The Bucs now rank 31st in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 301 yards per game in their 2-3 start, and coach Dirk Koetter was asked Monday how concerned he is with the play of second-year CB Vernon Hargreaves.
“Extremely,” Koetter said. “I’m concerned with everybody’s play after the way we played the first half yesterday, but Vern is not in a very good streak of games right now.
“We asked Vern to be more aggressive this year with his coverage, and he started out doing that, in OTAs and training camp, but he has not played his best football these last three games.”
Veteran CB Brent Grimes has played well on one side, getting another interception Sunday, but Hargreaves has struggled, dropping back to give a deeper cushion and allowing teams to throw consistently into his coverage.
“I don’t think it’s a confidence thing, but I’m not 100 percent sure on that,” said Koetter, adding that it wasn’t about preparation or ability. “We all have to play better. I have to coach better. I’m not trying to make this a Vernon Hargreaves bashing session. … If we could just snap our fingers and fix stuff, it’d already be done. You wouldn’t be asking me about it.”
Hargreaves was the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2016 and quarterbacks threw his way often last season, giving up more than 1,000 receiving yards by some calculations.
Tampa Bay should get a break on Sunday, as Buffalo ranks 30th out of 32 NFL teams in passing yards, averaging 165 per game. The Bills have attempted and completed the fewest passes in the league, with only six passing touchdowns and two interceptions on the season.
Koetter said that LB Kwon Alexander, who has missed the last four games with a lingering hamstring injury, has been cleared to return to full participation at practice Wednesday and would play Sunday if he has no setbacks.
Alexander’s absence has been felt on the scoreboard — along with a four-game suspension at the end of his rookie season in 2015, the Bucs are now 1-7 in games played without Alexander, including 1-3 this season. LB Lavonte David returned Sunday after missing two games with a sprained ankle, and he forced a fumble, recovered it and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
He can’t play for two more weeks, but backup QB Ryan Griffin, on injured reserve but slated to return from a shoulder injury, will begin practicing Wednesday and can run the scout team. Griffin is eligible to rejoin the roster in Week 9 after two more games.
If Jameis Winston can’t go Sunday due to his right shoulder injury, Koetter said the team would look at adding a third quarterback to the roster as a backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the Bucs will wait a day or two to see how Winston progresses before making any moves.
This and that
The Bucs have been shut out in the first half just twice in 37 games since Koetter arrived as offensive coordinator in 2015, and both are losses at Arizona. … TE Cameron Brate has touchdowns in four straight games, matching a team record, and he’s the first NFL tight end to do so since Julius Thomas in 2015. … Bucs special-teams captain Josh Robinson, who suffered a concussion in the Patriots game and was inactive Sunday at Arizona, remains in the concussion protocol, now 11 days after his injury.