The Bucs ran six straight times with their third-string running back to open the game. Two first downs. We can say fairly confidently that wouldn't have happened last year against the Panthers' hog mollies.
When asked Tuesday what caused the defensive breakdowns, coach Ron Rivera pointed to players pressing.
"I think some of it is trying to do some things," he said. "We tend to try to make things happen instead of just being disciplined and staying on our creases and fighting and trusting the ball will cut back. If it doesn't cut back it will bounce to where everybody else is. We had a couple guys vacate their gaps and the running back cut back or he bent it back into the hole. So again, it's about being disciplined and it's about learning how you fit. Some of these guys are new to what we do and how we do it, they're learning as well. So it's a mix of things."
Rivera didn't name which players pressed most. Short is angling for a big contract extension and could be forcing after a disappointing start to the season. Lotulelei has been the bigger disappointment so far -- for reference, Pro Football Focus ranks Star as their 88th interior defender, out of 111.
The Panthers' defense is allowing 7.7 points per game more than last season. The problem isn't all on a young secondary.
"Some of our guys that didn't play well, they played hard but in some cases too hard," Rivera added about his defense. "Trying to make plays, to do things that aren't their jobs, aren't their assignments, and because of that we made a few more errors. I think we're pressing. There's a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations and these are things that I think we and I have to make sure that we understand. Let's take care of our job first and then go on and go from there. I do think we are pressing. It was interesting to hear some of the names the coaches felt didn't play well and the reasoning. Probably the one thing -- these are some of our really good players that are pressing -- we've gotta be able to get them to understand, 'Hey, let's settle in, let's do our jobs, but let's continue to play hard though.'"
General manager Dave Gettleman's general philosophy is to spend more on the defensive line than the secondary, believing that pressuring the quarterback up front can make up for deficiencies on the back end. After a 1-4 start to the season in which safety Tre Boston leads the team with 2.0 sacks, that plan is floundering.