NFL Countdown #10: The Buccaneers defense was an immovable object in 2020, allowing just 10 rushing touchdowns in the regular season before keeping the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs out of the endzone entirely in Super Bowl LIV.
Thanks to the absolute dominance of the Buccaneers defense against Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl, even the casual football fan knows that Tampa Bay’s defense is scary. Even some avid fans probably found out that the Buccaneers have a premier defensive unit at some point in 2020 – and that’s all thanks the man, myth, and legend, Jameis Winston.
Jameis Winston was drafted first overall in the 2015 NFL draft, and was named a Pro Bowler as he led the Buccaneers to a 6-10 season in his rookie campaign. Jameis threw 15 interceptions that year, and his offense as a whole ranked 22nd in the NFL in ball security. Over the next four seasons of his tenure in Tampa Bay, Jameis let loose and the Buccaneers ranked 25th, 26th, 32nd, and 32nd in offensive turnovers. Jameis’s final season in Tampa was certainly a spectacle, as fans watched and hoped that he would be the first quarterback to finish a season with 30 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Winston’s final passing attempt as a Buccaneer couldn’t have been scripted any better: a pick-6 in overtime that ended the season and sealed his glorious 30 TD/30 interception season.
Bruce Arians never pulled punches when talking about his frustration with Winston’s ball security, and somehow made the upgrade of the century at the quarterback position after the 2019 season. Arians and general manager Jason Licht were able to convince the best game manager in the history of the NFL to move to Tampa in 2020, and were finally able to capitalize on all of the talent they had stacked up on defense.
The 2020 Buccaneers defense kept all but two starters from their 2019 season, who were replaced by rookie strong safety Antoine Winfield and second-year cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting. The 2019 Bucs defense ranked 8th in the league for yards allowed per play, 7th in rushing touchdowns, and 5th in turnovers generated. Sounds good, right? They also ranked 25th in passing touchdowns allowed and 29th in total points given up. With Jameis Winston under center, the Buccaneers consistently ranked near the top 10 in the NFL in offensive yards, but because of his high turnover percentage, he forced his defenses to play in shootouts every week.
Todd Bowles was brought in to right the ship on defense ahead of the 2019 season, and immediately brought the team to the top end of the league in most efficiency metrics despite Jameis Winston's 30/30 season. Still, the prowess of this defensive unit was being clouded by playing in short-field situations and not getting enough rest because their quarterback was averaging almost two picks per game. They were first and seventh in the league in rush yards and rush touchdowns allowed, but 25th and 30th through the air. Todd Bowles' new defense was allowing just the 8th fewest yards per play, but thanks to their quarterback they had to face the 4th most offensive plays. The mask was finally removed in 2020 when Tom Brady came to town, and his ability to sustain offensive drives without giving up the football showed the world just how terrifying this Buccaneers defensive unit was.
The 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept runners out of the endzone in 10 of their 20 games, and only allowed multiple rushing touchdowns twice. Their passing defense was not as stellar, but as we saw in the Super Bowl, it doesn't really matter how well you defend the pass when the opposing quarterback doesn't have time to throw the football. The Buccaneers ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks (48) and blitz rate (39%), forcing opponents to get the ball out quickly and deliver the 5th lowest average depth of target (7.6 yards). Thanks to their stout defense and a rejuvenated, deep-passing Tom Brady, the Buccaneers won their final eight games and steamrolled the Chiefs to pick up their first Lombardi Trophy since 2002, when they snuck a championship in between Brady's first two with New England. In the Super Bowl, Patrick Mahomes was pressured on 37.5% of his dropbacks and 14 of his 26 completed passes didn't even pick up enough yards for a first down. The Chiefs quarterback was running for his life on every play of the 31-3 Buccaneers blowout in Super Bowl LIV, and it was the first - and hopefully last - time we saw Patrick Mahomes look like a mortal human being.
All Rushing TDs against the Buccaneers in 2020