The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary ended up being the strongest unit of the team on either offense or defense. According to Pro Football Focus‘ secondary rankings for the 2016 season, the Buccaneers’ had the 15th best secondary in the NFL. It was an improvement from their 25th ranking entering Week Seven.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Secondary Analysis
Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that the Buccaneers, who were 2-3 after five games, played their best football of the season after Week Six. The Buccaneers went 7-4 in their last 11 games to finish 9-7 for their first winning season since 2010. They just missed the NFC playoffs to the Detroit Lions on a tiebreaker.
The passing defense did put up two dreadful performances against two of last year’s best quarterbacks in Derek Carr and Matt Ryan. The Buccaneers allowed 498 passing yards in a week eight overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders and 325 passing yards a week later to the Atlanta Falcons. The Buccaneers allowed an average of 281 passing yards in their first eight games. The team was also 3-5 at that point.
Then in Week Ten against the Chicago Bears, the Buccaneers gave up 220.5 passing yards per game in their last eight games. They didn’t yield 300 passing yards in a game. In two games against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, the Buccaneers allowed an average of 271 passing yards.
The Buccaneers also started piling up the interceptions. The pass defense had four interceptions through their first eight games, but 13 interceptions in their last 11, including three in a win over Brees and the Saints. The Buccaneers had 17 interceptions as a team, which was tied with four other teams for the second most in the NFL.
The improvement of the Buccaneers’ secondary evolved in a way that had to be contrary to the front office’s expectations, but satisfactory nevertheless.
The Top Performers
The Buccaneers signed corner back Brent Grimes to a two-year deal last March. Grimes spent his first six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and his next three with the Miami Dolphins. He made the Pro Bowl four times, including three consecutive times with the Dolphins.
Although he turned 33 this past season, Grimes could have made the Pro Bowl again after he led the NFL with 24 passes defended and had four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Pro Football Focus graded Grimes as the top coverage player, top run defender, and top overall player in Tampa Bay’s secondary.
The Buccaneers selected corner back Vernon Hargreaves with the 11th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Hargreaves started all 16 games as a rookie and finished third on the team with 68 tackles and was tied for second on the team with ten passes defended. According to Pro Football Reference, Hargreaves had an approximate value of six, but he had just one interception and just one forced fumble despite being the most targeted corner in the league and allowing over 1,000 receiving yards.
Bradley McDougald was the most consistent player in the Buccaneers’ defensive backfield. He played in and started all 16 games, had two interceptions and 10 passes defended. McDougald ranked second on the team and tied for 13th in the NFL with 79 tackles.
Chris Conte appeared in 14 games and started 11 games at free safety and had 54 tackles and two interceptions with one returned for a touchdown. Conte posted an approximate value of five, which is just slightly above his career suboptimal average of 4.6.
Keith Tandy was the Buccaneers’ best defensive player in the final quarter of the season. He played in all 16 games and started the last five games of the season. In those games, Tandy had 34 of his 41 tackles and all four of his interceptions.
Alterraun Verner played in all 16 games, and despite starting just three games, managed to snag an interception and has had at least one interception every year in seven seasons.