TAMPA — There is just one universally accepted method of measuring the success of a pass rush.
Quarterback sacks trump everything else when it comes to judging whether a defensive line is impacting the passing game.
So, what does the fact that the Bucs' defensive linemen don't have a sack this season say about them? Not what you might think, actually.
"The way I judge the pass rush is, are you being disruptive to the quarterback?" defensive end Tim Crowder said. "How many incomplete passes has he thrown? How many times has he been hit? How many times is he having to leave (the pocket)? If he has a clean pocket, then he should have to step up because somebody's in his way. That's the truest way to judge pressure. The sacks, they'll come."
The two sacks registered by the Bucs this season, both occurring Sunday against the Vikings' Donovan McNabb, came from a linebacker (Mason Foster) and safety (Sean Jones).
But Bucs linemen feel they have made steps. Given the pressure on the unit to produce after the unimpressive results of the past few seasons, they know the coaching staff is demanding measurable improvement.
The unfortunate thing, the linemen say, is there have been few chances for sacks. The Lions, in the opener, used a quick passing game with three-step drops from quarterback Matt Stafford.
The Vikings used a number of bootleg and misdirection plays that slowed the pass rush. McNabb threw many of his passes on the run and used a number of screen plays that are useful in beating a pass rush.
The use of those tactics are not coincidental, the Bucs say.
"They're trying to counter our speed on the edge," end Michael Bennett said. "That's what I think. They would just drop back and throw if they didn't respect us.
"Last week we had a consistent pass rush. Teams are doing things like bootlegs because they see our speed. They're trying to keep us discombobulated. Now and then we'll get a straight rush. Every time we got one, we had McNabb running out of the pocket. It's coming along."
So the lack of pass-rushing situations is a key factor, but those situations are, in some cases, lacking because of the Bucs' deficiencies. With Vikings running back Adrian Peterson chewing up yardage on first and second downs, many of the seven third downs Minnesota faced in the first half were short. Four were third and 5 or less. Those situations don't require five- and seven-step quarterback drops that pass rushers long for.
The answer lies in making sure-handed tackles and clogging running lanes on first and second downs.
"It's just, like always, about stopping the run," right end Adrian Clayborn said. "We have to do a better job against the run. That way we can put ourselves in better position to get those sacks. … We need those third and longs so we can just tee off."
Maybe they get the chance on Sunday, when the Falcons visit Raymond James Stadium. They've yielded nine sacks in two games, third-most in the NFL.
In the meantime, though the Bucs' sack numbers are lacking, there has been incremental progress. But with the team coming off a season in which it ranked 30th with 26 sacks, are small steps enough? Again, that depends on how you measure success.
"When you make the quarterback make a bad decision or throw the ball sooner than he wants, that's just as big as a sack," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "When (you get) an incomplete pass, he throws it out of bounds, you rush him out of the pocket, make him take a 1-yard gain instead of throwing the ball down the field, that's what you want."