Only nine teams gave up less yardage than the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2015. However, 25 gave up fewer points.
For new defensive coordinator Mike Smith, that’s where the battle lies.
“Ultimately, as a defensive coach, you’re going to be judged on how many points you give up,” Smith said in his opening news conference Thursday. “That’s the bottom line. It’s not yards, it’s not rushing yards, it’s not passing yards, it’s not sacks – ultimately, it’s about keeping them out of the end zone. But we’ve got to focus on getting off the field on third down and taking the ball away and stopping the run. Those would be the three things that I would be talking to our guys about from the very beginning, because a third down stop is like a turnover. You get the ball back for our offense. If you don’t stop them on third down, you’re out there playing another series of downs.”
Smith was the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville when now-head coach Dirk Koetter was the offensive coordinator. He was the head coach in Atlanta when Koetter was the offensive coordinator.
To him, the reunion simply made sense.
“This would be the one place that I would come. I’m very excited because of my relationship with Dirk. We had an opportunity to work in Jacksonville together, as coordinators, and then he was my [offensive] coordinator there in Atlanta. This is really the only one that I would have considered, getting back in it. I’m very excited about the opportunity to work with the staff that Dirk has put together and some of these guys on this team.”
Smith singled out Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David but said it was too soon to talk about personnel.
“I’ve been here a day and a half. I’ve watched from afar, but until we get an opportunity to really look under the hood and get a chance to evaluate what the players were asked to do – sometimes if you don’t know what they’re asked to do, you might not get the right evaluation. So, I’m excited. I think what you have to have to be successful on the defensive side of the football is you’ve got to have the ability to stop the run when people are trying to run the football, because if not, it’s a slow death.”
Smith said the Bucs will show different looks on defense.
“It’s going to be very flexible. I think in this day and age, you have to give different looks. You can’t line up in the same look, in the same front every time. We’re going to have a lot of flexibility and we’re going to identify what the players are capable of doing and try to give different looks to the quarterback. If the quarterback has time in this league, he’s going to be a guy that’s going to be able to cut you up, so we’ve got to do a very good job of putting together a package that is flexible, multiple, yet simple for our players and complex for the quarterback and the opposing coaching staff.
“We’re going to base out of a four-man front, but again, when you play with a four-man front, you over shift and you’re in a 3-4. You start in a 3-4, you over shift, you’re in a 4-3. There’s not a whole lot of difference in terms of what you do, it’s a matter of how you’re going to put your shell in the back end. And I think that’s the thing that you have to do, is you have to give the quarterback different looks.
“Your front, there’s only so many things that you can do. In terms of what you do on the back end, you have a lot more flexibility and I think that’s one of the things that we’re going to look at as a coaching staff is to put our guys in the best position and, in turn, try to make it difficult for the quarterback and the offensive coordinator on the other side.”