The Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves with a 3-1 record and the ninth ranked pass defense in the NFL, but are last in the league in sacks. Through four games the Bucs have just four sacks and have been sackless in three out of four contests.
There is a lot for Tampa Bay to feel good about as the team is off to a 3-1 start. However, one thing that the Buccaneers want to improve on is their pass rush. Tampa Bay is last in the NFL in sacks with a total of four sacks. Head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has previously stated that he wants the Bucs to be one of the league leaders in quarterback sacks. After the Bucs failed to register a sack for the third time in four games, Morris addressed the team’s pass rush issues.
“There were a lot of pressures and it is hard to give them a high grade without any sacks,” said Morris. “We were able to get a lot of pressures from [Brian] Price. You can see him getting better. He’s one of the guys on the defense that you are really starting to feel. You could see Gerald McCoy get a couple of nice inside moves, make a couple of plays on the outside. Micheal Bennett gave us a little bit of a spark getting to the quarterback and causing some pressure. Quincy [Black] is always able to do that a little bit, especially in particular in the third down rush when he’s able to go out there. You see the pressure but you didn’t get the results that you like, so you didn’t give him a high grade right now but a better grade. The fact they are going out there and getting better every week is what we got to look forward to.”
Tampa Bay has gotten two sacks out of backup defensive end Tim Crowder and one sack from defensive end Stylez White. Linebacker Quincy Black has contributed one sack, and all four were registered in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers. Three of the Bucs' starting defensive linemen - defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle Roy Miller, defensive end Kyle Moore - have been held without a sack. All three of them are in their first-year as starters in the NFL.
“We've got to get there some way some how,” said Moore. “It is a lot of young guys up there on that line and we are all trying to figure it out. Especially for me, I’m trying to work my way through it and trying to get my pass rushing moves down. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.
“It is still early in the season, and it was an ugly game, but we got it done. When we really needed to execute we did and got those stops.”
The Bucs defense is ranked 18th overall in the NFL. Tampa Bay has the ninth-rated pass defense in the NFL and is allowing 197.5 yards per game through the air. The Bucs are tied for second in the NFL with nine interceptions with the Carolina Panthers. The Atlanta Falcons lead the league with 10 picks. Eight of the nine interceptions have come from the defensive backs with Black getting the other interception.
Bucs starting free safety Cody Grimm said the defensive line and pass rush has played a part in the secondary getting the interceptions.
“They’ve been getting pressure when we needed them to on third-and-long and stuff like that,” said Grimm. “They’ve been able to get some good moves inside. They get some pressure and that’s pretty much all you need. If you can get a hand in the face on a rush, and obviously sacks are nice because you don’t have to defend the ball, if you can get a hand up or something like that it is all the D-line has to do to get a little hurry on him it helps us.”
White concurred that the turnovers have been a team output.
“We’re just playing team ball. They’re getting interceptions. Hopefully it’ll turn around and we’ll get a lot of sacks,” said White. “If they come together we’re going to be something to deal with.”
Tampa Bay's pass rush will get another test by one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks and passing attacks in the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees guided the Saints to their first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history last season.
“His ability to scramble and make plays,” said Miller of what stands out about Brees. “He has a lot of awareness. He makes great throws that guys with awareness can do.”
This season the Saints feature the fifth-rated passing attack and are averaging 271 yards per game through the air. Brees, 31, has completed a blistering 71 percent of his passes for 1,410 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions in four games. Putting pressure on Brees will be important for the Buccaneers to limit his ability to complete passes downfield.
“It is critical every week. It is a lot easier when we are winning,” said White of the pass rush. “We definitely have a chip on our shoulder as a D-line trying to make more plays happen for our team.”
Last Sunday the Saints lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 30-20. Brees had his worst outing of the season when he completed 24-of-39 passes for 279 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. One of those interceptions was returned 28-yards by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for the game sealing touchdown. While Brees is the face of the Saints’ franchise, Miller believes that stopping the New Orleans running attack takes precedent and will set up a better pass rush.
“Just like any week we have got to find a way to stop this run,” said Miller. “Once you stop the run then all the opportunities come up to get after the quarterback. It is a lot of opportunities when quarterbacks start getting antsy. They start trying to hold the ball longer. We just have to get after this run, and if we do that than all the pass rush stuff will come.”
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