After a heavy reliance on starting outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul to get the job done for the Bucs early in the season, Tampa Bay has shifted strategies. The team is now relying more on their backups than they did early in the season. And we’re not just talking about rookie first round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka either. Instead, the Bucs are going deep into their edge rusher room with Anthony Nelson and Cam Gill.
Nelson and Gill have continually made splash plays for the Bucs over the last four games. Nelson has recorded six tackles, two sacks and six quarterback hits in that time. Some of his production has come in unblocked situations, but he’s finding the ball extremely well.
Gill’s production is even more surprising. The second-year edge rusher has two sacks despite playing just 17 defensive snaps this season! And both sacks have been fairly impressive, including a spinning pancake of Giants right tackle Nate Solder. Gill also sacked Matt Ryan on Sunday, getting around Jake Matthews on the edge.
My favorite play of the game was absolutely Bucs special teamers Cam Gill and Pat O'Connor destroying Nate Solder and Will Hernandez for a sack lol. Gill pancaked Solder with his back 😂 pic.twitter.com/xHk4EQIADz
With a rotator cuff limiting the abilities of Pierre-Paul, that Bucs have turned elsewhere to get production off the edge. It’s earning other guys more playing time in the process.
“There’s no doubt, they’re earning playing time,” Bruce Arians said. “Anthony’s obviously been getting better and better this year. Cam Gill, every time he gets out there he makes something happen. He’s a high effort guy and he’s strong. They’re earning that playing time. I think it’s helping the other guys getting a little more rest coming into December now.”
Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Pierre-Paul’s snap counts have dropped each game since Week 10, going from 79 percent of plays to 76, 65 and 52 percent respectively. Nelson played in 30 percent of the snaps on Sunday, which was the second highest amount he’s been involved in this season while Pierre-Paul was also in the lineup. His largest share was 35 percent, which came in a blowout win over the Bears.
Gill is still only playing in a single digit number of defensive snaps per game, but he did have a season high seven reps in the Bucs’ win over the Falcons. His two sacks on the year are just a half-sack behind Pierre-Paul. That’s especially impressive when you consider Gill has played 494 less snaps than the former Pro Bowler. If you’ll recall, Gill also had a half-sack in the Bucs Super Bowl victory.
This isn’t meant to be a knock on Pierre-Paul for his lack of production while playing through a torn rotator cuff. But the Bucs depth options are developing and making an impact right now. Their on-field production has opened the door for Tampa Bay to have more flexibility with their outside linebacker room moving forward.