TAMPA — The players and the schemes have all changed, but the standard the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold themselves to on defense is the same now as it was when Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch were playing for them.
If the Bucs can hold their opponent to that, they'll usually walk away from a game feeling as if they played well enough to win. It's been a while, though, since the Bucs walked away from a game feeling that way.
Since allowing an average of 17 points through the first four games of the season, the Tampa Bay defense has surrendered an average of 29 points in each of its past three outings.
“That is obviously not the standard we've set for ourselves,'' Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said Wednesday. “That is not what we're looking to do at all, and we don't plan on letting that happen again.''
The funny thing about plans is, they often go awry. With a road game at Seattle coming up on Sunday, the plans the Bucs have for regaining their defensive standard of play could quickly go haywire.
Led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, who is as much of a running threat as a passing threat, Seattle has scored 205 points this year, making it the seventh-most prolific scoring team in the league.
The Seahawks averaging 25.6 points per game, which is ninth in the league. And Wilson, who is the league's sixth-rated passer, might not be their most dangerous weapon.
“I talk about (Wilson) because everything goes through him, but if you don't stop (running back Marshawn Lynch), you'll have a long day,'' McCoy said. “He's probably the toughest running back to bring down in the NFL.
“He runs very hard and so it all starts with stopping him. And we won't be able to do that with just one man trying to take him down. We'll need at least two or three to get on him to take him down.''
That's a standard within the standard the Bucs actually have maintained through their slump. By getting a lot of “hats on the ball,'' as they say, Tampa Bay's run defense ranks seventh in the league.
They have, however, struggled to stop running quarterbacks such as Wilson. Just a week ago, the Bucs allowed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to run 11 times for 50 yards, including runs of 16 and 19 yards.
“When you have a guy that's supposed to contain (the quarterback) and he doesn't, you can't do that,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “You have to (play) the scheme and let the plays come to you. So that is part of (the problem).''
The Bucs' pass defense is an even bigger part of the problem. Though its 19th ranking suggests it is not as porous as a year ago, when it ranked last in the 32-team league, it has been victimized repeatedly for big plays in recent weeks.
In the past three games, the Bucs allowed 11 passes of 20 yards or more, including one of 54 yards, two of 44 and touchdown passes of 36, 37 and 47.
Poor play in the secondary is one reason the Bucs have struggled to stop big passing plays, but an inability to get to the quarterback or take him down when they do get to him has added to the defensive woes.
The Bucs recorded three sacks against Newton, but Schiano said he counted at least six other sack opportunities that weren't realized because the Bucs didn't carry out the play properly.
“The biggest thing defensively, in my estimation, is precision,'' Schiano said. “We had free blitzers to the quarterback (against Carolina) and we were on the wrong shoulder and he escaped as a result of that. When you create a free blitzer, meaning no one blocked him, you can't do more than that. You have to make that play.''
You have to make plays in front of your goal line, too, and the Bucs inability to do that in recent weeks has added to their woes. After giving up only four touchdowns in 14 red-zone situations through their first four games, the Bucs have given up eight touchdowns in 11 red-zone situations in their past three.
That some of those situations were the result of giveaways is not an excuse for allowing the big scores, Schiano said.
“If we give them a short field we still have to be able to make them attempt a field goal,'' Schiano said. “That's always been our philosophy. If they get into that red area, we have to make them attempt a field goal.
“That way, at least, you have a chance to block (the field goal attempt). And they have a chance to miss it, too. It takes a lot of threes to win games, but sevens, they add up much quicker.''
What they've added up to for the Bucs is an ongoing losing streak. But the ability to slow offenses earlier in the season is one reason Schiano believes they can slow them again and regain their defensive standard.
“We've been there at times this year, so it's not like we're trying to do something we haven't done,'' he said. “So, what we've done is kind of hit the re-set button a little bit here this week, because if we can just get back to doing what we do on defense, we'll be fine.''