Three weeks into the 2012 season, it was clear that Tampa Bay’s defense was a completely different animal from the on that finished the previous season on a significant slide. Not everything was perfect – a very tough afternoon in pass defense in the Meadowlands in Week Two being the most obvious example – but the Bucs were clearly improved in a number of areas.
One of those was how well the team was able to fare inside its own 20. Through those first three games, the Bucs ranked first in the NFL in red zone defense, having allowed just two of 11 opponent trips inside the 20 to turn into touchdowns.
A narrow loss to Washington in Week Four included two touchdowns in three red zone trips for the Redskins, but that may prove to be the exception rather than the beginning of a downturn. Last Sunday, the Chiefs managed two trips into the Bucs’ red zone but were turned away once by an interception and held to a field goal on the other.
Thus, after five weeks, the Buccaneers still ranks second in the NFL in red zone defense. Here are the top five teams, ranked by touchdown percentage:
|2. Tampa Bay||16||4||25.0|
“That’s the ‘tight zone,’ man,” said DT Gerald McCoy. “That’s where you’ve really got to be on it because a lot of things can hurt you the closer you get to the end zone. But it also limits a lot of things offenses can do. We’re coached to be a smart defense and we know that, so we just kind of cut off a lot of stuff and limit them to a few plays.”
Like McCoy, second-year linebacker Mason Foster believes a lot of the team’s success inside the 20 can be attributed to some astute defensive playcalling and game-planning.
“It’s a great scheme,” said Foster. “We’ve got great coaches, Coach [Bill] Sheridan dialing up a bunch of great calls. Things when you get down in the red zone. Everything tightens up, and guys tighten up and make the plays that come their way, and we just stop people.”
The Bucs’ red zone defense is not only dramatically improved from a year ago, but shaping up as the team’s best in a long time. If this defense can keep its red zone TD percentage somewhere in the vicinity of where it is now, it would be the first time the Bucs have had significantly above-average production in that regard since the Super Bowl year and the one that followed. Here are the Bucs’ red-zone defensive TD percentages for the past decade: