Gerald McCoy could use some help. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle leads the Bucs in sacks with six, but because of the poor pass rush production of their ends, defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan routinely dials up stunts and pressures on third down to bring heat off of the edges.
Tampa Bay is tied for 28th in the league with 24 sacks. More glaring, only six have come from outside pass rushers, including four by Adrian Clayborn.
"I think on first and second down, it'd be very easy to cut guys loose and let them scream up the field. And I think most defensive ends would love to do that," Sheridan said. "Unfortunately in our league, first and second down are (usually run plays) — unless you get into second and long. So we ask a lot of those guys from a run fit and a run technique and a run support standpoint, which doesn't lend itself to screaming off the edge. And then on third down, we pressure a lot. So we have different guys coming off the edge.
"A lot of it is second-level players, linebackers and DBs coming off the edge. I think our D-ends are doing a good job, and I know they'd love to just … pin their ears back and tear off the edge all the time. But we require them on first down and second and 1-5 to really play run techniques first because we want to get into longer downs where we can pressure or turn them loose."
On a second and 11 last week, one pressure resulted in a 56-yard run by Panthers QB Cam Newton. The Bucs must be mindful not to leave huge running lanes today against Bills rookie and former Florida State QB EJ Manuel.
"At the early part of the down, when it cracked the line of scrimmage … you had coached different components of the front; even the guys coming from the other side trying to get through and execute their pressures to the guys who are setting the edge opposite the direction we were pressuring from," Sheridan said. "And then when it breaks out, on the back end, you're counting on your back end guys to just kind of corral it and get it knocked down for what might have been a 15- or 20-yarder.
"But the one thing about it is … we're very cognizant of guys like Cam who can scramble and potentially be a nightmare when you're trying to pressure. But if you don't, you're really just going to be playing back on your heels and just try to rush with four guys the whole game. And to me, you don't want to let a quarterback ever get that comfortable. It's a risk-reward that you've got to weigh and, obviously, that totally came back to bite us and set up their first score. We normally wouldn't go into a game and just say. 'Hey, we're going to rush three guys and not worry about him getting out of the pocket and all that stuff.' We're actually trying to move him off the launch point and actually get to him so we still try to mix it even though we're playing an athletic quarterback."
Times staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.