It’s a goal for all defensive lines in the NFL each and every week: pressure the quarterback and force him to make poor decisions.
Get in his face, push him out of the pocket, get a few licks in on him and increase the odds that some of those hurried throws sail off-target.
That defensive facet is being especially emphasized this week as Tampa Bay prepares for its trip to Detroit.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing attack has dangerous potential, but the sixth-year signal caller also has a penchant for making a handful of hasty decisions throughout the span of a game.
Buccaneers players spoke Wednesday about the need to exploit the opportunities Stafford presents and how they can force him into making as many as possible.
“With Stafford, if you rattle him he’ll make all types of ill-advised throws – sidearming the ball, just throwing it up in the air hoping Megatron comes down with it,” defensive tackle Akeem Spence candidly said while referencing All-Pro wideout Calvin Johnson. “So if you get in his head early he gets pretty rattled compared to most quarterbacks.”
Tampa Bay has recorded seven of its 11 total interceptions in the six games since the Week 7 bye, including three against Cincinnati last Sunday. Stafford became the fastest player to reach 20,000 yards passing three weeks ago in Arizona, but also owns a less-than-threatening 15-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio this year and a completion percentage of 60.4 that ranks him near the bottom of the league.
It might go against conventional wisdom to potentially funnel an opponent’s offense toward guys like Johnson and receiver Golden Tate (1,136 yards), but that will also increase the chances for Tampa Bay’s improved pass rush to force Stafford’s hand.
“The biggest thing we want to do is knock their run game out and then just get after Matthew Stafford and make him throw about 40 or 50 times,” Spence said. “When he does that he struggles. But at the same time they have Calvin Johnson and those guys that can go get the ball, so we’ve got to be on our details this week, shut them down the best we can and try to get a lot of turnovers.”
That’s a similar strategy to what Tampa Bay employed when the Bucs made this same trip to Ford Field late last November. It resulted in Stafford going 26 of 46 for 297 yards and three touchdowns, but also four interceptions and a 24-21 Bucs victory.
Last Thursday against Chicago marked the first time Stafford’s attempted 40 or more passes without tossing an interception this season. Six of his 10 picks have come during those five previous contests.
To snag a few more of those errant Stafford passes, it’ll start with the Bucs in the box.
“It’s key,” middle linebacker Mason Foster said. “He’s a great quarterback. He’s got a lot of weapons over there with Bush, Tate, Megatron; all those guys are big-time players. They’ve got two or three running backs, so it’s going to be tough. You’ve got to go out there and compete and try to get pressure on him and disrupt things up front to make it easier on the back end.”
Benefiting handsomely from Tampa Bay’s ramped up rush has been cornerback Johnthan Banks. The second-year pro’s accounted for four of the Bucs’ 11 interceptions and three of the seven since the bye.
“Our defensive line has done a great job getting after the quarterback these last couple of weeks,” said Banks, one of four Bucs defenders that victimized Stafford last year. “I played [Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green] well, but the defensive line made it to where I didn’t have to cover for five or six seconds. Gerald [McCoy] and those guys, they did a great job.”
The Bucs are hopeful they’ll be up north with their full arsenal of defensive linemen and linebackers. Spence stepped into a starting role last week for the injured Clinton McDonald and tallied seven total tackles, including one for a loss, a half-sack and another quarterback hit. McDonald (hamstring) still hasn’t returned to practice as of Wednesday.
Starting weakside linebacker Lavonte David sat out his second straight game last Sunday but resumed practicing this week.
“Clinton McDonald is getting better,” head coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday after practice. “It’ll be good to get him back on the football field. And it’s always good to get Lavonte David back out.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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