Going into the 2013 offseason, the Buccaneers had to upgrade one of the league’s worst secondaries. It was thrown on the second most last season, an incessant 627 times, and it gave up the second most net yards per attempt at 7.3, per Pro Football Reference. To prevent that from happening again, general manager Mark Dominik made a splash by acquiring Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets, a game-changer at cornerback and one of the league’s best players. He also made another move, luring free agent free safety Dashon Goldson away from the San Francisco 49ers.
While Revis will (deservedly) be talked about the most, if only because of the $16 million annually he’s making, acquiring Goldson is the move that could decide just how good the Tampa Bay secondary truly is in 2013. He’s the last line of defense, securing the middle of the field by demolishing receivers, intercepting passes, and preventing big plays. If Goldson is used correctly and plays great, he’s the one who could solidify the defense.
But Goldson hasn’t always played great. He’s not a bad safety, per se, but he’s also not a great one. He tends to take questionable angles coming downhill, and he gets caught ball-watching like a bad soccer player. Those are both issues that stem from his aggressive play and they’ve reared their ugly head on more than one occasion over the last few years, so they should be expected from time-to-time in Tampa.
That said, although he’s not a great safety, he’s a good one that can make big plays and he appears to fit the Bucs’ scheme well. He handles centerfield responsibilities well, which will give defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan freedom to use last year’s first-round pick Mark Barron in the box more — a place where he’s arguably at his best — and offer help to the cornerback opposite of Revis.
When Goldson is operating in the middle of the field, he’s good at keeping the play in front of him and being patient as offensive concepts develop. The play that best illustrates that description comes from the 2012 playoffs against the New Orleans Saints, when he recorded an interception on arguably one of the best plays of his career.
It was 1st-and-10 with the ball on the 25-yard line in Saints territory. As the game clock ticked past the minute-and a-half mark in the first quarter, quarterback Drew Brees stood in an empty shotgun set. He was all alone in the backfield and had five targets spread the width of the line of scrimmage, two of which were tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Adrian Arrington to his right. Graham was closest to the line, the No. 3 threat from the sideline-in, and he would be running a post route through the seam. Arrington, the No. 2 receiver, was also set to run a post route, only just outside the seam.
The routes were designed to confuse Goldson, who would be rotating from outside the top hash to the middle. He would have help inside and out, with middle linebacker Patrick Willis running underneath Graham’s route and safety Donte Whitner running outside of Arrington’s. But a well-placed pass from Brees would negate the help if Goldson was out of position.
At the snap, Graham ran downfield and then made a slight incision toward the 49ers midfield logo, where Goldson was standing. Watching his tight end run the route, Brees gave a quick pump of the shoulders to freeze Goldson and then shifted his eyes to Arrington running the second post route. The pump was supposed to hold Goldson still, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Goldson briefly stopped and then kept moving again, rotating over to Arrington’s route as Brees hesitated to throw the football.
When Brees finally threw the ball, he was late and Goldson was zeroing in on Arrington’s post route. Goldson leaped forward and undercut the throw, intercepting it before returning it 41 yards to the Saints’ four-yard line.
It was one of the finest plays of Goldson’s career and one that Bucs fans should keep in mind as they analyze his play this season. There’s a possibility he spends more time as a single-high safety than he did in San Francisco last season because of his coverage skills, the preference to have Barron in the box, and the help that Revis doesn’t need. The 49ers’ defense utilized a two-high shell and let their safeties aggressively attack downhill.
If Goldson can keep his mistakes to a minimum and make plays when the ball is in the air, there’s a good chance that he’ll be able to help the Bucs’ secondary get over the struggles they dealt with last season, making him a valuable acquisition.