Following a strong second half that saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win six of their last eight games, the team announced that they had extended the contract of defensive coordinator Mike Smith. That deal followed Smith undergoing head coaching interviews with Jacksonville and the now-Los Angeles Chargers and offers the Buccaneers’ fans the chance to see continued progress on that side of the ball in 2017.
Smith, who was hired with head coach Dirk Koetter last January, saw his units improve dramatically over the final eight games of 2016. Tampa Bay led all NFL teams over that stretch in the area of takeaways and when it came to stopping teams on third down. In addition, they were fourth-best in the number of points allowed.
The second half surge enjoyed by the Buccaneers this past season helped push the team into strong contention for a playoff berth, something that fell short by only a tiebreaker. Still, the defensive improvement was obvious from a simple check of the final season statistics.
Tampa Bay was able to force 29 turnovers in 2016, third-best in the league, and the drop in points allowed resulted in a jump of 11 spots to 15th place. The Buccaneers holding teams to a league-best 33.8 percent, compared to 46 percent the year before.
Over the course of the entire season, Smith’s defense held teams to 17 points or less in seven games. Arguably, the Bucs’ best defensive effort came against the Seattle Seahawks on November 27, when they limited Pete Carroll’s powerhouse squad to just five points and 245 yards of total offense.
With the exception of the 2015 campaign, Smith has been coaching in the NFL since 1999, with 17 years of prior experience at the collegiate level. Most notably, he spent seven seasons as head coach of Tampa Bay’s division rival, the Atlanta Falcons, though he managed to earn a Super Bowl ring as part of the Baltimore Ravens’ 2000 coaching staff.
The news that Smith had received a contract extension allowed Koetter to expound on his former mentor’s skills. Koetter emphasized Smith’s ability to teach his players both on and off the field. Also, he cited Smith’s skill at squeezing out all the available talent from each player.
Besides Koetter’s hearty praise, members of the defense were equally enthusiastic about the ability of Smith to put together a stronger unit. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy pointed out Smith’s willingness to accept the blame on a blown coverage or missed tackle, while cornerback Brent Grimes was simply hoping that the veteran coach would be back with the Buccaneers next season.
Given the strong finish by the team, the return of Smith and a likely infusion of additional talent through free agency and the NFL Draft, it’s likely that Tampa Bay will be one of the favorites to reach the postseason next year. The only current potential roadblock is one that every team faces: the possibility of key injuries.