-Here's the thing, we've covered how many records the offense is shattering; how explosive they've been able to be this season; how many individual records are being set by offensive players. But what's totally getting lost in the shuffle? The incredible job the offensive line is doing in pass protection. Coach Koetter touched on it yesterday and I just wanted to call that out in order to maybe (hopefully) give these big guys their due. Effective pass protection is absolutely crucial to what you're seeing the offense do this season. Those shots down the field you've seen, including 60, 75-yard bombs to DeSean Jackson? That 72-yard touchdown and career-long reception by Mike Evans last game? That all starts up front with the line, which allows for such big plays to develop by giving the quarterback time in the pocket to wait out the routes as they develop and the receivers book it down the field.
"I think we're one of the best protecting teams in the league because we hold the ball longer than most teams," Head Coach Dirk Koetter said. "We try to throw it down the field. We don't make any bones about that. I think our guys are doing a great job in protection."
What's even crazier to consider is that the Bucs have remained effective in the passing game when the opponent knows it's coming. Tampa Bay has had to play from behind on more than one occasion this year. In those situations where you are down multiple scores, the most efficient way to garner any sort of momentum and makeup points quickly is to pass. So despite the fact the defense knows the Bucs are going to pass time after time, the offensive line has staved off the guys opposite them in the trenches and effectively preserved the quarterback. They've allowed 21 sacks this year, doing a better job of protecting their signal caller than teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles. So, yes, the Bucs' receivers are playing fast, physical and detailed in their routes. Yes, Bucs' quarterbacks are winding up and showing off some impressive arm strength. But the offensive line is making it all go 'round.
View photos of the Buccaneers' practice Wednesday at AdventHealth Training Center.
-Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul needs just two more sacks to be the Bucs' first double-digit sack player since 2005 when Simeon Rice had 14.0. Pierre-Paul has had two mullti-sack games so far this season and is on pace for 18 sacks before it's over. Here's the kicker: he isn't even counting them. He breaks it down almost painfully simplistically, saying that he is jjust feeling out opportunities to get to the quarterback and if it's there, it's there.
"I don't worry about how many sacks I'm getting," Pierre-Paul said. "I'm just out there playing ball. I feel like if it's an opportunity to get the quarterback and he has the ball in his hands then I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get the quarterback down – that's basically it. I'm not really counting them up – it's just happening."
The Buccaneers traded for Pierre-Paul in March, giving up a third-round pick for the 29-year-old pass rusher who hasn't seemed to show any signs of slowing up. Though JPP may be the unit's leader in the stat, the pass rush as a whole has gotten better, which is a credit to the entire line and perhaps its new leadership in defensive line coach Brentson Buckner. The Bucs already have 16.0 sacks as a team through seven games, which is a vast improvement considering Tampa Bay had just 22.0 all year in 2017. They're also on pace for 96 quarterback hits this year (recording 42 through seven games), which would be a significant improvement over the 79 they had in 2017 and even more than their 2016 total of 82.
-Both Defensive Coordinator Mark Duffner and Head Coach Dirk Koetter provided some observations about why the Carolina Panthers are such a physical team this year. Their offense relies heavily on the run, or threat of the run, between both running back Christian McCaffrey and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. What's crazy about McCaffrey is that he's been on the field for something crazy like 95% of the Panthers' offensive snaps on the season. In last week's game against the Ravens, he was on the field for 98 percent of the team's offensive snaps. That's absolutely unheard of for a running back. Like, I can't tell you HOW insane this is. Cam Newton only played 95 percent of the offensive snaps himself and he's the quarterback! It clues you in on a few things that make McCaffrey so valuable (and dangerous). First, I think it speaks to his ability in pass protection. If he's out there that much, that means they've deemed him pretty much just as effective as any offensive lineman or bigger tight end in protecting the quarterback on passing plays. Plus, if he's always out there, opposing defenses always have to be concerned with a run threat or extra receiver. It allows the Panthers the ability to give a bunch of different looks and keep the defense in suspense. Add in the fact that McCaffrey is also good at his actual job, as in finding gaps and running around and through tackles with his 205-pound frame, and it's no wonder the Panthers have committed to the run.
"They're committed to running the football and so that's where physicality certainly starts," Duffner said of the Panthers' offense. "They've got a good solid line as far as that's concerned. Like I said, McCaffrey is a guy that's got kind of the ability to break outside, but he's got the patients to try to find gaps and holes inside. When you consider adding Cam [Newton] to that – bigger than me guy in terms of a back – they've got some powerful folks. They're committed to running the ball. They're second in the league I believe right now in rushing offense. To get that done, you've got to have a physical mentality in terms of, 'Hey, we're trying to knock you off the ball.'"
To see a specific play their offense does very well, check out Scott Smith's Signature Play, where he breaks down the ever-mobile Cam Newton's naked bootleg play that has been especially successful for the Panthers this year.
-In some family news, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and his wife Ebony welcomed the newest addition to the McCoy household, Mars Cru McCoy. The proud papa took to social media to make the announcement: