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Bucs hope a home game against Rams fires up their defense

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Finally, the Tampa Bay Bucs come home.

After spending the first fortnight of the season on the road, the 1-1 Bucs play against the Rams at 4:05 p.m. Tampa Bay is coming off a sobering 40-7 loss to Arizona.

“It’s fantastic to be at home, number one,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “As I said many times, we’re one of three teams to start the first two games on the road and we’d love to be 2-0, but we’re 1-1 and we’re really excited to be coming home. And it is very important that we defend Raymond James and that we make that a tough place for anybody to come in to play. But before you can put a streak together, you’ve got to get the first one.”

The Bucs are last in the NFL in turnover margin at minus six. They’ve turned it over six times and have yet to have a takeaway. Quarterback Jameis Winston had four interceptions and a fumble Sunday.

Part of that, Koetter said, is because of his youth.

“I think experience and playing more always is going to help,” Koetter said. “When you listen to veteran quarterbacks talk, they usually use a term like, ‘the game slows down’ for them. I think when you go back and look at game tape of younger quarterbacks – Jameis included in that group – often times when they make mistakes they’re maybe a little bit late and maybe they know, so they try to rush it a little bit and then they’re not quite as accurate. Or when they’re under duress and they don’t maybe have their balance where they need to and the ball might sail. Those are usually causes of interceptions.”

This week’s opponent, the Rams, are 1-1 even though they have scored only nine points in two games.

“Don’t be fooled by that,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “They can put up numbers and they have a lot of playmakers. One of the best running backs in the league [Todd Gurley), (wide receiver) Tavon Austin is unhumanly fast and (wide receiver) Kenny Britt, when he’s on, he can pile up the numbers. And (quarterback) Case Keenum (isn’t a) joke either. He gets the ball out of his hands really quick. So don’t be fooled by what you’ve seen in the first two weeks – this is a week-to-week league, anything can happen. We can’t be going to the game (saying), ‘Oh, well they haven’t scored touchdowns,’ so what. They could score 10 on us, that’s what the NFL’s about. But we have to do our best not to allow that to happen.”

Through two games, the Bucs’ defense has surrendered too many explosive plays, says defensive coordinator Mike Smith.

“We’re giving up way too many explosive plays and really it’s about us, not necessarily about them,” Smith said. “And again, probably could’ve been a different call and maybe put them in a better spot, but when we make the call we’ve got to go out and we’ve got to execute it. We haven’t executed in the first two games. We’ve had 12 plays that have gone for over 400 yards. Sometimes they’re missed tackles, sometimes they’re missed assignments and sometimes they’re bad calls by me. So we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to tackle better, we’ve got to execute better and I’ve got to make better calls.”

Smith said the team is still learning his style of defense.

“Well this is all new for them and I don’t think you can really say what kind of defense we’re going to be until we’ve got at least four games under our belt,” Smith said. “We haven’t experienced a lot of things in the regular season. In the preseason you’re getting vanilla looks, we’re doing vanilla things, so it gets a little more complicated. The guys are working hard at it and I’ve got to find – and we’ve got to find as a staff – the fine line where we don’t put them in situations if they’re not ready for it.”

Last week, linebacker Lavonte David didn’t make a tackle.

“There were some opportunities for Lavonte, but not many,” Smith said. “The way that the plays were run, he didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities. We were not nearly as active, across the board. When you start to look at your tackle chart at the end of the game and you see that your defensive backs are leading, it’s not a good week for the defensive coaching staff. We want to see, in an ideal situation, we want to see our linebackers have a lot more production than we had in the game last week. I don’t think that there’s ever been a game that Lavonte’s been shut out, in terms of making a mark on the stats board. He was a little bit banged up and this time of the year it starts to happen, you see it with every team in the NFL.”

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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