ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith hasn’t been all that happy with his defense this preseason.
Oh, he likes that they went into their preseason game against the Bills on Saturday ranked 11th overall in total defense and first overall against the run.
But that’s not good enough for Smith.
He wants more and he spent the past week asking for it.
In particular, he asked his defensive line to create more sacks and he asked his defense in general to force more takeaways.
He got precisely what he asked for during the Bucs’ 27-14 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Before the second-team defense allowed the Bills to make the game interesting in the second half, the Bucs used a pair of sacks and three takeaways to build what proved to be an insurmountable 24-0 halftime lead.
The defense had one of the Bucs’ first-half touchdowns, that coming when a sack by left end Adrian Clayborn and a strip by right end Michael Johnson created a fumble that nose tackle Clinton McDonald grabbed and ran 17 yards with for a touchdown midway through the second quarter.
“We talk a lot about taking the ball away and scoring on defense,’’ Smith said. “To me, it’s not a good defensive game unless we’re able to do that. So I thought the defense did a great job of setting the tempo for what type of day it was going to be.’’
The defense did such a good job of setting the tempo that the players on the offensive side were literally feeling the pressure to keep pace, especially after a sluggish start that included a fumble, an interception and four negative-yardage plays in the first seven overall.
The Josh McCown-led attack eventually caught fire, though, and using a mid-first quarter fumble recovery by linebacker Lavonte David as its boost, it helped the Bucs jump to a 10-0 lead before McDonald rumbled into the end zone for his score.
“That’s the thing with us,’’ said McCown, who completed 13 of 16 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. “The pressure is on us because we know that for our defense, it’s not just about taking the ball away for them. It’s about scoring the football.
“So for us it’s like, we can’t let these guys outscore us. They’re pulling their weight over there and taking the ball away and putting it in the end zone, and so we feel like we have to get it and score, too.’’
The Bucs scored quickly (five plays) after David’s fumble set them up at the Buffalo 39. And they scored relatively quickly (eight plays) two possessions later, getting a 43-yard field goal from Connor Barth.
But it was the offense’s next score that the Bucs felt best about. It marked the first time this preseason that the offense has put together a sustained scoring drive, this one an 11-play, 82-yarder that extended the lead to 24-0 late in the second quarter.
And no one felt better after that drive than rookie wide receiver Mike Evans. When Evans made a double move to break free of coverage and catch McCown’s 24-yard touchdown pass, he finally made amends for an embarrassing rookie mistake last week.
Evans made that mistake during the preseason game against the Dolphins when he was caught from behind by cornerback Brent Grimes, who stripped him of the ball just as he was about to cross the goal line after hauling in what appeared to be a 42-yard Mike Glennon touchdown pass.
“I was telling everybody that I was going to try to redeem myself and I did,’’ said Evans, whose touchdown catch was his first as a pro. “I was talking to Clinton just before that saying, ‘How can you score one before me?’ But luckily I got in, too.’’
Evans’ score put the wraps on a first-team attack that outgained the Bills 151-82 in the first half. The Bills came to life in the second half, though, their first-team offense producing two scores against the Bucs’ second-team defense.
That soured the taste this game left in Smith’s mouth, but he couldn’t have been more pleased with the play of his defense or, for that matter, his offense, which achieved its objective of establishing its ground game.
It wasn’t an exceptional ground game. The Bucs gained 52 yards on 17 first-half carries (3.1 yards per carry), but Smith said it effectively set up some key passes and allowed the Bucs to control the ball.
“That’s what we want to do,’’ Smith said of controlling the ball with the run. “And to be a running football team you need to have attempts as much as anything, and I thought the offensive line did a decent job for the second week in a row.
“Again, I’m very disappointed with how some of our backups played, because it’s about building our 53-man roster and we weren’t pleased with how we played in that third quarter. But we don’t have a whole lot to complain about with how our starters played.’’