The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 20-7 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins on Friday night had a little bit of everything, which is good news for coaching staffs of both teams about to sift through the game tape for some roster-shaping clues.
The Buccaneers, for instance, had a long kickoff return by a rookie (Michael Smith), one takeaway (Lavonte David) and one giveaway (Preston Parker), a pair of successful goal-line series and eight third-down conversions. The Dolphins are probably most interested in breaking down the game tape of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who acquitted himself nicely.
There were two conspicuous zeroes in the postgame stat sheet, however. Neither defense recorded a single quarterback sack on the night.
There is no arguing that the Buccaneers need to amp up their pass-rush after a handful of underwhelming seasons in that regard, and they've invested a lot of high draft picks in the effort in recent years. However, everyone from Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan to Front Seven Coach Bryan Cox has cautioned against judging the pass rush solely on sack numbers. Disrupting the opposing team's passing game is the ultimate goal, and the Bucs managed to do that to some extent in the early going on Friday.
"Early on I felt like we kind of moved the guy off the spot a little bit, which is the key," said Head Coach Greg Schiano on Saturday. "Later, I don't think we did as good of a job, and I think that showed. They threw for a lot of yards. Some of that was coverage, some of it was lack of pressure. But overall I felt there were some good things, some TFLs. We had seven TFLs, which is a good thing."
"TFLs" stands for tackles for loss, which is indeed another worthy barometer for how much backfield penetration a defense is getting. A better indication of the team's pass rush may be that Tannehill and starter Matt Moore completed only 51.2% of their passes in the first half and were held to 124 yards, no TDs and one interception. In the second half, the Dolphins competed 20 of 31 passes for 187 yards, one touchdown and no picks.
The bottom line is that the Bucs did manage to get some pressure on the opposing passer on Friday night with its front-line players in the game, but would like to see that translate into a few more sacks and turnovers as the defense evolves.
"I thought that we did a couple things, and if we had just rushed a little smarter we probably would have had a couple sacks," said Schiano. "If we had just covered a little better. It's a combination. I think it all works hand-in-hand and we need to be a little bit better on both ends, and a little smarter on both ends, and I think we'll get some more pressure."