The defense of the Tampa Bay Bucs has evidently awoken.
Whether it keeps up its excellent play against San Diego Chargers’ quarterback Philip Rivers, however, will be another challenge.
The Bucs, who have won three games in a row, and allowed only three touchdowns while doing so, travel to San Diego to face Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates and running back Melvin Gordon.
“It’s a new week,” said Bucs’ defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “We’ve got to bring something all new to the table. Rivers is a future Hall of Famer, so a good pass rush, it’s not like he hasn’t seen it before. So, were just going to have to do our part. Back end, we know they’re going to do their part. We’re just trying to make sure we put as much pressure on them as possible.”
When the top quarterbacks of the league – Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning – are mentioned, Rivers is often left out. That would be a mistake, said coach Dirk Koetter.
“He’s a hell of player,” said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter. “A tremendous talent, unbelievable anticipation, a coach on the field, tough, underrated as a pocket movement guy. He’s one of the best players in this league, year-in, year-out. He doesn’t maybe get as much credit as some guys that are a little bit more publicized, but ask anybody that plays or coaches and he’s one of the best.”
The Bucs, who had six sacks in their upset win over Seattle, will try to repeat that performance against Rivers.
“Well, we’ve gotten healthy,” said defensive coordinator Mike Smith. “This was a group that was missing some parts through a certain stretch of the season and they’ve done a very good job staying together. When other guys had to step up, we weren’t able to get the pressure that we’d like and sometimes it’s a function of the quarterback getting the ball out of his hands before we can get there. There’s certain games that we know we’re going to go in and it’s going to be hard to get sacks, simply because of the quarterback play. But these guys have worked extremely hard and I say it all the time, Jay Hayes and Paul Spicer have done a very good job. Robert Ayers is getting healthy. And we’ve said it before, I think sacks and turnovers, they come in bunches and knock on wood, we want that to keep happening. And those guys have done a very good job when we’ve done four-man rush, when we’ve done five-man rush and when we’ve done-six man rush. So, we’ve been able to have some production both ways and when you do that, you’ve got to have coverage and our coverage guys have done a nice job on the back end. So, complementary football is what we’re talking about, not only as a full team, but we’re talking about it on the defensive side. When we have tight coverage and the quarterback’s got to go to a second look, we’re going to get an opportunity to push the pocket and get after the quarterback.”
In particular, said Smith, McCoy has played well.
“When you’re on the other side of the ball watching, trying to have to block him, you have a lot of respect for him, simply because he’s such an explosive player and he can wreck a game,” Smith said. “Having an opportunity to work with him, I’ve even more impressed. He’s a great teammate, he’s a good leader and he is a passionate football player. He is as passionate as any player I’ve ever coached. We all have different personalities, but when he walks between those lines, he wants to play football and he plays it the way it’s supposed to be played. It’s been a joy to coach him. I think his athleticism and his strength shows up every time he goes out there on the field and I can’t speak to why not everybody has that same opinion because I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I see it that he’s a very passionate and elite player in this league.
“His explosiveness is what sets the tone. He’s a guy that can get in the backfield and wreck a play, whether it’s a run play or a pass play. And he has a very good understanding of defensive line play, he understands leverage. He’s a big strong guy, but he’s also a guy that can flip his hips and he can – what I call ‘be slinky’ – as he gets to the quarterback. So, he’s got a number of ways that he can be disruptive.”
Koetter, too, said that McCoy is the key to the Tampa Bay defense.
“I’ve said it many times, Gerald makes everybody else around him better because he commands double teams most of the time. As a three-technique, they almost always double him,” Koetter said. “When he’s the nose – a couple times last week in the game, they brought the tight end to cross in motion, so we slid the front, so he went from the three to a nose and Clinton (McDonald) kicked out. And when he gets on a center, in between a guard and a center in the ‘A’ gap, he’s really tough.
“On 96’s sack, on Ryan (Russell’s) sack, he was in a game with Gerald and Gerald went up the field, they doubled Gerald, 96 wrapped underneath, got the sack. So he gets the sack, it’s an assist for Gerald. He makes everybody around him better and now that we’re a little healthier and we’re playing with such confidence – [defensive ends] Noah [Spence] is on a roll, Robert Ayers had something like seven quarterback hits last week. They still have got to account for Gerald because [if] they try to single-block him, he’s going to cause problems.”
The Bucs take on San Diego at 4:05 p.m.