Two weeks ago in Miami, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy accounted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' only sack on defense in a 30-20, last-minute win. It was his fifth sack of the season, giving him at least five QB takedowns in each of the last six seasons. The first five of those campaigns ended in a Pro Bowl invitation for McCoy. The sixth should, as well, because even though his sack total does not put him among the league leaders he is still invading the backfield as frequently as almost any defender in the NFL.
We'll get back to that. First, peruse the list of nine players who have joined McCoy in getting to the five-sack mark each of the last six years. You may notice the way in which the Buccaneers' defender stands out from the rest.
Most Five-Sack Seasons, NFL, 2012-17
McCoy, of course, is the only defensive tackle on the list. The other nine are either defensive ends or edge-rushing 3-4 linebackers. Calais Campbell, now with Jacksonville, has played inside but has been listed as a defensive end for most of his NFL seasons, and he currently plays end in Jacksonville's 4-3 front.
As is clear from his multi-year lease on a Pro Bowl residence, McCoy has been one of the most dominant defensive tackles in the NFL for much of the current decade. Over the last five years, for example, he leads all NFL players at that position in sacks.
Most Sacks, NFL Defensive Tackles, 2013-17
Though he may not reach his single-season career-high of 9.5 sacks, set in 2013, McCoy is "as disruptive as ever," in the words of Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter just this week. And, indeed, he is still tied for fifth among NFL DTs in sacks, only 1.5 off the lead, held by Atkins. However, the truth in Koetter's assertion becomes more clear when one moves past sacks into some less-publicized statistical tables.
For instance, the NFL tracks "quarterback hits," and even though sacks also count as quarterback hits a defender can make a mark in this category without recording a sack. Often, simply disrupting a quarterback's attempted throw is as effective as getting a sack, as it can lead to incompletions and turnovers, or even just an ineffective scramble on third down.
McCoy has 21 QB hits this season. That's only one behind the league lead in that category.
Most QB Hits, NFL, 2017
|1t. Chandler Jones||Arizona||DE||22|
|1t. Cameron Wake||Miami||DE||22|
|3t. Michael Bennett||Seattle||DE||21|
|3t. Calais Campbell||Jacksonville||DE||21|
|3t. Gerald McCoy||Tampa Bay||DT||21|
|5t. Demarcus Lawrence||Dallas||DE||20|
|5t. Everson Griffen||Minnesota||DE||20|
Again, the players' positions are included to give an idea of the unique weapon the Buccaneers have to penetrate the middle of opposing lines. As it turns out, that's true not just when the quarterback drops back, but also when the opposition tries to run the ball. McCoy's quick first step often allows him to get into the backfield and meet the ballcarrier before he can get to the line. That is reflected in McCoy's 10 tackles for loss this year, which is tied for the most in the NFL at his position.
Most Tackles for Loss, NFL Defensive Tackles, 2017
|1t. Aaron Donald||L.A. Rams||10|
|1t. Grady Jarrett||Atlanta||10|
|1t. Gerald McCoy||Tampa Bay||10|
|4t. Geno Atkins||Cincinnati||8|
|4t. Jurell Casey||Tennessee||8|
|4t. David Irving||Dallas||8|
|4t. Timmy Jernigan||Philadelphia||8|
Just as sacks also count as quarterback hits, they also count as tackles for loss on most occasions because they are, technically, tackles that lead to loss. However, a strip-sack, where the ball is knocked out of the quarterback's hand but the quarterback does not go to the ground, is not a tackle for loss, nor is a sack for zero yards, such as the one McCoy had in Miami. To find out how often a defender is getting TFLs on running plays, we turn to a category called "stuffs." Not surprisingly, even with such active linebackers as Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander on the field, McCoy leads the team this year with 5.5 stuffs. McCoy is one of only nine defenders in the entire NFL this season who have at least five sacks and at least five run-stuffs. Once again, you'll notice the position disparity.
To return to Koetter's assertion that McCoy is as disruptive in 2017 as he's ever been, we again have to look at all three of his backfield-penetration numbers. McCoy, the third-overall pick in the 2010 draft, had two seasons shortened by injury before he started his current run of Pro Bowl seasons. Here are his season-by-season totals in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits:
McCoy has already tied his single-season career high in quarterback hits, with five games still to play in 2017. He has a very good shot at matching or exceeding his best TFL totals, as well, and is in double-digits in that category for the first time in three years. Don't be fooled by McCoy's sack total – which is still quite good for a defensive tackle but not yet matched up to his career best – he's still getting in the backfield with regularity. A split-second is often the difference in a QB hit and a sack. As McCoy continues to bust through opposing lines, he's eventually going to inflate that sack total, as well.