Even though it's his only game without a sack in 2000, DT Warren Sapp feels like the Jets contest was one of the D-Line's best
On Thursday, the National Football League released an early count of the fan portion of the Pro Bowl balloting. Of all the defensive players in the league, DT Warren Sapp had the most votes, by a rather large margin over Tennessee DE Jevon Kearse.
This news wasn't available by noon, when the Buccaneers held their Thursday open locker room period for the media. So that was one less topic for Sapp to cover as he entertained the media, not that he needed any more interview fodder.
Once again, Sapp was the lead attraction in Tampa Bay's locker room on Thursday. Once again, we'll share with you everything he had to say.
The Bucs have 35 sacks, have allowed only 11 and are just 3-4. Are sacks overrated?
"No," said Sapp. "Sacks don't just fall off the tree. There's a lot of things, a combination of things, that have to happen: a route, coverage, a rush move, and the actual putting the quarterback on the ground is a lot more difficult than it seems."
Then why the four-game losing streak?
"The thing that has gotten away from us in these four games is the running game," he said. "Make no mistake about that. If we shut down people's running game, they've got to pass it even more times than they're running it. That all plays a part in it, but we've got to get this running game under control. Once we get that under control, that's going to aid us even more with our pass rush."
Has it been difficult taking over the line calls, a duty that used to belong to Brad Culpepper?
"(Defensive Line Coach) Rod (Marinelli) has hand-delivered it on a silver platter, so I know what I'm doing," Sapp answered. "The thing that I've asked is that everybody know what they're doing. We've all communicated it that way. It's all four of us more than anything. We used to always just dump it on Pep. Pep would do it for us. He'd get us in the right spot. Now that I've taken it on, I've said, 'Hey, sometimes my mind's a little gone and y'all know how I get in a game. Y'all are going to have to help me in certain situations.' They've been doing a good job of communicating and getting everything down the line.
Why has the defensive line been even more dominant this season?
"We've got four guys that really love the quarterback, really love being around him," said Sapp with a smile. "We know that's going to aid our game if we can get him on the ground and rattle him some. It's just four guys working well and correlating what we do each day out there on the practice field into a game-type situation."
How do you feel about the race DE Marcus Jones has supplied in the chase to the Bucs' sack record?
"I like it," said Sapp, smiling again. "I like it. I like it. I haven't had a challenge in awhile, so I like it."
Are the Bucs thinking about the possibility of breaking the NFL's single-season sack record?
"The thing that we've always been real good at is focusing on the task at hand," he said. "We can't worry about 16-game totals. We've got to worry about getting ourselves out of this four-game losing streak and getting ourselves in position to put ourselves back into the race for a divisional title, and even more than that a playoff spot. At the rate we're going right now, neither one of those goals is anywhere in sight if we don't stop this losing streak."
Has the Bucs' pass rush been good every game?
"We didn't touch the Jets quarterback and you all (killed) us," said Sapp. "They're max-protecting and (using) three-step drops all day long. We felt like that game was our best rush game. We put it into how we look at it, with the technique, knowing where the center is going and all the things that we're doing. I mean, we were all over this guy, but he was just throwing the ball quickly. Sometimes that happens. We've just been in some ballgames where everything's worked right for us. We've had the rush and the coverage was there and there was just nowhere for him to go."
How does the Vikings' rushing game match up to previous Minnesota teams?
"It's a little bit different, but they're the number-one rush offense," he said. "Robert Smith is the difference between a Vikings team a year ago and this year. Whenever you have a running game to complement those two good receivers they have on the outside, that's how they get people late in the ballgame. You're trying to play run and pass, and that's a difficult thing to do when they have those type of weapons to hand the ball to. That's the one thing we have to do. That's a must for us. If we can get this running game under control, we should be fine."
Is Minnesota's rushing attack as good as the Lions'
"You can't match it up like that," Sapp insisted. "In sheer numbers, yeah, they're better than (the Lions) because they rush the ball for a higher average and more yards. But, how we play the game, the game within the game is the offensive linemen. The Lions are bigger linemen and their style of running last week was more downhill, let's pound it at them, four yards and a cloud of dust. Robert Smith isn't that type of runner. He's a speed guy – get outside and run, look for the gap and explode through it and take off. They're equally good at what they do, so our task is right there in front of us."
Yeah, what about that Robert Smith guy? He seems to take such long strides.
"He's a track guy, no doubt about it," said Sapp. "He's a track guy, but you give him a crease and he's gone. You can look at him and tell he's a solid running back. When he's taking those long strides, he's running with his pads over the top. You very rarely see him get hit, get lit up. It's the sign of a good back that he doesn't take that big shot and keeps coming at you. You give him a crease and he's gone. He's running that fast, trust me, he is."