reason why we cannot win 2 out of 3 with Ffitz at QB. NONE!! No Excuses.

  19. Blind Melon Says:

    This rung true to me, Very Sage-like…

    “…Jameis Winston’s suspension may hang over training camp and the preseason, but the real story remains a franchise that has lost its way, along with its identity…”

    I would challenge a part of the thought though… I don’t think this franchise has ever found it’s way or identity. (Semantics? maybe.)

    When is something lost? As soon as it’s gone. (2003)

  20. jmarkbuc Says:

    Blind Melon

    I thought we had a helluva identity 1997-2003

    I mean other than ’76-’77. All the years in between and since were/are like oblivion. A bad dream sequence.

  21. Lunchbox Says:

    Say what you will, but I think Coach Buckner is going to be the engine that makes our defense formidable once again. Its just a feeling, but his units have had players having career years under his coaching. I think he can get the most out of our D Line. And as the D Line goes, so goes the rest of the defense; so goes the team.

  22. Bucsfanman Says:

    TEAM game fellas! Always has been. Ira is right on the money.

  23. Cobraboy Says:

    The voice of sanity is named Sage.

    This season was never going to be about Winston. It was going to be defense.

    NO TEAM will win with a defense as bad as the Bucs last season.

  24. firethecannons Says:

    Thanks Ira–needed this article–this year I can’t wait to watch defense. I also look forward to following all of our rookies — they all have great potential. I look forward to hearing more about coach Buck. Appreciate Lunchboxes comment as I feel the same. I am sorry about Winston but am ready to move on and enjoy Bucs games, hope we can really hammer the Saints–even if we get beat(and we might not)–a defensive stand would be awesome to see.