Bucs have new direction on defense

Mark Duffner prior to the game at Raymond James Stadium, Aug 31.Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Koetter: "We have to make decisions that give us the best chance for our football team moving forward."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns are a couple of sad franchises that are 1-2 among teams with the longest playoff drought.

Cleveland hasn't sniffed the post-season since 2002, the year the Bucs won the Super Bowl. The Bucs haven't made it to the playoffs in a decade.

Both have No. 1 overall picks at quarterback. The Browns' Baker Mayfield shows promise and mobility. "You can see why he was picked where he was," head coach Dirk Koetter said.

The Bucs are hanging with Jameis Winston, who has lost 10 of his last 11 starts, including his return from a three-game suspension last week at Atlanta.

Winston had one of his better games, throwing for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns. But it was his second-half interception in the Browns' end zone that helped doom the Bucs.

The difference in Sunday's 1 p.m. game is that the wheels may be falling off for the Bucs.

They have lost three games in row, allowing 30.3 points per game in the first half of those contests. Consequently, Mike Smith was fired as defensive coordinator and replaced by linebackers coach Mark Duffner.

Smith's defense was last in total yardage in 2017 and is allowing 34.6 points per game this season, the most in the league. The Bucs are on pace to allow the most points in NFL history.

They have been doomed by slow starts on defense. Tampa Bay has allowed an average of 30.7 points in the first half of their last three games, all defeats.

On Sunday, the Falcons scored on four of their first five possessions to build a 24-13 halftime lead.

Koetter and the Bucs were hoping Smith could solve the problems during the bye week. That might have been a better time to dismiss Smith to give Duffner a chance to evaluate and decide what changes should be made without the immediacy of facing Cleveland Sunday.

"I didn't ever see this day coming but it's here," Koetter said. "So we have to make decisions that give us the best chance for our football team moving forward. That's all you can do."

The Bucs have been particularly abysmal in the red zone. Of the 16 trips by opponents inside the 20-yard line, 15 of them have ended with touchdowns. Of the 48 total red-zone plays this season, the Bucs have no sacks and no interceptions.

Koetter said the biggest problem for the Bucs has been pass coverage, or the lack thereof. Tampa Bay has only nine sacks this season, five of them by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. The Bucs are playing three rookies a significant amount of time - cornerbacks Carlton Davis, M.J. Stewart and safety Jordan Whitehead.

Tampa Bay has a lot of confidence in their ability to beat Baker Mayfield. But the Bucs have grown weary of kicker Chandler Catanzaro.

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular season meeting. Browns lead series, 6-3, winning the most recent contest, 22-17, in 2014. The Bucs are 2-3 at home against the Browns.

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