Quarterback Josh Freeman wasn’t the only Buccaneer who took part in a first-quarter evaluation this week during the team’s bye. In fact, that process was going on in every position’s meeting room.
One might expect some of the best “grades” from the first quarter of the season to belong to the defensive line, where the pressure being applied on opposing backfields is significantly better than a year ago, if not yet where the team hopes to be. In particular, left defensive end Michael Bennett (four sacks, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (three sacks, five tackles for loss, six QB hits) have played some of the best football of their young careers.
However, McCoy came away from that evaluation far from satisfied. Perhaps it comes from that initial taste of success, but the third-year pro wants to see a lot more from himself and his D-Line teammates in the next three quarters of the season.
“After evaluating our first-quarter report, we’ve seen some things we were good at and we’ve seen some things we were not so good at,” he said. “Basically, we’re taking this time to get back to fundamentals, because during the week, in a game week, all you can do is focus on your opponent and prepare. Well, now we can focus on what we have to do, which is get back to fixing our little things that we have to get right.
“I think we’re doing a great job of attacking, but there are a lot of different plays that we leave on the field. From the outside looking in, you won’t see it. But from the inside, we know there are a lot of plays we left out there. That’s why this week we’re taking the time to make sure that doesn’t happen with fits, hand placement, shedding the right way…just lots of little things we can fix so we don’t leave those plays on the field. We’ve been doing good, but it’s not good enough because we’ve got three losses in a row.”
Tampa Bay’s run defense has been outstanding, allowing just 89 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry. The Bucs also have eight sacks through four games, a 32-sack full-season pace that would be an improvement over last year’s mark of 23 but has room to get even better. On the flip side, the Bucs are allowing over 400 yards per game and have had trouble closing opponents out in tight games. In addition, starting right end Adrian Clayborn, who didn’t have a sack yet in 2012 but was the team’s leader with 7.5 as a rookie last year, was lost to a season-ending knee injury in Week Three.
The loss of Clayborn could be taken into consideration when grading the D-Line through the first quarter, but McCoy says it can’t be a factor moving forward.
“I can’t give a specific grade [to the D-Line's play so far],” said McCoy. “We’re playing alright, but we can get a whole lot better. Losing Clayborn was a big blow to us, but like I always say it’s the next-man-up philosophy. When we come back for Kansas City, that’s over. We’re back to the way we always did it.”