Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik has a dream. In it, he sees defensive linemen Michael Bennett, Gerald McCoy, DaQuan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn all getting after the passer on the same third down.
That could prove to be a nightmare scenario for a quarterback, but so far it's nothing more than a dream.
Injuries are the reason, of course. McCoy, Bowers and Clayborn each missed time the past two seasons, which Dominik considers one of the biggest reasons the Bucs fell short of the playoffs this year.
"We never had those four players playing together at the same time – ever,'' he said. "And whether that's us being snakebit or whatever, it's still an important thing that just didn't happen."
A similar scenario unfolded in the secondary, where the Bucs envisioned Aqib Talib and Eric Wright as the starters and E.J. Biggers stepping in on passing downs as the third corner. Tampa Bay saw that trio play together for only about one quarter, though.
The result of the two scenarios combined was a struggle in which opposing passers threw for a near-NFL record 4,758 yards in 2012.
Not that Dominik is blaming the Bucs' struggles entirely on injuries and the absence of players such as Talib and Wright. Execution was a problem, as well, he said, particularly in the fourth quarter.
And he's not just blaming the defense, either. Though that side of the ball was clearly responsible for losses to Philadelphia, Washington and the New York Giants, the offense cost the Bucs a bit in the fourth quarter, too.
Against the Saints, WR Mike Williams stepped out of bounds on the last play. Against the Falcons, the Bucs lost by a point after a missed field goal on the next to last possession.
"We had a lot of opportunities in the fourth quarter, so we have to get better at finishing off games,'' Dominik said. "But that's why I was so encouraged by what we did in our last game.
Tampa Bay beat playoff-bound Atlanta, 22-17.
"We finished off that game the right way, because we had to go out there on offense and respond to a score and then get a stop on defense and we did both," Dominik said.
"And that's what we are striving to become, a team that can do that consistently, because if we could have been more consistent during the season, specifically in the fourth quarter, we might have had some more wins and been in that playoff hunt.''
A hard day's work
The Bucs lost five of their last six games, leading some to speculate the team might simply have worn down physically, perhaps from coach Greg Schiano's intense practice regimen.
WR Vincent Jackson isn't buying that argument. The Bucs worked harder under Schiano than a lot of teams might have under their coaches, but he believes the pace was a benefit.
"We definitely worked, but I think that was a strength for us late in the season and I think it will continue to be so in the future,'' said Jackson, who came to the Bucs as a free agent last spring and reached the Pro Bowl this year.
"Now, it varies from team to team and some have a lot more walkthroughs or whatever but we're professionals here and we all trust the guy that's leading us and the coaches who are preparing us for Sundays. So, I didn't have a problem with it, and I haven't heard any complaints throughout our organization or from anybody within our locker room, so I don't see it as being an issue.''