Bucs rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said that he takes personal responsibility for the Bucs ranking last in the NFL in run defense and sacks. McCoy, who was drafted third overall, has 16 tackles, three tackles for loss and no sacks on the season.
It’s Gerald McCoy’s fault that the Buccaneers defense is not rushing the passer, not stuffing the run and not playing well overall. That’s the way the rookie defensive tackle that was selected third overall in the 2010 NFL Draft feels.
“I know I am young, I am a rookie, but I am kind of one of those guys that has so much pride even though I am one of the youngest guys on the defense besides Brian Price,” McCoy said. “I feel like I am one of those guys who puts it all on my back. If the defense isn’t playing well it is all my fault. That’s how I feel. I’ve been in the film room early and stayed late. I don’t know what it is. I am going to keep working. I just need to fix it. I’m watching old tape, watching other pass rushers, other defensive linemen, watching everything and working on it. It’s one of those things were we just have to get better.”
After a humiliating 31-6 defeat at the hands of New Orleans, which dropped Tampa Bay to 3-2 on the season, McCoy said that he felt responsible for the team allowing the Saints to amass 477 yards, including a season-high 212 yards on the ground. The Bucs had allowed Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall to rush for 143 yards and Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson to roll up 144 yards on the ground in the last two games, but Tampa Bay gave up 158 yards on 15 carries (10.5 avg.) to Chris Ivory, an undrafted rookie from Tiffin University, who came into the game with just 119 yards on 29 carries over the last three games.
The Saints came into Sunday’s game with the league’s 31st-ranked rushing attack, while the Bucs had the NFL’s 30th-ranked run defense. After surrendering a total of 785 yards on the ground through five games, Tampa Bay’s run defense has fallen to dead last in the NFL, which is where it ranked a year ago when it allowed opponents to rush for 2,531 yards on 529 carries and average 158.2 yards per game. After Sunday’s loss to the Saints, the Bucs defense is surrendering an embarrassing 157 rushing yards per game.
In an effort to improve against the run, McCoy has watched countless hours of game film from Tampa Bay’s glory days to try to pick up some tips to help shut down opponents’ running games. But McCoy noted that the Tampa 2 scheme run by former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, which was generally successful in stopping the run from 1996-2006, is different than the one deployed by head coach Raheem Morris, who serves as the Bucs defensive coordinator.
“It’s the old Bucs defense and how they played it,” McCoy said. “I sit and I watch it and I watch it and I watch it and say, ‘We can do that.’ But the thing is about the old Tampa 2 and how we play it, we are attack and react, and theirs was a little different [and they got upfield more]. We can play our gap and get upfield, but it’s not like when Booger [McFarland] and [Warren] Sapp jumped their gap and whether they reached him or not it was okay. It’s not like that now. I just have to learn to play the way we play it. That’s why I’ve been watching so much tape. I just put so much pressure on myself that I put a lot of the blame on me personally. Even though I am young I don’t want to use that as a crutch. Every time the defense plays bad I blame it on myself.”
McCoy, who had three tackles on Sunday and has 16 stops and three tackles for loss on the season, said that being too concerned with maintaining gap integrity is slowing him down, and that missing tackles from the front seven are hurting the defense.
“We play as a whole on defense, but the better I play the better the defense is,” McCoy said. “Some of those plays [on Sunday], if I fall back I make it. I was trying to be so gap sound, I need to just be a football player, fall back and make it. I’m so worried about playing the thing the right way instead of just making the play. It’s slowing me down.
“It’s not like we’re not in our gaps because we watch film and we’re in our gaps. We’re just missing tackles. Then it comes back to one of those things where you have to be a playmaker. You are in your gap, but you have to make that impossible play. You have to make that extra play. That’s what I’m working to do. I’m slowing myself down because I’m young and I’m trying to do it the way the coach says to do it instead of just letting it go and releasing it and being so gap sound and play within the scheme of the defense. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
While McCoy has yet to make an impact in Tampa Bay, fellow rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who went second overall to Detroit, has 4.5 sacks and an interception in six games. The former Oklahoma star admitted that he has not played as well as he expected to, and is struggling to learn how to play Morris’ defense correctly.
“I would have liked [to be better], but the thing is that I learn a certain way,” McCoy said. “Just like I did at OU. I started as a redshirt freshman, but I didn’t get my first sack until the sixth game of the season. By then I just started to learn what to do and how to do it. Once I learn the game and stop playing – okay, stay here – and just go make a play, then things will start to change.
“The thing is that I was pushing my man and I was falling in my gap, but I was falling out too late. If I stay in my B (gap) and fall back to the A (gap), in this league, running backs can cut and come back to the B (gap). Then it’s out of the gate and it’s my fault. I’m just so worried about controlling my B gap that I’ve got to start learning to get the feel to fall back. Once I get that down it will change a whole lot. I’m still trying to learn when to fall back and when to stay in my gap. The thing is that I’m working at it. I don’t accept the way I’ve been playing or the way we’ve been playing. I go home, think about it, come back and say, ‘How can I get better?’ I watch certain things and go to Coach Wash and say, ‘Okay, this week we’re rushing these two guards. What pass rush moves do I need to work on?’ These are the things I’m doing to get better. Eventually it will come.”
The fact that he is not just playing the three technique defensive tackle spot where he thrived at Oklahoma, but is also playing defensive end in the 3-4 and 3-3-5 Redskin packages could also be stunting McCoy’s growth. Some NFL pundits prior to the draft raved over McCoy’s pass rushing ability with a few even boldly saying that his ability to get to the quarterback trumped Suh’s – even though the statistics and production didn’t support those claims. Still, it is concerning that McCoy has yet to record a sack through five games after failing to notch one in the preseason, too.
Not only is the Bucs defense struggling to stop the run, Tampa Bay ranks dead last in sacks, too.
“We have three sacks on the D-line and four sacks total and we’re last in the league,” McCoy said. “That’s unacceptable. Once again I put it all on my back. That’s just the type of person and the player I am. I don’t point fingers or say, ‘They’ll come’ or ‘They come in bunches.’ I don’t believe that. There is no reason we have four sacks. I put the blame on me. That’s just how I feel.”
After Sunday’s loss, McCoy was his lack of production due to his inexperience and the woeful play of the defense were causing him to get discouraged.
“I take a lot of the blame. I don’t care that I’m young,” McCoy said. “That doesn’t mean anything. I don’t care about that.
“I’m not getting discouraged. Getting discouraged has not even crossed my mind. I just have to get better. I’m not getting discouraged. I just have to get better. What is this? Game 5? I just have to keep playing. You can’t get discouraged. That’s one thing I can’t do. If I get discouraged then I definitely won’t play well. Even though I put it on my shoulders, I have to take it as a challenge and keep working.”
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