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Tackling Problems Key in Loss at Carolina

Posted Dec 2, 2013

While Tampa Bay defenders have been fundamentally sound for most of 2013, players and coaches pointed to missed or broken tackles as one of the deciding factors in Sunday's loss to the Panthers

The first time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took on the Carolina Panthers this season, in Tampa in Week Eight, they stumbled in their efforts to contain quarterback Cam Newton in the pocket.  In the Bucs-Panthers rematch on Sunday in Charlotte, they had an uncharacteristic run of broken tackles.

The most important play in Sunday's contest, a 56-yard run by Newton that set up the game's first touchdown, was a mixture of both problems.  The Buccaneers' defense had Newton facing a second-and-11 and a collapsing pocket, with no one open downfield, when suddenly the Panther QB shot around left end and into open field.  It was a bad moment for the Bucs that got significantly worse when Newton evaded a gang of tacklers near midfield and surprisingly broke into the clear.  Only a hustling play by safety Dashon Goldson prevented (temporarily, at least) the touchdown.

Relative to their first go at Newton in October, when Head Coach Greg Schiano estimated the Bucs lost containment on Newton five times, the Bucs did a better job of keeping him in the pocket in Week 13.  Other than the run described above, Newton had just 12 yards on four other carries and did almost all of his damage in the passing game from between the tackles.  Had Tampa Bay's defense combined that with better tackling, they might be looking back at Newton's first run as a small blip in an otherwise strong performance, rather than a game-changing play.  Rookie defensive tackle Akeem Spence explained how Newton escaped the pocket due to an isolated instance of a missed gap assignment, but also bemoaned the rest of the play after that happened.

"We didn't get him to the ground after 17 yards and he got another 40," said Spence. "We just made a lot of mistakes.  Some guys up front just tried to do too much, and we just didn't tackle like we've been doing the last couple weeks.  We weren't getting guys to the ground like we had been the last couple weeks.

-- DT A. Spence upends Carolina RB Kenjon Barner
The Buccaneers have good open-field tacklers on every level of their defense, from defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to linebacker Lavonte David to safety Dashon Goldson.  They have dealt with big backs like Atlanta's Steven Jackson and shifty ones like Detroit's Reggie Bush without getting burned.  They kept scrambling Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson relatively in check and are smack dab in the middle of the league rankings (14th) in average yards allowed after the catch (5.3).  On Sunday, however, they had too many instances of players breaking or eluding tackles and gaining extra yards, and that was a key factor in Carolina's ability to pull away in the second half.

“I was surprised; I didn’t see that coming," said Schiano of the tackling problems.  "I thought we’ve tackled very well for the majority of this season. I think it was the highest missed tackle total that we’ve had. We've got to really get back to basics in that because that’s what tackling is, it’s fundamentals and it’s want-to and our guys play incredibly hard. It’s just one of those days.”

Indeed, effort hasn't been a problem for the Buccaneers all season, even when the losses were adding onto each other during the first half of the campaign.  However, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, whose defining characteristic as a player is all-out hustle, says the frustration caused by some early miscues may have contributed to the tackling problems as the game wore on.

"After watching the film, we know why we lost," said Clayborn.  "We weren't playing with that much passion on every play, we weren't gang-tackling and we weren't doing the stuff we've been doing the past few weeks to win games.  We started off good, but I guess stuff happens within a game and guys get frustrated.  We've just got to learn how to play through that stuff."