With Bucs training camp quickly approaching the PewterReport.com staff asks – and answers – 15 critical camp questions that need to be addressed this August as Tampa Bay prepares to embark on the 2019 season. Over the next 15 days PewterReport.com will offer up its thoughts on the topics that the Bucs will need to sort out in order for the team to be successful this season and possibly compete for a long-awaited playoff berth.
These are the things that the PewterReport.com staff will be following closely in camp, and invite our readers to share their thoughts as well in the comment section.
How do the Bucs replace JPP’s production?
With Todd Bowles’ blitz packages providing pressure.
There’s no replacing what Jason Pierre-Paul did for the Bucs last season with just one person. In his first year with the Bucs, Pierre-Paul broke a decade-long drought of double-digit sacks, notching 12.5 on the year. It’s going to take a group effort to sustain the type of consistent pressure that he brought.
The top edge rusher for the Bucs now becomes Carl Nassib, who also had a succesful year in his own right with 6.5 sacks. But he doesn’t have the luxury of the opponent having to game plan for Pierre-Paul on the other side anymore. Asking him to recreate what Pierre-Paul did would be a stretch.
What the real X-factor comes down to for the Bucs to replace that production will come from what Todd Bowles draws up. Bowles is known for an aggressive, blitzing style of defense, so it will be that along with adjustments such as playing the corners on the line of scrimmage that will make a difference for the team.
As the head coach for the Jets, Bowles had New York blitzing 29 percent of the time in 2018, which was good for seventh best in the league. The Bucs weren’t terribly far off, coming in at 13th in the NFL with 23 percent. Now Tampa Bay didn’t need to rely on the blitz as much as the Jets did because they created pressure with just the line, but that won’t be the same with their best pass rusher gone. Look for Bowles to continue the high amount of blitzing while coming up with creative ways to get to the quarterback.
In Bowles system, those that will benefit most from an increased blitz package will be the middle linebackers, Lavonte David and Devin White. Under a Mike Smith defense where the main concern was not to give up the big play, David was not used as much on the pass rush.
If you look back at his history though, David was at his best when having the ability to be aggressive and utilize the entire field. This included a 2013 season under Greg Schiano when he recorded a career high seven sacks en route to earning All-Pro honors. One of Devin White’s best attributes is his speed, where he ran a 4.42 at the NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash, which would be best handled attacking the passer.
It won’t just be the middle linebackers that will bring the pressure on blitz, as Bowles can dial up the pressure from the nickel or money backer position. Whether it’s Sean Murphy-Bunting, M.J. Stewart, Mike Edwards, or Deone Buccanon playing the role, someone will be coming.
With the different set ups that Bowles can run to bring pressure, it becomes a collective effort to replace Pierre-Paul’s production. The Bucs don’t need just one player to get 12.5 sacks, they are better off if they have the Vita Vea’s, Noah Spence’s and Shaq Barrett’s of the team each notching anywhere from four to six sacks a player.
Outside of Pierre-Paul and Nassib, only one player had more than three sacks last season, and that was Gerald McCoy with six. That means that out of the Bucs’ 38 team sacks, almost 70 percent came from that trio, and only six and a half of those 38 came from someone other than a defensive linemen.
If the entire defensive unit sticks to their coaching assignments, the role players can each chip in on the pass rush to raise everyone’s production. They will get to the quarterback in different ways this season other than relying on the front four. That will all come up from Todd Bowles and the blitzes that he designs.