NFC South: Johnthan Banks

TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the things the Tampa Bay Buccaneers haven’t seen much of this preseason is their top cornerback.

That’s Alterraun Verner, who injured his hamstring on the third day of camp and missed an extended period. Verner began taking part in individual drills last week, but he’s going to take a bigger step in Tuesday’s practice. Verner is expected to take part in team drills, coach Lovie Smith said.

Smith also expressed some optimism that Verner might be able to play in the third preseason game at Buffalo on Saturday.

Verner
“This is the week that we’re gearing towards,’’ Smith said. “First off, the guys that line up with the first group, there’s a reason why they’re there. It’s not like we’re going to do an awful lot that last preseason game. So, for our players, if they’re going to play against Carolina [in the regular-season opener], we need to see them right now. If they’re not out there, we’re in a hole a little bit. Alterraun Verner, it’s important that he get out there and starts playing our defense and seeing his role and getting comfortable. That’s why we’re excited about getting him on the football field.’’

The Bucs have had their share of cornerbacks with injuries this preseason. In addition to Verner, Mike Jenkins and Rashaan Melvin have missed extended periods. Jenkins still isn’t practicing.

But getting Verner back should be good for the chemistry of the secondary. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has been working as a starter and Leonard Johnson has been the nickelback. Smith said he has been happy with what he has seen out of Banks. That could mean Jenkins is headed for a backup role.
TAMPA, Fla. – On a day near the middle of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith walked into his post-practice news conference and delivered a message.

"There's nothing really I can give you today," Smith said.

Smith wasn't being condescending or rude to the media. He simply was being truthful. Tampa Bay's camp hasn't had any major news or controversies. It has been downright boring at times -- but it beats the alternative.

We saw the other side of things last year, and it wasn't pretty. There was plenty of news and a ton of distractions. Former coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman were in the early stages of a feud that would end in divorce one month into the season. And it wasn't just Freeman who was having issues with Schiano's style. Numerous players had problems with Schiano's rigid ways and never fully bought into the coach.

That quickly caught up to Schiano, who was fired after two lackluster seasons. Enter Smith, who is the anti-Schiano in just about every way. Smith is calm and treats his players like adults, and you already can see the results of that. There have been no controversies.

Amid the tranquility, players are singing the praises of Smith. The coach brings back memories of Tony Dungy, who guided the Bucs to their first era of sustained success. That's no coincidence. Smith was the linebackers coach in Dungy's early years in Tampa Bay and has an approach similar to Dungy's.

People already are comparing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to Warren Sapp and linebacker Lavonte David to Derrick Brooks. Smith's hiring has brought enthusiasm to a fan base that hasn't had much to be excited about in recent years. But that fan base has pleasant memories of what things were like in the Bucs' glory days.

On several occasions, Smith has said that one of his goals is to make the Bucs relevant again. If things go according to Smith's plans, the Bucs might be boring, but they'll be good.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Smith is known for being a defensive coach, and he has some good ingredients to start with. McCoy and David were All-Pros last year, and they play two of the most important positions in the Tampa 2 defense Smith is bringing back to the Bucs. McCoy and David give Tampa Bay a nice start, but some other players are going to have to come through. The coaching staff believes strong safety Mark Barron is ready to be a star. If some role players come through, this could be a very good defense.

[+] EnlargeDoug Martin
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesDoug Martin is back from a shoulder injury, but he shouldn't have to shoulder all of the load in a deep backfield.
2. Doug Martin is back from a shoulder injury that kept him out for about half of last season. That should provide a huge lift for the offense. Martin rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, and he has looked sharp in training camp. Under Schiano, the Bucs often overused Martin. That’s not going to be the case with Smith. The Bucs have made it clear that Martin will remain as the feature back but that they’ll rotate in some other backs to keep him fresh. Rookie Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James could be in the mix for playing time.

3. After using their first two draft picks on wide receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Bucs have one of the biggest receiving corps in the league. Williams, Seferian-Jenkins and Vincent Jackson each are at least 6-foot-5. They're going to present coverage challenges for defensive backs.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The offensive line hasn't looked very good in the preseason, and that's a huge cause for concern. The Bucs are especially thin at guard. All-Pro Carl Nicks left the team after not being able to recover from a toe injury. That leaves four guys without a lot of experience vying for two starting spots. Oniel Cousins, Jace Daniels, Patrick Omameh and rookie Kadeem Edwards have been rotating at the guard spots, and two of them will emerge as starters, unless the Bucs bring in some help from the outside.

2. Smith went out on a limb when he signed quarterback Josh McCown as a free agent and immediately named him the starter. McCown, 35, has been a backup most of his career, but he did play well in Chicago last year when Jay Cutler went out with an injury. McCown threw 13 touchdowns with just one interception. It's too much to expect him to keep up that kind of pace, especially with an unsteady offensive line. Smith, who coached McCown in Chicago, believes he can be successful over the course of a full season. But that's something McCown has never done.

3. Smith's philosophy is to play great defense and be efficient on offense. That worked well enough to get Smith to a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears. But that philosophy might be antiquated. The league has become quarterback-driven. The Bucs are in the same division as New Orleans' Drew Brees, Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. McCown and this offense might not have enough firepower to stay competitive in the division.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • McCoy has had an outstanding training camp. He consistently has gotten into the backfield as a pass-rusher and has been stuffing running plays. But it remains to be seen whether McCoy's excellent play is simply the byproduct of the weakness at the guard spots.
    [+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounVincent Jackson, in his third season with the Bucs, will have a third starting QB throwing to him.

  • The chemistry between McCown and Jackson has been noticeable. In addition to the offseason program, the two spent a lot of time in the spring and summer working out at a local high school.

  • The Bucs have gotten almost nothing out of defensive end Da'Quan Bowers since taking him in the second round in 2011. But they are trying something new with Bowers this year. They're going to use him inside at defensive tackle in obvious passing situations.

  • The Bucs have high hopes for sixth-round draft pick Robert Herron. But don't look for the receiver/return man to get a lot of playing time early on. Herron has had ball-security issues in camp. He needs to hold on to the ball if he's going to earn playing time.

  • Herron will make the 53-man roster. So will Jackson, Evans and Chris Owusu. Eric Page also probably will stick thanks to his return skills. That probably leaves one spot to be filled from a group of receivers who have shown promise in training camp. Tommy Streeter, Louis Murphy, Lavelle Hawkins and Solomon Patton all have shown flashes, but at least a couple of them won't make the roster.

  • Hamstring injuries have kept cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Mike Jenkins out for a big chunk of training camp. But there's a flip side to that, and it's positive. Second-year pro Johnthan Banks has gotten a ton of work with the first team and has looked good. Banks didn't have a great rookie year. But his performance in camp probably will keep him in the starting lineup.

Bucs put emphasis on nickelback

August, 6, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. – Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins are competing for a starting cornerback job. Ordinarily, logic would say the loser of that battle automatically becomes the nickelback.

But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are following some different logic in this situation. Coach Lovie Smith treats the nickelback position differently than most coaches. He views nickelback as a starting position and is so serious about it that he listed it that way on the team’s first depth chart.

Grimes
Johnson
Leonard Johnson was listed as the starting nickelback, and he already might have the job locked up. Johnson has been working as the first-team nickelback throughout camp and has done a good job against slot receivers.

Smith is right to put such an emphasis on nickelback. Most teams use five defensive backs about half of the time. The nickelback covers whoever lines up in the slot, and that could be anyone from Harry Douglas to Calvin Johnson.

Smith has taken the emphasis on nickelback one step further than most. He has an assistant coach (Larry Marmie) who is assigned to work exclusively with the nickelbacks.

There has been some movement at the other two cornerback positions in camp as Alterraun Verner and Jenkins have dealt with injuries. But there hasn’t been any change at nickelback. Johnson has been getting all the first-team reps.

Verner will be the starter at one cornerback spot. Johnson will be the starter at nickelback. Either Banks or Jenkins will start at the other cornerback spot. The loser of that competition will end up as the fourth cornerback.
Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears were a consistent contender because they played strong defense. The coach will try to get the same result with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the ingredients are there for that to happen.

David
McCoy
McCoy
Smith inherited some special talent in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. Both are just reaching their prime. Smith has compared McCoy to Warren Sapp and David to Derrick Brooks. Sapp and Brooks were the keys to the defense during Tampa Bay’s glory days. The Bucs believe McCoy and David can fill the same roles in the new generation and that a strong defense will help make the franchise relevant again.

McCoy and David are going to be good for years to come and they form a strong foundation. But the Bucs will need some complementary players to come through for this defense to be really good. Defensive end Michael Johnson was brought in as a free agent because the Bucs believe he can bring pressure from the outside. If he does, that’s only going to help McCoy and Clinton McDonald in the middle.

A strong pass rush will only help a secondary that has good potential, but hasn’t hit it yet. Alterraun Verner was brought in to be the No. 1 cornerback, but the Bucs need Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to step up as the other cornerback and nickelback. Safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron have talent and can form a nice tandem.

Middle linebacker Mason Foster is going to get a chance to play a more significant role than he has in the past. Foster will call the defensive plays and be asked to drop into coverage more than he did in his first three seasons.

This defense will be the key factor in determining if Smith’s regime will succeed. The offense can be average, but the defense has to be special.

Best Bucs camp competitions

June, 20, 2014
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With the start of training camp a little more than a month away, it’s time to look ahead to the best battles.

Tight end. Rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be the long-term answer. But he might not get a lot of playing time in the short term. Seferian-Jenkins wasn’t allowed to take part in the offseason program and that could put him behind the competition. Brandon Myers, Tim Wright and Luke Stocker all have more experience.

Right guard. Patrick Omameh worked with the first team through most of the offseason program. But he still needs a good camp to win the starting job. Oniel Cousins and Jamon Meredith also could be candidates to start.

Third wide receiver. This one is far from settled. Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans will be the starters, but the Bucs need production out of some more receivers. Veterans Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy looked good in the offseason program and the team has high hopes for rookie Robert Herron.

Cornerback. Alterraun Verner is set as one starter. But the other spot figures to be a strong competition between Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins.

Backup running back. Doug Martin is the starter, but the Bucs want to use a rotation. Bobby Rainey, Mike James, Charles Sims and Jeff Demps will all be vying for carries.
As a rookie, Buccaneers cornerback Johnthan Banks got plenty of attention from opposing offenses and Tampa Bay fans.

Banks
Banks, a second-round draft pick last year, drew attention for all the wrong reasons. He frequently struggled in coverage and that led to lots of targets by offenses and criticism from fans.

But Banks is getting a fresh start with coach Lovie Smith importing the Tampa 2 defense. Banks should be in position to succeed much more often than he did a year ago.

"Banks is a great fit for our scheme," Smith said. "I was talking with Johnthan a little bit. We're not the only wide receiving group in the division that's gotten taller, there are others that have done the same thing. We're going to need a couple of 6-feet corners now, at least six-plus corners, of course that's Johnthan and I like what he did last year as a young player playing. Coachable guy, who has talent, I'm excited about coaching him.”

Smith should be excited. Banks has the size to match up with large wide receivers. He also has some raw talent that wasn't always seen before. In the Tampa 2, Banks will be allowed to be more aggressive because he'll have help from the safeties.

Who will be Bucs' nickelback?

March, 27, 2014
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run onto the field next season, they’re going to introduce 12 players instead of the standard 11.

Coach Lovie Smith made that statement Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. He supported it by saying he views the nickel cornerback as a 12th starter on defense. He also views the third receiver as a 12th starter on offense. But this post is about defense, so let’s stick with talking about nickelback.

The Bucs don’t know who their nickelback will be yet, but Smith shed some light on how he’ll make that determination. On paper, Tampa Bay’s top three cornerbacks are Alterraun Verner, Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins. D.J. Moore and Leonard Johnson also could be in line for some playing time.

Although the Bucs of old used to start Ronde Barber on the outside and move him inside for nickel situations, Smith sounded like it’s unlikely the Bucs will follow that route.

“Just think about having to become an expert at two positions,’’ Smith said. “As a general rule, we don’t do that an awful lot. Our No. 1 and No. 2 corner, whoever that is, they’re going to stay outside. Our nickel position is a position in itself. We have a coach, Larry Marmie, that will coach only it and every second he has will have guys in the nickel room being coached at that position.’’
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cornerback Leonard Johnson, tight end Tim Wright, quarterback Mike Glennon, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and linebacker Lavonte David were the big winners for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL’s performance-based pool for 2013.

The pool is designed to compensate players who had relatively low salaries compared to their 2013 playing time. Dozens of Bucs received bonuses, but we’ll stick with the top ones here. The bonuses do not count toward the salary cap.

Johnson led the way with a $208,864 bonus. Wright ($200,592), Glennon ($183,209), Spence $181,593) and David ($180,190) rounded out the top five. The rest of the top 10 was made up of safety Keith Tandy ($152,646), cornerback Johnthan Banks ($145,655), linebacker Mason Foster ($133,268), receiver Tiquan Underwood ($127,927) and linebacker Dekoda Watson ($105,647).

Projecting a lineup: Defense

March, 21, 2014
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We’ve given you projections on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offensive starters already. Now, let’s flip over to the other side and talk about the defense.

Defensive end: Michael Johnson was signed to a big contract to spice up the pass rush. He’ll start opposite Adrian Clayborn.

Defensive tackle: Gerald McCoy is an All-Pro and should thrive in coach Lovie Smith’s scheme. Free-agent pickup Clinton McDonald could end up starting next to McCoy.

Linebackers: Lavonte David is a certainty on the weak side. Beyond that, there are question marks. Mason Foster has been the starter in the middle the past couple years, but the Bucs signed free agent Dane Fletcher to provide some competition. Jonathan Casillas is the best bet on the strong side, but the Bucs might not be done with that position just yet.

Cornerbacks: Alterraun Verner instantly became the No. 1 cornerback when he was signed as a free agent. That leaves Johnthan Banks and Mike Jenkins to compete for the other starting job, with the loser taking over as the nickel back.

Safeties: This is one area where there won’t be change. The Bucs are in good shape with Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron as the returning starters.

What's next for the Buccaneers?

March, 17, 2014
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their free-agent frenzy Sunday by signing two players that are likely to fill roles as backups.

The Bucs signed former New England linebacker Dane Fletcher and former Cleveland guard Oniel Cousins.

Fletcher has been a backup middle linebacker and special-teams player for New England and is likely to play behind Mason Foster. Cousins was a part-time starter in Cleveland and he could factor into Tampa Bay’s overhaul of the offensive line. The Bucs previously released veterans Davin Joseph and Donald Penn and signed tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith.

Cousins could get a chance to compete with Jamon Meredith and Jeremy Zuttah at guard.

The first wave of free agency is over and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been very active. They’ve filled a lot of needs, but the Bucs aren’t done yet.

Looking at the roster, I still see a fair amount of needs. Let’s take a look.

Wide receiver. The Bucs flirted with Emmanuel Sanders before he signed with the Denver Broncos. The Bucs need to add a speed receiver to go with starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

Return man. The Bucs need to get better on special teams. Veteran Devin Hester, who has ties to coach Lovie Smith, remains available as a free agent.

Cornerback. Even after signing Alterraun Verner, there still is a need here. The Bucs need a strong third corner to go with Verner and Johnthan Banks.

Guard. The Bucs have added guard Oneil Cousins, center Evan Dietrich-Smith and tackle Anthony Collins as they go about overhauling their offensive line. With Dietrich-Smith’s arrival, Jeremy Zuttah could move from center to guard. But Cousins has spent much of his career as a backup and the Bucs might want more of an upgrade at this position.

Outside linebacker. Jonathan Casillas was re-signed and he’s an option on the strong side. But the Bucs need depth and they’d be wise to bring in someone to compete with Casillas.

Best bargains on the Buccaneers

February, 6, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We all know about the high-salary players for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, like Darrelle Revis and Gerald McCoy. But let’s have a little fun and take a look at five Buccaneers who are relative bargains

Cornerback Johnthan Banks ($1.07 million cap figure for 2014): Banks had ups and downs as a rookie, but there is plenty of upside. Any time you have a starting cornerback counting only $1 million toward the cap, you’re doing pretty well.

Linebacker Lavonte David ($946,836 cap figure): This guy is one of the biggest bargains in the league. He’s an All-Pro who is counting less than $1 million toward the cap. To clarify an earlier post about David’s contract situation, the collective bargaining agreement prohibits the Bucs and David from doing an extension until after his third season, so he’s locked in at a bargain rate for this season.

Defensive tackle Akeem Spence ($616,000 cap figure): Spence was a starter at nose tackle through almost all of his rookie season. It remains to be seen if he’s a good fit in the new regime’s defense. But, at worst, Spence should be able to help as a rotational player.

Safety Keith Tandy ($600,000 cap figure): Because of injuries and suspensions for Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron, Tandy wound up starting five games last season and produced five interceptions. This guy is a quality backup.

Tight end Tim Wright ($498,000 cap figure): A converted wide receiver, Wright got a lot of playing time because of injuries, and he made the most of it. Wright produced 54 catches. He needs to improve his blocking if he wants to be an every-down tight end, but he’s shown he can be a receiving threat.

Looking at playing time: Defense

January, 17, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- We previously showed you the playing time for all of Tampa Bay's offensive players. Now, it's time to do the same for the defense.

The Buccaneers had 1,059 defensive plays. Here's the breakdown of the number of plays each defensive player participated in, followed by my quick take.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Gerald McCoy 962, Adrian Clayborn 933, Akeem Spence 694, Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 602, William Gholston 312, Da'Quan Bowers 206, Gary Gibson 164, Derek Landri 123, Steven Means 77, Trevor Scott 54.

Quick take: Most teams rotate their defensive linemen to keep them fresh. But the Bucs didn't do that with McCoy and Clayborn. The theory behind that was that, even when a bit winded, they were substantially better than their backups. The rookie Gholston got a lot of playing time in the second half of the season.

LINEBACKERS: Lavonte David 1,022, Mason Foster 771, Dekoda Watson 257, Jonathan Casillas 197, Adam Hayward 187, Ka'Lial Glaud 6, Danny Lansanah 4.

Quick take: The Bucs played David as much as they possibly could because he might be the best player on the team. Some of Watson's snaps came at defensive end as the Bucs experimented with him at that position late in the season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Darrelle Revis 948, Johnthan Banks 939, Mark Barron 834, Dashon Goldson 807, Leonard Johnson 691, Keith Tandy 441, Ahmad Black 146, Kelcie McCray 101, Michael Adams 86, Danny Gorrer 83.

Quick take: Even though he wasn't 100 percent as he came back from knee surgery, the Bucs still used Revis a lot.

Greg Schiano: Defense can be dominant

December, 19, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- By his conservative standards, coach Greg Schiano said something that would seem to border on the outrageous Thursday.

“We’re a couple pieces away from being a dominant defense,’’ Schiano said.

Schiano
Go ahead and throw out the reminders that the Bucs are 4-12. And let’s note that the defense is ranked 13th overall (15th against the run and 15th against the pass). Nobody is going to confuse the Bucs with the 1985 Chicago Bears or the great Tampa Bay defenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But I think Schiano has a point.

“We have some good players, some really good players,’’ Schiano said. “We’ll just keep working at it. I think some of those pieces are going to develop into being dominant players. We have some young kids here who I think have the upside to be special. Our whole philosophy is draft and develop, anyway, and that’s what we’ve got to do.’’

Look at Tampa Bay’s defense and you see a lot of good parts already in place, including some young ones that only should get better. Guys like cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson already are considered among the best in the league at their positions. Fourth-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David are starting to get league-wide recognition.

Some members of the organization believe second-year safety Mark Barron is having a Pro Bowl season. Mason Foster has developed into a solid middle linebacker. Rookies Johnthan Banks, Akeem Spence and William Gholston all have had an impact.

That makes for a very nice nucleus. Schiano didn’t want to get into what parts are missing, but it’s fairly obvious the Bucs could be a little better in the pass rush.

“I think it can be developed within as well as outside,’’ Schiano said. “I think we have some really fine young prospects in our building right now. Will Gholston is a prime example. Six weeks ago, you’re not talking or thinking the way you are about Will as you are now. This is such the instant society, but sometimes you’ve just got to develop guys. You coach them and they get better. They watch themselves on tape, they play in games, they learn and they get better. Physically, they’re getting better.’’

This year has been mostly a lost season. But Tampa Bay’s defense really does have the potential to be dominant next season.

“We’ve got some great pieces for this team,’’ Revis said. “We’ve got some great core guys. We’ve got some talent. We’ve just got to keep on building. Looking to the future, we can add to this team because there are some great core guys and great talent. We’ve just got to build around the core guys that we have here.’’

Looking at Buccaneers' playing time

December, 10, 2013
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TAMPA, Fla. -- It's time for our weekly look at how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers distributed playing time.

In a 27-6 victory against the Buffalo Bills, the Bucs ran 66 offensive plays and were on the field for 67 defensive snaps. Here's a look at the individual playing time from Sunday.

OFFENSE

Donald Penn 66
Jamon Meredith 66
Demar Dotson 66
Mike Glennon 66
Tim Wright 59
Vincent Jackson 57
Jeremy Zuttah 51
Tiquan Underwood 45
Davin Joseph 43
Erik Lorig 42
Bobby Rainey 37
Ted Larsen 36
Brian Leonard 25
Chris Owusu 21
Gabe Carimi 16
Russell Shepard 14
Kyle Adams 11
Skye Dawson 7
Mike Hill 5
Spencer Larsen 2
Eric Page 1

DEFENSE

Dashon Goldson 66
Johnthan Banks 66
Mark Barron 66
Gerald McCoy 66
Darrelle Revis 66
Lavonte David 59
Leonard Johnson 58
Adrian Clayborn 56
Mason Foster 53
Akeem Spence 43
Daniel Te'o-Nesheim 39
William Gholston 23
Keith Tandy 15
Da'Quan Bowers 14
Adam Hayward 12
Steven Means 11
Derek Landri 11
Dekoda Watson 10
Danny Gorrer 1
Ka'Lial Glaud 1
Kelcie McCray 1
TAMPA, Fla. -- Take a look at the stat sheet from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-6 victory against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

It will show you that the Bucs had seven sacks, four interceptions, nine tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries. It will show you that the Bucs played a dominant defensive game.

It might even have made you flash back to the Tony Dungy or Jon Gruden years, when Monte Kiffin still was running the defense. But this wasn't Dungy, Gruden or Kiffin football.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Greg Schiano
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackGreg Schiano said the Bucs "invented ways to lose some games" early in the season. They've now won four of five.
This, believe it or not, is what Greg Schiano football is supposed to be like.

"This game is really what the Bucs are about," rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks said.

Maybe, without knowing it, Tampa Bay fans would like to see a lot more Schiano-coached football games. Schiano is down to three games left to determine if he'll be back for a third season. When the Bucs were 0-8 at midseason, it seemed a certainty Schiano would be fired.

Now, and I'm just reading the tea leaves here, it seems like Schiano has at least a chance to stick around. He has won four of his past five games. Another win or two and maybe the Glazer family, which owns the team, will decide it wants to see more Schiano football.

By definition, Schiano football is supposed to be about playing aggressive defense, running the ball on offense and taking some deep shots in the passing game. The Bucs only had a few flashes of running and passing against the Bills, but the defense carried the day.

Go ahead and rain on the parade and point out that the Bills are pretty mediocre and this was a game the Bucs should have won. The difference is this is precisely the kind of game the Bucs would have lost early in the season. Why have things been going differently the second half of the season?

"I don't know if it's that much of a difference really," Schiano said. "I think we're finding ways to win the game. Against good football teams, we were in games and found ways to lose games. Literally, you look at it and you say we invented ways to lose some games."

There's no doubt about that. Just think about linebacker Lavonte David's late hit on Geno Smith in the season opener as one quick example. Maybe, in the end, the Glazers will decide that Schiano already has invented too many ways to lose.

Or maybe the Glazers, who also might factor in that Josh Freeman's repeated tardiness prompted his benching and eventual release, will keep their coach. For that to happen, the Bucs have to finish the season playing the way they did Sunday.

"We challenged each other, coaches and players alike, to really make sure that we had the details," Schiano said.

The Bucs host the 49ers next Sunday. Then they close the season by going on the road to St. Louis and New Orleans.

Play like they did against the Bills and the Bucs can finish this season with some positive momentum and, more importantly, some hope for the future.

"This week was just go play our game," safety Dashon Goldson said. "Make them one-dimensional. Stop the run and make them beat us with the pass and we knew we weren't going to do that."

The Bucs held Buffalo to 67 rushing yards and they harassed rookie quarterback EJ Manuel into a bunch of mistakes.

"I think it all comes down to making the quarterback just a little uncomfortable," Schiano said. "It's not always sacks. Sometimes it's just getting that hand in the quarterback's face so he has to alter his release just a little bit."

The Bucs did more than just make Manuel uncomfortable. They held the Bills to two field goals. And they got an 80-yard touchdown run from Bobby Rainey on the second play of the game and two touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.

Rainey and Glennon didn't do much besides that. But each has had bright moments in recent weeks. Get Rainey and Glennon back to that and keep the defense playing the way it did against Buffalo, and Schiano's version of football could be enough for him to keep his job.

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