Pressure Points

June 2nd, 2022

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Every time Todd Bowles replays that fateful snap in his mind, Cooper Kupp still comes down with the damn football.

In one respect, it’s understandable.

No defense seemed capable of stopping Kupp all season and the Bucs certainly didn’t cover him well on the 44-yard catch that set up Matt Gay’s field goal, ending Tampa Bay’s 2021 season.

The stunning reception deep down the middle came against an all-out blitz ordered up by Bowles as overtime beckoned. The Bucs failed to force Matt Stafford out of the pocket before he launched the throw that advanced the Rams into the NFC title game.

Ndamukong Suh came the closest to leveling Stafford, but he didn’t quite get there in time.

Todd Bowles has a firm philosophy, writes Ira Kaufman.

If you think one loss — no matter how bitter — is going to change Tampa Bay’s defensive philosophy this fall, you don’t know Mr. Bowles.

“I’m more of an aggressive guy by nature, but you’ve got to be smart with it as well,” Bowles says, regarding Tampa Bay’s blitzing tendencies. “You can’t hang the secondary out to dry all the time.”

Here’s where Bowles and I digress.

In today’s NFL, given the speed and skills of receivers and the annual rule tweaks designed to protect quarterbacks and increase scoring, you leave your defensive backs out to dry if you don’t blitz frequently.

We know what’s going on with the NFL Competition Committee. Big hits in the middle of the field used to turn games around. Now, those collisions generate a flag and a possible ejection.

Questionable pass interference calls decide outcomes every week. If you don’t complete at least 60 percent of your throws these days, you’re a bum.

Without pressure, you’ve got no chance.

The transition from coordinator to head coach is not going to prompt Bowles to reconsider his defensive principles. He believes in bringing the heat … sometimes you get burned.

“It all depends on the game plan, what we think we can take advantage of,” Bowles says.

The numbers reveal his preferences.

Last year, the Bucs blitzed 313 times, or 40.8 percent of dropbacks. That ranked No. 1 in the league, with Miami the only club even close in sending extra rushers.

That aggression paid big dividends as Tampa Bay led in hurries, tied for first in knockdowns, ranked No. 1 in pressures and seventh in sacks.

Rediscovering Devin White

During the 2020 championship season, only Baltimore blitzed more often than the Bucs, who ranked third in hurries, third in knockdowns, second in pressures and tied for fourth in sacks.

Bowles’ major challenge, Ira explains.

But with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line, Bowles let his front line torment Patrick Mahomes without the benefit of extra attackers. He called off the dogs because Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and company were hounding Mahomes unmercifully all evening.

That’s called being flexible.

When Bowles joined Bruce Arians at Arizona in 2013, the defensive results were immediate. The Cardinals raised their sack total from 38 to 47, leading the league in QB hits.

Bowles hasn’t changed his approach, but he needs to make a change in one regard.

Devin White was a terror off the rush in 2020. registering 9 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Although he led all players with 133 blitz opportunities last year, White saw those splash plays drop to 3 1-2 sacks and 8 tackles for loss, even as he posted two extra QB hits.

White didn’t deposit nearly enough quarterbacks on their rump last fall, so Bowles needs to find a way to maximize White’s effectiveness as a disruptive inside linebacker.

You’d better believe it’s on his lengthy to-do list.

“I don’t think you can get there just rushing four,” he says, “but I don’t think you can be successful just blitzing. We’ve got to have a good mix of it and we try to do that.”

The message from Todd Bowles to his secondary is simple and direct: I’ve got your back. Whether it’s White, Lavonte David, a corner or a safety speeding toward the pocket, he wants his secondary to know help is on the way.

That’s the way Bowles rolls. Those 29 wins in the past two seasons tell you he’s into something good.

Yes, that warranty includes USED vehicles!
Ira drives a 2020 Ford Escape (cherry red).

12 Responses to “Pressure Points”

  1. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Thanks so much, Ira, for reminding us of that final play……I was just about getting over it….

  2. PassingThru Says:

    It was an absolutely stupid play call, and the execution was piss poor as well. Stafford is one of the best in the NFL at tearing apart blitzes, everyone and their grandmother knew that. Stafford is also a rather slow processor when your defense drops back into coverage. Your chances of sacking Stafford are better due to that lengthened processing time. Furthermore, Stafford feasted on the Buc defense earlier in that game when blitzes were called. When Bowles stopped calling blitzes, the Ram’s offense faltered.

  3. '79 Defense Says:

    ^Yeah, thanks Ira.

  4. Crickett Baker Says:

    That was interesting, PassingThru. I wonder why you saw it and Bowles didn’t.

  5. PassingThru Says:

    @Crickett Baker

    Bowles was, even in his own words, trying to be aggressive. I get it, he was hoping to catch Stafford off-balance. This tactic might have worked against an airhead like Goff, but Stafford is one of the best in the league at picking apart a blitz. It was giving him free money.

    Worse, it was a terrible play call. The game clock was winding down, tie game, Rams deep in their own territory. Just limit the gain and force them into OT. That’s poor situational football.

    If you have access to the game tape, watch it again. You’ll see the Bucs struggle early while they blitzed Stafford, then you’ll see them regain a degree of control once they ceased blitzing. Not blitzing is textbook on how to play Stafford. Note how much longer Stafford takes to get rid of the ball. He has trouble tracking the receivers when the defense falls back into coverage.

  6. stpetebucsfan Says:

    And if Suh got to Stafford wonder if some of the comments would have been different?

  7. Defense Rules Says:

    Ira … ‘Here’s where Bowles and I digress.’

    A tad later …

    Ira … ‘Those 29 wins in the past two seasons tell you he’s into something good.’

    Uhhh, wait a minute Sage, can’t have it both ways. Bowles is either blitzing too much or he’s not blitzing enough. (Admittedly there is a 3rd option: his blitzing is ‘just right’ but that sounds too much like the ending to ‘Goldilocks & the 3 Bears’ fairy tale).

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. If the blitzes don’t get there in time, SOMEBODY GOT HUNG OUT TO DRY. It’s a risky tactic, especially against certain QBs (like our own Tom Brady?).

    Last season, LVD was very ineffective blitzing. White didn’t get as many sacks (3.5 vs 9 in 2020), or as many TFLs (8 vs 15 in 2020), especially considering that he blitzed a LOT more (133 blitzes in 2021 vs 91 blitzes in 2020). BUT … White did get more QB Knockdowns (12 in 2021 vs 8 in 2020) and a lot more QB hurries (15 in 2021 vs only 3 in 2020).

    Tells me that he got about the same amount of ‘pressures’, he just wasn’t getting there quite fast enough to get a sack or a knockdown. Interesting considering that Vea was out for all but 5 games in 2020 (when White got all his sacks), but Vea was in for 16 games in 2021 when White’s number dropped. Very strange.

  8. PassingThru Says:


    Adhering to a proven, bad strategy can sometimes work, but that doesn’t mean it is the best course of action.

    During WWII, the Japanese planned out their campaigns using mapped war games. In planning for the Battle of Midway, they devised a worst-case scenario of having three American aircraft carriers present at the battle, which wasn’t expected. During the game, the Japanese lost all four of their aircraft carriers. They didn’t believe the outcome. Their solution? Put the carriers back on the map, which enabled them to “win”.

    In early June 1942, three American carriers were present at Midway and sank all four Japanese carriers. Like any battle, part of the American victory was attributable to luck, and perhaps Lady Luck could have smiled on the Japanese that day. But the Japanese stubbornly ignored the outcome of their own war game, convinced that surprise and belief in their superiority would prevail over a more sound strategy. That invited a disastrous result.

    Sure, the Ram OT could have fallen down. Or Cooper Kupp could have slipped. Or Stafford could have lost his grip and thrown a wounded duck. But now you’re hoping for luck, rather than following a sound strategy.

    Again, adhering to a bad strategy can sometimes work, but that doesn’t mean it is the best course of action.

  9. Goatfarmer Says:

    The Bucs were down 27-3.

    Then the Bucs tied the friggin game with 40 seconds to go.

    Then Todd did his best Simple Jack impression.

    Thanks, Todd.

  10. Brandon Says:

    First off, the majority of White’s nine sacks from the year before came when White came out of coverage to corral a scrambling QB. Many of those weren’t on blitzes. Also… what most people fail to realize, the Bucs lined up with a FOUR man line for almost the entire Super Bowl, scrapping the normal THREE man line. They played 4-2 nickel in cover 2 almost the entire game, daring the Chiefs to run them out of it… Reid and Mahomes’s egos were way too big to dare handoff when it was the smart thing to do.

  11. unbelievable Says:

    “I don’t think you can get there just rushing four”

    Hmmm, this seems terribly pessimistic.

    Is the entire goal to be able to get a pass rush with just four, consistently?

  12. DavidBigBucFan99 Says:

    If the players had kept Kupp in bounds the previous play the clock would’ve ran out end of story and we wouldn’t be having this discussion plain and simple. It wasn’t a stupid call he did what he had to do. Besides, if he didn’t and the pass was still completed you same people would be crying about why didn’t he bring pressure??? The players messed up the alignment not Bowles. You know they get paid more to play right?