TAMPA — Bucs left tackle Donald Penn says his job, facing a top pass-rusher every Sunday, doesn't get any easier.
But after admittedly not playing well in last week's loss to the 49ers, Penn has to turn the page quickly as he's matching up with the NFL's second-leading sacker, Rams end Robert Quinn, on Sunday in St. Louis.
Quinn's 15 sacks are 1½ fewer than Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, but his eight forced fumbles lead the league.
"He's really come into his own, putting himself in that elite category," Penn said. "It's good to go against this matchup after playing probably one of my worst games of the season. It's good to kind of bounce back and try to redeem myself."
Penn admits the entire offensive line has had an up-and-down year. It freed Mike James to rush for 158 yards against Seattle on Nov. 3 and Bobby Rainey for 163 against Atlanta on Nov. 17. And it allowed one sack against Buffalo, which entered the game leading the league, on Dec. 8.
But rookie Mike Glennon has been sacked 14 times over the past four games, including four by the 49ers. And the line shoulders some blame for the offense's league-low 283.7 yards per game.
"It's been frustrating," Penn said. "We haven't had once where we had all five guys here together for a long period of time. But at the end of the day, we've got to get better. We're not playing to our capability. We do at times, but 'at times' gets you (a 4-10 record). 'At times' isn't good enough."
All-Pro left guard Nicks missed the first two games due to a MRSA infection in his foot, played the next two but has been out since due to a recurrence. Right guard Davin Joseph didn't play much in the preseason, then worked his way back from last year's reconstructive knee surgery. After some shuffling, Jamon Meredith has settled in at left guard.
"There have been times (the line) has played well," coach Greg Schiano said. "Kind of phasing guys, getting them all going at the same time, that's been a little choppy. But there have been times where we have had everybody and still not been great."
The Rams boast a dynamic duo at end with Quinn, a 6-foot-4, 264-pound third-year pro, and Chris Long, a 6-3, 268-pound sixth-year pro, combining for 21½ sacks.
With Quinn's knack for forcing fumbles, Glennon said he has to grip the ball tighter and step up in the pocket when needed.
"He's as good at tomahawk-chopping the backside of the quarterback," Schiano said. "You haven't seen a guy do it with that effectiveness since (Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor). L.T. … used to 'WHAP!' and knock that ball out with a vicious tomahawk chop."
Penn said he and Joseph aren't happy with how the offense has fallen off since last season, when it ranked ninth in the league at 363.8 yards per game.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
"That's a big drop," Penn said.
And Penn said the linemen, whose 38 sacks allowed are 12 more than last season, are looking in the mirror, taking it as a lesson learned and promising "next year is not going to be like this."
"We've had good days. We've had bad days," right tackle Demar Dotson said. "Have we done what we wanted to do? No. I think overall it's pretty good, but we hold ourselves … to a higher standard. When we look at this record, we're going to always feel like we could have done something better. We're a 4-10 football team. We haven't done enough."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.