View the numbers in a vacuum, and it would seem as if Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy has barely contributed to his team’s impressive three-game winning streak. In victories over Minnesota, Oakland and San Diego, McCoy recorded exactly one solo tackle, two tackle assists and one pass defensed. DE Da’Quan Bowers, just off the PUP list and playing a limited role at this point, has three tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and two quarterback hits in the same span.
Fortunately, McCoy is not judged by the numbers alone, at least not by the people who decide where and when he plays, and the people who determine how well he did so at the end of the game. According to Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano, McCoy has been indispensable in his team’s rise into playoff contention.
“I think it’s more than just if I’m happy with [McCoy's production], it’s if it helps us win,” said Schiano. “That really is the ultimate goal. I think he can see how what he does helps us play better defense. We aren’t anywhere where we want to be but without Gerald we wouldn’t be where we are.”
McCoy burst out of the gates this season with 3.0 sacks, six quarterback hits and four tackles for loss in the Bucs’ first three games. He hasn’t added to his sack total since, but that is definitely not an indication that his play has fallen off.
“[The lack of stats] can be nerve-wracking,” McCoy conceded, “but you’ve got to focus on the positives of it. As long as the people in this building don’t have an issue with what you’re doing, then you don’t have to worry about it. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but as long as Coach Schiano comes to me and says, ‘You’re doing what we need, you’re putting pressure on the quarterback, you’re getting hits on the quarterback,’ [I'm fine]. A lot of stuff is going unnoticed because it’s not a number everybody’s looking for.”
And that’s exactly the point. McCoy can make one game-changing play after another, but if it’s not specifically a sack it’s not going to jump off the stat sheet. He changes the game in many ways, by chasing the quarterback out of his comfort zone in the pocket, by occupying multiple blockers and freeing up his teammates for good looks, by plugging gaps and forcing backs to change course and by forcing bad throws with his pressure. A perfect example: In the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win over San Diego, it was McCoy who chased Chargers QB Philip Rivers to the sideline, leading to an ill-advised throw that CB Leonard Johnson intercepted and returned for a touchdown. It was the single most important play of the game, and Johnson got to bask in the spotlight, as well he should have. But the play wouldn’t have happened without McCoy being the catalyst.
“The stats will come when they come,” said McCoy. “I’m not really worried about that because the past two games, at the end of the game they said, ‘Somebody’s got to make a play.’ Well, we get pressure up front and it causes the quarterback to make a bad throw, which forces the interception. That’s a team effort, and that’s kind of my role.”
Of course, if McCoy really is playing at as high of a level as the coaches indicate, then it is not likely that his weekly stat sheet will continue to be dominated by zeroes. In addition to the hidden disruption, the sacks and the TFLs and the forced fumbles are sure to re-emerge. At least, that’s what Schiano believes as he looks ahead to the second half of the season.
“Would he like to have more stat-sheet production?” said Schiano. “I’m sure he would because he’s capable. People are sliding protections to him and that kind of thing because he is that force. I have a feeling in the second half of the year those plays will start to come. When you play as hard as he does, those plays will come. He plays his tail off and he tries to do what we really are asking our guys to do, try to be 1/11th of the scheme and go out and do it. Sometimes the play will come to you and sometimes it will come to the other guys but at the end of the day they’re going to come.”