O-Line Faces Biggest Threat Yet

Five minutes into the second quarter of the Buccaneers’ nail-biter with the Falcons on Sunday, QB Josh Freeman was sacked by blitzing CB Dunta Robinson.  Two plays later, Freeman was sacked again, this time by DE Kroy Biermann.

This was an uncommon experience for Freeman.  Those two sacks, before the second quarter was halfway over, equaled the highest total he had absorbed in any of the Bucs’ previous 10 games of 2012.  It looked like he might be in for a long afternoon.

As it would turn out, however, Freeman would not suffer another sack the rest of the way.  That particular drive was killed by the backfield takedowns, but the Bucs would rally to take a 23-17 lead in the fourth quarter (which was eventually trumped by Atlanta’s own rally) and have another efficient, turnover-free afternoon on offense.

As such, the Buccaneers’ streak of consecutive games without allowing any more than two sacks is still alive, now having reached 11.  That’s the longest run for the team since it had 17 in a row over the last seven games of 1980 and the first 10 of 1981.  This marks the longest the Bucs have gone into a single season without allowing three or more sacks in any game since 1979, when they made it 13 games in.  Those ’79-81 teams, of course, were quarterbacked by Doug Williams, who was legendary for his ability to and insistence upon avoiding sacks.

For the 2012 Bucs to keep their streak alive and potentially match that ’79 team, they’ll first have to get past the most difficult pass rush they have encountered all season.  The Denver Broncos have an NFL-high 37 sacks this year, or roughly 3.5 per game, and they are led by one of the top candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, LB Von Miller.

“Every game is big for the offensive line, but this game here especially,” said Demar Dotson, who protects the right edge of the Bucs’ line.  “We’ve got to protect Josh and get on these pass-rushers and slow them down to give Josh time to get the ball downfield.”

Miller is third in the NFL with 14 sacks but may be the league’s best at generating pressure of all kinds on the quarterback.  According to Pro Football Focus, he is the NFL leader in “pass-rushing productivity,” which PFF calculates by adding sacks, hits and hurries and then expressing them on a per-snap basis.  His current mark of 16.6 in the PFF stat would be the highest by any player in the five years they’ve been keeping track.

“He can do everything,” said Donald Penn, charged with taking care of the left end of the line.  “He can play linebacker, play D-end…he could probably play safety.  He could probably score touchdowns as a running back if he wanted to.  He’s a good athlete, a specimen out there.  He’s a very good player.

“He has a lot of pass-rush moves.  He’s not a one-dimensional player.”

Dotson points out that the Broncos do indeed take advantage of Miller’s versatility by lining him up all over the field.  When he’s rushing off the edge, it’s more likely to be on Dotson’s side, but he’ll take on both tackles at some point.  And when either Dotson or Penn gets a break from Miller, they’ll likely be facing Elvis Dumervil, who has eight sacks of his own already.

“Dumervil’s not bad, either,” said Dotson.  “He may not be Von Miller, but that guy brings it too.”

The Bucs’ offensive line has certainly brought it this season, even through a slew of injuries and lineup changes.  They’ll need another top-notch performance on Sunday in Denver to keep the Bucs’ offense on its recent roll.

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