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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Newton a challenge for struggling Bucs' pass rush

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Published:   |   Updated: October 24, 2013 at 08:15 AM

TAMPA — As soon as the words came pouring out of his mouth, you sensed in Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy a desire to gather them all back up and put them right back where they came from.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound McCoy is, after all, as humble as he is huge. But as he pointed out in his next breath, after being asked why the Tampa Bay pass rush has suddenly lost steam, he also was honest.

“They found No. 93,'' McCoy said, referring to his jersey number. “Sorry, I'm just being honest. Atlanta definitely did last week. They clamped off on the B-gap where I was and made sure they had some extra protection there.

“They also did a lot scheming to get the ball out quick, and a lot of that was to make sure that I didn't get a lot of one-on-ones. But I have to find a way around that, and I think I have a plan for that.''

Someone needs to come up with a plan. And fast.

After dropping a 31-23 decision to the Falcons on Sunday, the Bucs go right back at it against the Carolina Panthers tonight at Raymond James Stadium.

That will pit McCoy and the rest of the Bucs' pass rushers against mobile Panthers quarterback Cam Newton — and their recent lack of success in that area suggests the Bucs might be in for a difficult night.

Since recording a relatively impressive 11 sacks in their first three games of the season, the Bucs have only two sacks in three games since.

One of those was recorded three weeks ago against the Eagles by linebacker Lavonte David. The other was recorded a month ago against the Cardinals by McCoy, who was just being honest when he suggested he was the key to Tampa Bay's pass rush.

With two sacks, seven quarterback hits and 19 quarterback hurries, McCoy ranks third among all defensive tackles and ninth among all defensive linemen with 28 total quarterback pressures, according to stats tabulated by ProFootballFocus.

With the exception of David, who is tied for 10th among all outside linebackers, no other member of the Bucs' defensive front seven even ranks in the top 40 at his position in quarterback pressures.

The closest is Adrian Clayborn, who is tied for 41st among defensive ends with seven pressures (two sacks, one hit, four hurries), but one of the ends he's tied with is teammate Da'Quan Bowers, who plays only a fraction of the time.

“We're definitely not getting the production we need,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “And there are a couple of reasons for that. In the Philly game we didn't do a good job of getting them into situations where we could just pin our ears back and go. We also missed four sacks in that game. We got our hands on (the quarterback) there but we didn't get him down. When you get to him, you have to get him down.

“(The Falcons) have allowed only nine sacks all year and a huge part of that is (quarterback) Matt Ryan. He does a great job at getting rid of the football and he's a little more mobile than you give him credit for.

“But we still have to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback. There were some hits and we had some pressures in that (Atlanta) game, but not nearly enough for what we see ourselves as.''

Play-calling might have been part of the problem at Atlanta. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan didn't call as many five- and six-man blitzes on first and second down as he should have, he said.

He also pointed to the play of the defensive front four, saying that unit must do a better job of creating pressure on its own so the Bucs can become less reliant on blitz packages.

“There's no doubt our conventional four-man rush was not good enough,'' Sheridan said. “Their offensive line did a quality job, too, and their backs and tight ends did a good job of chipping against us as well.

“But the bottom line is we didn't affect their quarterback enough and it was a major factor in the game. So our individual pass rushers in our four man rush, they have to do a better job. They have to be more productive.''

That's where McCoy comes in. A 2012 Pro Bowler, he considers himself the leader of the defense and, as such, is taking responsibility for turning the tide not just of the pass rush but the entire team.

“We do have to rush as a unit, but there comes a point and a time when you are 0-5 or 0-6 and somebody has to do something,'' McCoy said. “So, I am taking it upon myself to make something happen.

“I'm getting to the quarterback. I'm hitting him. I'm pressuring him. But I have to get him to the ground and, personally, I feel like I haven't done a good enough job of getting him to the ground.''

Other than David, who leads the team with four sacks, no one has. McCoy, Clayborn and middle linebacker Mason Foster have two sacks each, but end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and tackle Akeem Spence have just one each.

Bowers, meanwhile, has no sacks, but Schiano thinks that might be about to change. Since losing a starter's job to Te'o-Nesheim in training camp, Bowers has improved steadily, Schiano said, and might soon see more playing time.

“In fairness to Da'Quan, he was hurt all last week with the toe (injury), so he didn't practice and he played just six plays,” Schiano said. “But during those six plays I thought he did a good job.

“So, I look forward to him playing more this week. He's feeling better and I actually think Da'Quan has gotten better. He's improving and he's going to play more and more as he keeps improving.''

If Bowers plays more, he'll probably take snaps from Te'o-Nesheim, who has proved to be a solid run stopper but given the Bucs little in the way of pass rush pressure.

He had no pressures in the 22 pass-rush snaps he took at Atlanta, according to PFF. And with no sacks, two quarterback hits and four quarterback pressures, is tied for 48th among defensive ends in total pass rush productivity.

“You have to earn your plays and what Da'Quan is doing is he's getting better,'' Schiano said. “That's why that (toe) injury was unfortunate, because it came just as I thought he was ready to take off.

“He's kind of had that bad luck or whatever you want to call it, because every time I think he's ready to take that next step, something happens. So let's hope that's behind him and he can (take off) the rest of the year.''

The Bucs need someone to take off. After ranking 30th in the league with 27 sacks in 2012, they enter tonight's game ranked 25th with only 14 sacks. And no one feels good about it.

“Improving on that is definitely going to be an emphasis this week,'' Clayborn said. “We only had 40-some plays last week, but even then we only hit the quarterback once and that's not enough.''

McCoy agreed.

“No, it definitely needs to be better,” he said. “We have to rush better collectively as a group and as a unit. And you do see sprinkles of it here and there, of guys getting there, but it definitely needs to be better.''

rcummings@tampatrib.com

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Twitter: @RCummingsTBO

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