The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have invested a wealth of resources in the draft, free agency, and coaching to create a physical defense that could compete head-to-head with divisional rivals like the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
More importantly, the team has expressed a desire to regain a sense of lost identity that hasn’t been seen since Monte Kiffin, whom Greg Schiano actually visited during his early coaching days when he was an assistant at Miami.
In the late 1990s through the mid 2000s, Buccaneer defenses under Kiffin, who transcended both the Dungy and Gruden eras, were among the most feared in the league, and they made opponents pay.
There was no shortage of physical play Sunday against the Saints, in a game that saw Saints quarterback Drew Brees get pummeled by defensive end Adrian Clayborn and tight end Jimmy Graham get contorted by Ahmad Black.
Those impact plays and a changing league now focused on player safety more than ever before, have come with a hefty price tag in the form of penalties, losses, fines, and possibly a suspension.
Monday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the league is considering suspending Bucs safety Dashon Goldson for his hit on Saints running back Darren Sproles.
Last week, Goldson was slapped with a personal foul for a hit on Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland and later received a $30,000 fine for the hit due to “unnecessarily striking a defenseless player in the head and neck area.”
Mark Barron also drew a personal foul for his hit on Jeremy Kerley, in which the Jets wide receiver suffered a concussion, but the league didn’t fine him due to the fact that he didn’t use the crown of his helmet.
Goldson’s status as a repeat offender doesn’t help the cause, especially given that he is a team captain, and many younger players like Barron have emulated him. Opponents respect him.
“He’s a very chippy player and I like it,” said Graham, when asked about Goldson. “I think it’s awesome to have him in our division; he’s a big challenge. You’ve always got to know where he’s at and you’ve always got to be looking for him so for me, I love it.”
Graham also said he didn’t have a problem with the hit he took from Black. “You know, I’m a big guy, 270 [pounds], so I can take hits like that.” He added, “That’s just the nature of the position, especially in our offense.”
The league doesn’t see it that way, however. One of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL, Goldson has been flagged with personal foul penalties 15 times since 2010, more than any other player in the league, according to Shefter.
This certainly doesn’t bode well for the team moving forward, in a league that is distancing itself from the style of play that made guys like Ronnie Lott household names.
How would Lott have fared in today’s NFL, which has become so tilted towards protecting offensive players like the defenseless receiver and even quarterbacks escaping the pocket.
It seems puzzling that the league wants to reform player habits and refine technique, something that is done through repetition, yet they don’t really afford players the opportunity to do so in practice.
“We just need to keep working on the strike zone, making sure we’re hitting where it’s legal,” said head coach Greg Schiano.
“You don’t get to practice that, because you don’t get to hit live during the week, so you just have to emphasize it.”
Whether the Bucs or any other NFL team like it or not, these new league rules are here to stay, and curtailing Goldson and the rest of the defense’a play will have to be a priority, or it will continue to cost them.
Up until this point, Goldson’s pocketbook has absorbed the blows just as fast as he can deliver them on a weekly basis. A suspension would be the first time he’s forced to sit out a game for it.
The Bucs cannot afford to be without him when facing Tom Brady and the Patriots next week. They’ll rely on him when the Philadelphia Eagles come to town too.
The team can also not afford mistakes like Lavonte David’s hit out of bounds on Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
David was fined $7,875, a relatively small number compared to Goldson’s, but the 15-yard penalty essentially handed the Jets a game-winning field goal.
But the fact that the last two games have been won by just that — field goals — penalties need to be a concern for the coaching staff and taken seriously by players.