Gerald McCoy had his lowest sack total in five years in 2017, finishing with 6.0 QB takedowns. And yet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle was as disruptive as ever, if not more so, and that fact was obviously not lost on his peers, who helped vote McCoy into his sixth straight Pro Bowl.
As a whole, Tampa Bay's pass rush was not good, producing a league low 22 sacks as a team. With his incredibly quick first step at the snap, McCoy was the clear focal point for opposing blockers, but he still managed to fight through frequent double-teams to get 24 quarterback hits, setting a new personal career-high.
"He has been very effective," said Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith. "He has played consistent football for us. He is a guy that always gets double teamed. There is going to be the center sliding to him no matter where you line him up. They know where he is going to be."
McCoy had one two-sack effort in 2017, coming in a 15-10 win over the New York Jets in Week 10. But it was two subsequent contests that really highlighted how critical he is to the Buccaneers' defensive efforts. In Miami in Week 11 the Buccaneers' defense stifled Jay Cutler and the Miami offense for the entire first half, picking Cutler off three times and allowing just 83 passing yards. McCoy didn't have a sack in that half but he was constantly in Miami's backfield, racking up three QB hits on the game. In the second half, the Dolphins made a concerted effort to put more men on McCoy, and reserve quarterback Matt Moore threw for 282 yards in a hurried comeback attempt.
"'93' [McCoy] is a tough guy to block," said Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase after the game. "We were trying to do everything we can to make sure we have double teams on him for the most part, but he makes it very difficult to do a lot of things."
In December, McCoy suffered a biceps injury and missed the Buccaneers' Week 15 showdown with Atlanta. The game went down to the wire before Atlanta held on to a 24-21 Monday night win, and the Bucs' defense got little pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Despite still playing with pain in his arm, McCoy returned the next week against Carolina and had had one drive-killing sack and two hits on quarterback Cam Newton. McCoy's presence made a big difference as the Bucs' defense held a Carolina offense that had been averaging 32 points a game over the previous six weeks to one offensive touchdown.
"He is the guy that is one of the lead dogs, especially in the defensive line, he is the lead dog," said Smith after the Bucs lost a lead in the game's final seconds and absorbed a painful 22-19 defeat. "When he is out there he is a force to be reckoned with. He got lots of pressure. They blocked him one-on-one [and] he [got] a sack and that's what you want your three-technique to be able to do."
Despite falling short of his sack totals of the previous four seasons, McCoy still kept an impressive streak alive, reaching the five-sack mark for the sixth consecutive season. He is one of only 12 players in the NFL who have had at least five sacks every season since 2012, and the only one of those 12 who is listed as a defensive tackle. (So as not to ignore another phenomenal NFL defensive tackle, we'll note that the Rams' Aaron Donald is not on this list primarily because he didn't enter the NFL until 2014.)
Here are those 12 very consistent pass-rushers:
|Gerald McCoy||DT||Tampa Bay|
|Michael Bennett||DE||Tampa Bay, Seattle|
|Calais Campbell||DE||Arizona, Jacksonville|
|Chandler Jones||DE||New England, Arizona|
|Cameron Jordan||DE||New Orleans|
|Clay Matthews||LB||Green Bay|
|Julius Peppers||DE||Chicago, Green Bay, Carolina|
Though McCoy was not among the NFL's top 20 sack producers in 2017, he did tie for 10th in the league with his 24 quarterback hits. The line between hitting a quarterback and getting him down for a sack can often be extremely thin, and even late contact with the passer can be very disruptive. McCoy had a ratio of four QB hits for every sack he recorded, easily the highest of his career, and that could simply indicate a few moments of bad luck. In another season, 24 QB hits might translate into 10.5 sacks, as they did this year for the Chargers' Melvin Ingram.
In fact, McCoy's ratio of QB hits to sacks stands out among all of the league's pass-rushers in 2017. A total of 74 players had at least five sacks this past season, and none of them had a higher ratio of QB hits to sacks than McCoy.
Most QB Hits Per Sack (Minimum 5.0 Sacks), NFL, 2017
Perhaps McCoy's pressure on the quarterback will result in more sacks in 2018, simply with a little more good fortune. Either way, he was clearly as disruptive as ever in 2017, as evidenced by yet another selection to the Pro Bowl. What the Buccaneers hope to accomplish in 2018 is to make this special player the centerpiece of a pass rush that is much more effective overall.
"Unfortunately, as a unit, there [are] a lot of markers that say we aren't a very good defense, but that shouldn't take away what Gerald McCoy has been able to accomplish this season individually," said Smith near the end of the 2017 campaign. "Those major markers are things that we need to improve on moving forward. [Those] are some of the things that we've all talked about as a group is we want to be part of the solution. That's what we are all focusing on."