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McCoy's Play Transcends Numbers

Posted Nov 7, 2013

DT Gerald McCoy, a Pro Bowler in 2012, is playing even better in 2013 despite an unassuming stat line, and he knows his efforts will eventually pay off for the Bucs' defense…And other notes

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • DT Gerald McCoy's two sacks this season are not a good indication of how disruptive he has been in the Bucs' defense
  • S Dashon Goldson participated in a good portion of Thursday's practice, raising hope he can return after missing two games
  • A resurgent Buccaneers running game faces a different sort of challenge this week against Miami
Gerald McCoy is rapidly becoming that quintessential "player you have to watch to fully appreciate."  He's also becoming a bona fide NFL star.

Here is the way the analytical folks at Pro Football Focus put it when picking McCoy as one of the two defensive tackles on their midseason NFL All-Pro Team: " When you watch McCoy make plays you forget briefly all about the struggles of Tampa Bay. He’s so good on every down."

Every down.  That's what you see when you watch the Buccaneers' defense play, Gerald McCoy constantly either plugging a gap on a running play or instantly knifing into the backfield on a pass rush, play after play.  Joe Philbin, head coach of the Miami Dolphins team that is coming to Raymond James Stadium on Monday night to play the Buccaneers, has seen it this week during tape study.

"He jumps off the film," said Philbin. "He has exceptional quickness. He can run. He can do both, he can play the run well he can make plays outside the box. He’s not just a guy who plays tackle-to-tackle. He can get to the perimeter and chase a guy down. He has strength to hold point, and he’s a very good pass rusher. He jumps off the tape. He’s very, very good.”

The Buccaneers' most recent game in Seattle was McCoy at his finest, as on many plays he was visibly the first man in motion off the snap, constantly forcing his way past the Seahawks' offensive line before they could set up a proper double-team.  And yet Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson wasn't sacked once the entire game.  And McCoy's entire stat line was six tackles and two quarterback hits.  McCoy made it to his first Pro Bowl last season and he almost certainly is playing even better now, but one wonders if his unassuming stat line will make a repeat trip to Hawaii an uphill battle for him.

But it's not his own lack of statistical weight that bothers McCoy.  It's the lack of impact plays in the backfield for the defense overall that he wants to change, that he knows must change for the team to start winning.

"I do what I’m supposed to do and that’s get the quarterback off the spot," said McCoy.  "Whether I get the sack or not, my job is to disrupt anything. They brought me here to disrupt everything that happens on offense. Whether that’s on the run play, I’m in the backfield – I don’t have to be making the tackles, but if I’m in the backfield, it’s automatically like ‘Here he is again.’ I might not be getting the sack, but I’m making the passer always have to look for where I’m at, always have to move around or not sit in the spot. That’s what I’m supposed to do. Collectively, we have to make sure we get them on the ground."

McCoy is commonly (and unavoidably) compared to Warren Sapp, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who will be inducted into the Buccaneers Ring of Honor on Monday night, and who recently declared that McCoy has the potential to surpass his own greatness.  Sapp had nine sacks in his second NFL season; McCoy is on pace for four this year.  But as Sapp has clearly noticed, McCoy is doing all he can to help the Bucs' pass rush.  McCoy is perfectly fine with that role.

-- DT Gerald McCoy has been a constant presence in opposing backfields
"A lot of guys made a lot of names around here off 99 [Sapp], it’s a fact," said McCoy. "That’s not to downplay anybody’s talent but a lot of guys made a lot of names around here off of what 99 did. I’m just trying to help my teammates do the same. That’s what I want to do. It’s not about me; I want to help my teammates. I tell [Lavonte David] all the time ‘Hey, I’m going to make you right. I’m going to go, I’m going to mess something up, and you run free and make the play.’ That’s what I’m here for, to help my teammates.”

* McCoy's defense could get a boost this week if starting free safety Dashon Goldson returns from the knee injury that has cost him the last two outings. Goldson practiced on Thursday and was still limited to some degree (as noted officially on the injury report), but he clearly took a step forward.

"He participated in quite a bit of it – not everything, but quite a bit," said Head Coach Greg Schiano.

Running back Doug Martin (shoulder) did not participate, and his status for the remainder of the season is still up in the air.  Wide receiver Chris Owusu (foot) is expected to play again, perhaps soon, but he didn't practice on Thursday and has missed the last two games.  G Carl Nicks, who is still recovering from foot surgery, is the only other Buccaneer who did not practice on Thursday.  Below are the full injury reports for both the Buccaneers and the Dolphins.

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

LB Mason Foster

Elbow

Full Participation

S Dashon Goldson

Knee

Limited Participation

CB Danny Gorrer

Groin

Limited Participation

G Davin Joseph

Knee

Full Participation

FB Erik Lorig

Toe

Limited Participation

RB Doug Martin

Shoulder

Did Not Participate

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Did Not Participate

WR Chris Owusu

Foot

Did Not Participate

DT Akeem Spence

Wrist

Full Participation

S Keith Tandy

Ankle

Full Participation

LB Dekoda Watson

Shoulder

Full Participation

Dolphins:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

CB Nolan Carroll

Concussion

Full Participation

S Chris Clemons

Hamstring

Full Participation

LB Dannell Ellerbe

Calf

Full Participation

T Nate Garner

Knee

Full Participation

LB Jelani Jenkins

Foot

Did Not Participate

T Jonathan Martin

Illness

Did Not Participate

LB Koa Misi

Knee

Did Not Participate

CB Dimitri Patterson

Groin

Limited Participation

TE Dion Sims

Toe

Limited Participation

K Caleb Sturgis

Right Groin

Limited Participation


* In rookie quarterback Mike Glennon's first NFL start, against Arizona in Week Four, the Buccaneers' offense called 31 running plays and 45 passing plays, or a run on 40.8% of the snaps.  In his next three starts, the Bucs' run-play percentage was 31.8%, 37.3% and 20.6%, respectively.

In Seattle in Week Nine, as the Bucs fought to overtime before eventually falling to the NFC's top-seeded team, 27-24, the Buccaneers ran the ball on 38 of 65 offensive snaps, or 58.4% of the time.  That level of commitment to the running game might not be possible every Sunday, but it's definitely a closer model to the way the Buccaneers want to play on offense.  In addition to making use of the Bucs' talented offensive line, a committed ground attack should eventually open up more downfield passing options.

“I think that’s who we are," said Schiano.  "We still want to throw more balls down the field. We tried to. Sometimes we got sacked, sometimes they ran coverages that prevented it, but I do think Mike can throw those balls accurately. I know he can, I don’t think he can; I’ve seen him do it. We just need to get it done in games.”

The main reason that the Buccaneers were able to stick to their running game and stay very much in the game in Seattle was that not a single one of those rushing plays resulted in lost yardage.  That kept the offense in situations where the entire playbook was available, and where third downs weren't so daunting.  The Bucs converted seven of eight third downs in the first half before faltering after halftime.

“Having manageable third downs is the key," said Schiano.  "I thought we still had manageable third downs in the second half, we just didn’t convert them. In the first half, we did convert them. When you get them, you’ve got to convert them. You’re not going to convert every one; they’re going to do their job as well. The reality is we ended up, I think, over 50 percent [in] third down conversion. The only thing is we did it all in the first half and none in the second. If you can do that over the course of a season, you’ll win a ton of games.”

An entire game without a single running play that blows up in the backfield is relatively rare, but the Buccaneers would love to make it two in a row.  It won't be easy against a Miami defensive front that moves around a lot more up than Seattle in an effort to get defenders free into gaps.

"This week, we have a new challenge," said Schiano.  "This week, Miami does a lot [moving from side to side] and we are really going to have to be on our P’s and Q’s to get them blocked. If I can stand up here Tuesday and say we had no negative plays against the Dolphins, that’s going to be key, because they do some things like we do to create negative plays. That’s the challenge at hand, to be able to capture those guys that are moving and just get on them. You don’t have to blast them, you’ve just got to get on them and let the back run off you. But it’s easier said than done.”

* On Monday night, the Buccaneers will retire the #99 jersey worn by Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp (here are 99 reasons to do so), and indeed Sapp is only player in team history one thinks of when confronted with that particular number.

There's another player who has a chance on Monday, and in the weeks to come, to lay claim to a particular jersey number in franchise history, but you aren't likely to be too familiar with his name.  Introducing #49: Bradley McDougald.

The Buccaneers claimed McDougald, a rookie safety out of Kansas, off waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs on Wednesday.  He participated in his first practice as a Buccaneer on Wednesday, wearing jersey #49.  That last bit of information is at once completely insignificant and, if you're a Buccaneers history buff interested in minutiae, loaded with possibility.

The key thing to realize here is that, in the spectrum of uniform numbers from 1-99, #49 is often the forgotten soul.  It can be worn by defensive backs and running backs under normal rules.  It can be worn by a linebacker or a tight end if all the usual numbers for those positions are occupied.  It just isn't,at least in Buccaneer history.

If McDougald gets into the game on Monday night, he will become just the third player in franchise history to wear jersey #49 in a regular-season game.  If he manages to get into four games this year, he'll be positively the most active #49 in franchise history.  Here's the entire list of players who have ever worn that jersey in franchise history:

  • LB Randy Gill, 1978…1 game
  • TE Cedric Saunders, 1995…3 games

McDougald almost certainly has aspirations beyond filling a strange void in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' jersey-number history.  Still, he has chance to break new ground in the coming weeks, and if it's not quite the Ring of Honor, at least it's a start.

Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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