Commentary | Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass defense on pace to become worst in NFL history

adell@bradenton.comDecember 16, 2012 

— The best way to describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' pass defense: Befuddled, confused, bewildered, misbegotten.

But why waste the verbiage.

Terrible will suffice.

The Bucs' pass defense is so bad that statistically it is on pace to become the worst in NFL history.

It ranks 32nd out of 32 NFL teams in allowing 311.6 yards per game through the air, a pace that would surrender 4,986 yards and break the mark the Packers set last season (4,796).

Last week, the Bucs made Philadelphia Eagles rookie Nick Foles look like Drew Brees. Today, they face Brees up close and in person. The last time that happened, he threw for 377 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-28 Saints victory.

The Bucs' woes in the secondary should not be a surprise. They took a risk at cornerback heading into the season despite it being one of the most critical positions in the NFL.

General Manager Mark Dominik, perhaps with the urging of Bucs rookie head coach Greg Schiano, treated the team's cornerback woes like a bad cold that didn't need a major fix. Instead it has become a nightmare.

So here we are. Cornerback headache No. 1 Aqib Talib has been shipped out, and Eric Wright is serving a four-game suspension for drug use, which should not surprise anyone who did a background check on the troubled young man with mediocre skills.

The Bucs' decision to pass on a cornerback in last April's draft and move down two spots to select safety Mark Barron (seventh overall pick) has drawn criticism, but it enabled them to package a deal to move back up and select running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David, who have become stalwarts.

It could be argued the Bucs could've found a better way to get Martin and David and still selected coveted cornerback Morris Claiborne. But that is an unknown, and they were on the clock.

The jury is still out on Barron, whose coverage skills have been questioned and glaring, but the verdict is in that acquiring Wright is turning out to be catastrophic.

It's even more glaring considering the 6-7 Bucs have lost three games by two points or fewer and six by seven or fewer. On the other hand, they've only beaten one team with a winning record in 7-6 Minnesota. They went 0-4 against the NFC East, which has some pretty good quarterbacks in Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III.

Their disappointing loss to Philadelphia all but took them out of the postseason chase, and the blame goes back to those cornerback woes.

"Forget who had more points. We were not the best we could be," Schiano said. "The winning and losing is what we get judged by, and we lost. Not playing our best and losing the game ,if you are not sick then there is a problem. That is where I am with the thing."

It has been a revolving door at cornerback with undrafted free agents and guys who are not of NFL caliber creating an Achilles heel in the back of the defense that quarterbacks can't wait to attack.

But even if the 6-7 Bucs don't make the playoffs, it is important for Schiano to finish the season strong. He is in the midst of instituting a cultural change, and a 9-7 or even 8-8 record gives him equity with his players.

Brees is vulnerable. He and Andrew Luck top the NFL with 18 interceptions, though the Saints quarterback also leads the league with 32 TD passes. Tampa Bay and New Orleans each have lost three straight, and Brees has thrown nine interceptions during that stretch.

Barron likely will have the daunting task of covering Saints Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, who didn't play in the first meeting between the teams.

"I think he (Barron) is holding up fine. You are going to make some mistakes; there are some veteran guys that will make mistakes," Schiano said. "But he is learning that this is different, and the skill people you have to cover at this level, they're the elite people in the world at what they do. But overall I think he's done good."

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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