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Lately, the Bucs defense can’t buy a turnover. Is it a fluke or flaw?

Tampa Bay Times 11/4/2022 Joey Knight, Tampa Bay Times
The Bucs defense hasn't forced a turnover since Oct. 2, when cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) picked off this Patrick Mahomes pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) in the fourth quarter of a 41-31 loss to the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium. © Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times/TNS The Bucs defense hasn't forced a turnover since Oct. 2, when cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (23) picked off this Patrick Mahomes pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) in the fourth quarter of a 41-31 loss to the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium.

TAMPA — Futility often arrives in subsets. Take the Bucs, who certainly aren’t abysmal all-around, just in certain critical areas.

Short-yardage offense. Red-zone efficiency. Third-quarter intensity. And of course, the one weakness both chronic and confounding: Takeaways.

The Bucs (3-5), once purveyors of picks and fumble recoveries, haven’t forced a turnover in nearly a month.

“It’s always frustrating when you don’t get takeaways — that’s what we try to do all the time,” said coach Todd Bowles, who has watched the Bucs accumulate the NFL’s fourth-most takeaways (91) since taking over the defense in 2019. “Part of the issue of helping us score is getting takeaways on defense. We’ve got to continue to work on that. Hopefully they come in bunches.”

At this point, they would settle for them arriving in individual packets.

One must hearken to Oct. 2, when Sean Murphy-Bunting intercepted a deep Patrick Mahomes throw in the fourth quarter of a 41-31 loss to the Chiefs, to find the last Tampa Bay takeaway. The four-game drought matches the longest in franchise history established by the 2018 team.

“You know, sometimes the ball just bounces your way,” said defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, whose team tries to snap the skid (not to mention a three-game losing streak) Sunday against the Rams at home.

“We were looking at the last time we played (the Rams): Two (fumbles) we got, two (other fumbles) came out and really, the last one, with (Matthew) Stafford (a near-fumble on the game’s final series), if we got that one it might be a different game, you know what I’m saying?

“(Takeaways) come in bunches. We keep working at it, keep working at it and pretty soon it’ll start coming back our way.”

Players and coaches say they work at it in myriad ways.

Of course, it starts with pressure on the quarterback, which can result in a strip-sack or ill-advised throw. The Bucs have totaled eight sacks in their last four games, including five of Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota in a 21-15 victory Oct. 9. In two of those four games, they have registered more quarterback hurries than the opponent.

But alas, the still have not managed to create a breach in the other team’s ball security. So are we witnessing a statistical fluke, or are the Bucs — who totaled nine takeaways the first four games — not doing enough lately to generate turnovers?

“Honestly, it’s kind of both, because I’ve never experienced that in my life before,” cornerback Jamel Dean said. “That’s kind of, like, different. But I guess we probably need to do more to increase our chances.”

Players and coaches say a concerted effort continues to punch the ball from a carrier’s grasp, a necessity considering downfield shots — and the opportunities they present for interceptions — seem minimal lately.

In the last four games, the opposing starting quarterback’s intended air yards per pass attempt is 6.9 (according to Pro Football Reference), a modest number considering 24 NFL teams currently average more.

“As far as the ball going down the field, we tend to see a lot of quick gains,” inside linebacker Devin White said. “Quarterbacks are getting the ball out of their hands just to move it down the field in that way. So, it’s a little hard to get (the ball) that way, so that’s why we’ve been putting an emphasis on punching at the ball, trying to get it out.”

It must pop loose at some point. The law of averages — or even sheer luck — suggests it will.

But as it stands, the Bucs formally have gone more than a month without a takeaway.

“It’s a lot of things that go into getting a turnover, but I’m not worried,” second-year edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka said. “It’s just something that we definitely have to move on and ... we’ve got to get one the next game.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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