Four of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' five leading tacklers in the 23-17 loss to the Titans on Sunday were defensive backs, a pretty strong indication the Bucs aren't playing well enough up front.
Coach Raheem Morris didn't dispute that idea Monday.
"We've got to play better up front,'' Morris said of the defense, which allowed Titans RB Chris Johnson to run for 190 yards on 23 carries. "Up front, that's where it starts.''
Against the Titans, CB Ronde Barber led the team with seven tackles and CB E.J. Biggers, S Tanard Jackson, S Sean Jones and MLB Mason Foster finished tied for second with five.
The leading tackler among the linemen was DT Albert Haynesworth with four, though his veteran presence has seemingly done little to improve the run defense.
Since Haynesworth was claimed off waivers three weeks ago, the Bucs have allowed 478 rushing yards on 102 carries, or 4.7 yards per carry. Johnson ran for an average of 8.3 yards, a figure Morris said was kept in check only by his defensive backs.
"The DBs kept him in the chute,'' Morris said. "That's why he didn't have the 70-yard runs, the 60-yard runs. They kept him pretty consistent. Their O-line did a nice job of getting up to our (line)backers in the second level in the second half and putting blocks on those guys.
The loss early in the game Sunday of DT Brian Price to an ankle injury likely contributed to Johnson's big day.
"The guys really came out well on defense that first series,'' Morris said. "We got a three and out, and then we really stopped them after (our first) turnover. Then they came back out and we're down 7-3 (after) they got the big kick return, but we played well again and got another nice stop and then I lost Brian at that point.''
Price, who stuffed Johnson for no gain on the second play of the game and later had a run stuff of RB Javon Ringer, was hurt midway through the second quarter. The Titans averaged just 3.4 yards per play before Price was hurt, but gave up an average of 5.8 yards per play after.
Morris was unsure about Price's status for this Sunday's game against Carolina at Raymond James Stadium.
A matter of time
A day later, Morris was asked why QB Josh Freeman chose to spike the ball to kill the clock after gaining a first down at the Titans 34-yard line with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter.
One of the Bucs' basic two-minute drill philosophies, Morris said, is to spike the ball anytime you gain a first down when you have no timeouts left, which was the case on Sunday. Trailing by six points, Tampa Bay needed a touchdown.
"At that point in time, time is a lot more valuable than downs," Freeman said on Sunday. "Obviously, you want to save downs, but in any situation like that with no timeouts left, it's always important that you preserve as much time as possible.''
Signs of the times
If the mounting losses – the Bucs have lost five straight and six of the past seven – is having an adverse effect on players' attitudes and preparation, Morris isn't seeing it.
"I don't see any quit in these guys,'' he said. "I don't see these guys turning it down. They certainly didn't do it (Sunday). We just have to be able to finish games and be able to play better.''