TAMPA — Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy knew the question was coming and attacked it like a double-team.
"There's no comparison," McCoy said of himself and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
His point is they play for different teams and in different schemes and won't face off because both play defense.
But fair or not, McCoy and Suh always will be linked.
And just like draft day 2010, when Suh went No. 2 overall and McCoy No. 3, their careers have been pretty even heading into Sunday's reunion in Detroit. Suh had the hot start with 10 sacks and being named the league's defensive rookie of the year while McCoy was hampered by injuries his first two seasons.
But McCoy bounced back with a Pro Bowl year in 2012 and is playing even better this season with six sacks (to Suh's 4½), including three last week in victory against the Falcons.
McCoy is the top defensive tackle, according to Pro Football Focus (a website that analyzes game film and charts every play of every game), "the best pass rusher at the position this year by some distance."
"He's having an outstanding year this year, particularly lately," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.
"Those two guys, you can't judge one against another. They're different style players. They do different things. Both of them are outstanding at what they do. I think both of them have lived up to their draft status."
In their perceived demeanors, the two are polar opposites. It's nasty vs. nice. Some label Suh dirty. Bucs linebacker Mason Foster calls McCoy "goofy."
Suh has a target on his back due to seven NFL fines totalling $200,000 during his four seasons. McCoy wears his faith on his sleeve, helps opponents off the ground and has been an eternal optimist throughout the turnover and turmoil.
McCoy even sees the good in Suh.
"He's a good guy,'' McCoy said. "He's a cool cat and laid back. I think he's just a real physical football player. How else is he supposed to play the game? I don't think he's dirty. If this was 10 years ago, the way he tackles people, nobody would think anything of it. But as soon as you see a yellow flag, now it's a big deal."
McCoy said one key to his success this season has been being more physical. Bucs coach Greg Schiano said McCoy has always had the "dominating get-off," an explosiveness at the line.
Hall of Famer and former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp said McCoy can be better — "bigger, stronger faster." And he got a mean streak out of the 6-foot-4, 300-pound former Oklahoma star.
"(Sapp) told me he needs to see more … I guess you could say (anger) from me," McCoy said. "He said I don't necessarily have to be angry, but it needs to look like I'm angry. (I'm) being more physical. It's my 'want-to' that's going up."
McCoy said after his Pro Bowl season of a year ago, he wanted to make sure he didn't stagnate or take a step back. Instead, he has moved forward, partly due to an improved knowledge of the game.
"His game has grown, and I think his mental approach has grown," Schiano said. "He just keeps getting better. That's the hard thing, really, for talented guys, to keep pressing themselves to get better. But he does."
Said Bucs right guard Davin Joseph: "I've been saying that Gerald's the best defensive tackle in the league for a long time."
While Suh has the lead over in McCoy in career sacks — 26½ to 15 — he has played in 11 more games and had the benefit of three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch on his line for his first three seasons.
Plus, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin pointed out, McCoy has an every-down impact.
"He jumps off the film," said Philbin, whose team faced McCoy on Nov. 11. "He has exceptional quickness. He can run. He can play the run. He can make plays outside the box. He's not just a guy who plays tackle to tackle. He can get to the perimeter and chase a guy down. He's very, very good."
So is Suh, who told the Detroit News there's "no real competition" between him and McCoy. They wish each other the best.
Just not on Sunday.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org