For as rough of a night as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had on offense, the first-unit defense, even without projected starting cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Alterraun Verner and Pro Bowl free safety Dashon Goldson, looked strong in head coach Lovie Smith’s debut.
On the first play from scrimmage, All Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy stormed into the backfield, immediately wrapping up running back Jordan Todman for a 5-yard loss. On the next play, defensive tackle Clinton McDonald took down Todman and on third-and-10, once again, McCoy easily slipped past right guard Jacques McClendon, smashing into quarterback Chad Henne as he rolled out of the pocket and forced the Jags to punt.
On the next defensive series, once again, McCoy easily shed left guard Zane Beadles while weakside linebacker Lavonte David closed in on Todman for no gain.On second-and-10, McCoy leapt up and got his hand on the ball as Henne got rid of it. It was nearly intercepted by David, bouncing off of his hands, cornerback Johnthan Banks‘ hands and strong safety Mark Barron’s hands, before it was caught by T.J. Tialavea for a 13-yard gain. Tialavea eventually came crashing into middle linebacker Mason Foster, who lost his helmet on the play.
On first-and-10, Henne was nearly picked off by free safety Major Wright, who started in place of Goldson. On the next play, nickel back Leonard Johnson batted batted down a short pass intended for wide receiver Mike Brown. And on third-and-10, the ball as the ball sailed over Henne’s head, defensive end Adrian Clayborn came charging after it.
Banks showed great anticipation tracking Tialevea on what resulted in a 2-yard pickup but probably would have been a lot more had he not been there. On the next snap, third-and-8 at the Jacksonville 4 yard line, Clayborn leaped up over right tackle Austin Pasztor, batting down a pass intended for Brown.
The second-team unit faired well. Da’Quan Bowers had a big night, lining up on the inside at McCoy’s three-technique spot (Smith may be onto something with that) and tackling running back Storm Johnson for a 2-yard loss. He then stuffed him on the ensuing play for no gain. Defensive end William Gholston also showed good penetration on that series. Defensive end Steven Means recovered another botched snap by Jacksonville, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Connor Barth, Tampa Bay’s first points of the game.
Backup middle linebacker Dane Fletcher tackled Johnson for a 3-yard loss on second-and-6. Inside again on third-and-19, Bowers tipped a check-down pass by quarterback Blake Bortles intended for Johnson.
Wright also tackled Johnson for a 2-yard loss and Means sacked Bortles for a 7-yard loss on second-and-1 just before halftime.
Other highlights for the night included a tackle of wide receiver Denard Robinson for a 2-yard loss by safety Kelcie McCray. In total for the night, there were eight tackles for losses, a sack and four quarterback hits, showing that while the offense had its fair share of struggles, Smith’s defense, in many ways, lived up to its top billing.