Michael Bennett racked up his seventh sack of the season last Sunday in Carolina, giving him the Buccaneers’ lead in that category by more than double the next player. According to a chart we’ve referenced several times on the excellent FootballOutsiders site, Bennett is also one of the hardest defensive ends to run on in the NFL. (The chart lists Tampa Bay as the top defense in running plays aimed at left end, where Bennett takes the vast majority of the snaps.)
The Atlanta Falcons, who will be visiting Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, have spent much of this week watching videotape on the Buccaneers. What they’ve seen of Bennett matches up nicely with what the above status would suggest.
“He’s played awesome,” said Falcons QB Matt Ryan of Bennett’s breakout season. “He really has. He’s been relentless in both the run and the pass game, obviously leading their team in sacks. He’s just had a really, really good year. I think his effort is probably as good as anybody I’ve seen this year. He’s playing really physical, doing a great job against the run and the pass and playing with great effort. That’s what you see when you watch the tape.”
Bennett was a big part of one of the Buccaneers’ best pass-rush days last Sunday. The Bucs only tallied two sacks against Cam Newton, but they hit him many more times and constantly disrupted the rhythm of the Carolina defense. Moreoever, they racked up a whopping 10 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, slowing down a Panthers team that was determined to run the ball.
The Buccaneers will likely need another such effort from Bennett on Sunday because the Falcons’ passing attack can be lethal if Ryan is given time to throw and clear lanes to pick out his targets. Atlanta has produced just under 300 passing yards per game this season and Ryan has thrown an average of two touchdowns per game. Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith knows that Bennett is one of the players the Falcons will have to game plan for in order to have another efficient day on offense.
“He’s having an outstanding year not only rushing the passer but of course playing the run,” said Smith of Bennett. “What we see is a guy who’s very explosive coming off of the left side. He’s not just an effort guy – he’s got strength. He can push the tackle back and condense the pocket. But he’s also got some athleticism to create mismatches with the right tackle.”