The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had an unproductive pass rush in 2017, and yet they have one of the NFL's best backfield disruptors in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. The team is hoping it will still have McCoy on the field for the final three games of the season.
The Buccaneers lost their team captain and leading sack artist to a bicep injury in the first quarter of Sunday's last-minute, 24-21 loss to the Detroit Lions. His absence played a part in the Bucs' inability to get to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who dropped back 44 times but was not sacked and was only hit three times.
Obviously, Tampa Bay's struggles to get to the quarterback would be compounded by the loss of McCoy for any additional time. On Monday, the team sought clarity on that issue, sending McCoy out for an MRI examination. The results were not available by the time Head Coach Dirk Koetter held his day-after-game press conference on Monday afternoon.
"He did have an MRI and Gerald – we had a meeting at 1:20 p.m. – he was not back from that yet," said Koetter. "I don't have the report on that. It was a bicep injury. He was getting an MRI on it and we will know more later today."
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' Week 14 matchup with the Lions
Since the Buccaneers' upcoming game against Atlanta is on Monday night, the team will not practice until Thursday, with the players getting both Tuesday and Wednesday off. As such, the Buccaneers may not discuss McCoy's status again until later in the week, when the team gets back to work.
"We will just see how it plays out here," said Koetter. "We've got an extra day this week. We will just see how it plays out in the next few days."
With Clinton McDonald missing a third straight game due to a back injury, the Buccaneers were down to just two defensive tackles for much of Sunday's game against Detroit. However, several of the team's defensive ends are capable of proving snaps on the inside, particularly in passing downs, as Robert Ayers did frequently on Sunday. The Bucs also turned to some more creative fronts, with two or three down linemen and linebackers Kendell Beckwith and Devante Bond rushing off the edge.
Beckwith and Bond have some prior pass-rushing experience, and Beckwith has been rushing from a two-point stance fairly frequently in recent weeks. It remains to be seen if the Buccaneers can get some pressure with that approach; it wasn't particularly successful against Detroit but both linebackers do have some potential in that regard. In Beckwith's case, he has developed something of a dual role as the season has progressed in order to make use of the talents he displayed during injury absences by Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David.
"In both cases that is not their primary position – probably more so Bond than Beckwith," said Koetter. "But of the guys we have available, we are trying to get our best guys on the field. We drafted Beckwith with the intent of him being an inside linebacker – possibly a SAM – but we are just not playing much base defense, especially [against] Detroit [which] played more three-wides than any team we've played all year so we just weren't in base very much. [We are] trying to get our best guys that are healthy out there on the field and trying to get some guys that can bring a little something off the edge. They are working on their rush technique in practice, but obviously when there [are] 44 pass attempts and we didn't get him on the ground, that's something that we have to do better."
If McCoy misses any time, the Buccaneers might be able to cover some of his anticipated snaps with the potential return of McDonald this week. Even without McCoy, that would provide the Bucs with a three-man DT rotation of McDonald, Chris Baker and Sealver Siliga, the latter of whom has been inactive for most of this season's games.
"We had to do some different things as to who the front four was playing with. Hopefully we get Clinton back this week," said Koetter. "Sealver [Siliga] got his first taste and Chris [Baker] was in there. I mean, Sealver got a little bit last week at Green Bay [and] got his second active game."
McCoy struggled with poor injury luck in his first two seasons after being drafted with the third overall pick in 2010, but he has rarely missed time since while putting together five straight Pro Bowl campaigns. McCoy's 5.0 sacks this year lead the team and give him 38.5 QB takedowns since 2013, the most by any defensive tackle in that span. In addition to his five sacks this season, McCoy is also tied for sixth in the NFL in quarterback hits, with 22. His 12 tackles for loss, which include plays on running backs in the backfield, are second-most among all NFL defensive tackles.
McCoy will have a shot to add to all of those totals – and possibly play in a sixth straight Pro Bowl – if he can remain in action for the final three games of the season. It may be later in the week before the Buccaneers know for sure if that is going to happen.