Bucs DT Gerald McCoy got off to a hot start as a pass rusher, registering three sacks over his first three games this season.
But in the eight games since? Zilch.
The season-ending knee injury to DE Adrian Clayborn has allowed opponents to slide protection McCoy's way. Although disruptive of the quarterback at times, the Bucs rank 28th in the NFL with only 18 sacks, seven from DE Michael Bennett. A year ago, Tampa Bay finished last in the league with 23.
"There's never just one thing. If there was, you'd get it fixed and there wouldn't be a problem," coach Greg Schiano said of the Bucs' pass rush. "One time, a guy makes an assignment error. Or there could be a technique error. He has him beat … and doesn't finish the rush.
"Another time, it may be a different scenario where he didn't have the rush where he can go from speed to power and he didn't. So there are so many different things. It's not just, 'There's the quarterback and go get him.' "
Pressuring the quarterback won't get any easier for the Bucs today against the Broncos' Peyton Manning, an offensive savant who throws with such great anticipation that he is hard to get to the ground. Manning has been sacked just 16 times this season, the same as the Bucs' Josh Freeman. But Manning has thrown 60 more passes.
"We just do what we're coached," McCoy said. "We've got to start owning plays that are called more. We can't always look for a different call. Whatever they call is what we have to play. Last week (against the Falcons), I don't think we played as fast as we have in the past or as physical. That's going to be highly necessary (today)."
What does, "Whatever they call is what we have to play," mean?
At times this season, McCoy has asked defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan to cut down on the number of stunts and twists they run on the line.
"I think sometimes if you're not having the success that you planned on or you're playing for, you tend to look for reasons why," Sheridan said. "We are, too. We brainstorm all the time trying to find new ways to rush and put together pressure. I think he's referring to that.
"The thing nowadays is people aren't going to sit back and take a seven-step drop and wait for the ball to be thrown all the way down the field. They're getting rid of the ball, and the guy we're playing is as good as anybody. (Manning) is not going to sit in there and dare you to pressure him. He's always going to have a route to get the ball out."
ALTITUDE OR ATTITUDE? Any team that plays at the Broncos has to deal with the thin air of Denver, which is more than 5,000 feet above sea level. Fatigue and dehydration can be issues.
But Schiano says because his team is going to spend only about a day in Denver, it should not be a factor.
"The facts are actually favorable," Schiano said. "We get in, and we get out, and you're fine. As long as you hydrate, you're fine. Now if you're going to spend an extended period of time there and your body gets acclimated and there's a whole medical thing that occurs, it's a different story.
"Our humidity (in Tampa) was 55 percent. Out there, it will be like 25 percent. That's a big difference."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]