Did the Buccaneers’ pass rush turn another corner on Thursday night in Minnesota? Ask again after Sunday’s game in Oakland.
Tampa Bay, which has been searching for an effective pass rush for several seasons now, seemed to have found the right mix to start 2012, with a new aggressive scheme under Greg Schiano and Bill Sheridan and breakout play from Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett. The Bucs had seven sacks through their first three games and were spending a lot more time in the opposing backfield than they had in 2011.
However, right end Adrian Clayborn, the team’s sack leader in 2011 as a rookie and still the catalyst up front even without sacks of his own this year, suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week Three. McCoy and Bennett both admitted that they had seen a difference in the attention they were receiving in the games that followed Clayborn’s loss to injured reserve, and the team had just one sack over the next three games.
Obviously, the Buccaneers needed to find a revised formula for getting to the passer without Clayborn, and they appeared to take a step in that direction in Thursday’s win over the Vikings. The Bucs’ pass rush got to Christian Ponder for three sacks and four other quarterback hits, and even before the hits began they disrupted Ponder’s rhythm right off the bat. Ponder started the game with an assortment of screens and short passing attempts but went 0-5 on the Vikings’ first three possessions as quick upfield movement from the Bucs’ defense threw those plays out of whack.
McCoy said the improved results up front had a lot to do with a slightly revised approach.
“We took a huge step,” said McCoy. “We had three or four sacks as opposed to not having any. They just kind of gave us a game plan where they let us go. They put us in pass-rushing situations and said, ‘Hey, this is what you guys wanted? Here’s your opportunity to go.’ We answered the bell.”
Schiano was pleased that his defensive front made such a quick rebound from a rough game just four days earlier against New Orleans. The key, however, will be maintaining that performance this coming weekend in Oakland, rather than continuing to be up-and-down in the pass rush.
“We probably had our worst effort in our pass rush – and when I say ‘effort’ I just mean the result – [against the Saints] and then one of the better ones this week. All along I’ve been talking to you guys about consistency and that’s what good teams do. They come out and they consistently perform, sometimes they peak it a little bit but they don’t have the valleys. That’s what we’re working towards.”