It all started on play number one. The Carolina Panthers had just received the kickoff, and started in the shotgun. Cam Newton ran the read option, and chose to hand off to DeAngelo Williams, and he was stopped for a loss. Gerald McCoy was lined up in the middle, and was one of many Buccaneers in the backfield, as McCoy chased the play to the outside after reading the play and spinning off his blocker. McCoy had no impact on this play in a practical sense, but his energy and awareness would not shut off after that first play. This week, the display that number 93 has put on all season has culminated in a Pro Bowl selection. So as the season comes to an end, and the Buccaneers focus on improving from a sub .500 football team over the offseason, let’s take some time and consider the impact Gerald McCoy has had on the 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Just two plays after the aforementioned curtain-raising example, McCoy would register his first tackle for loss. The Panthers would run another read option play, this time trying to run Williams off tackle. As the runner cut across the backfield, McCoy cut against the grain of the play, shrugged off a blocker, and made the sure tackle of the helpless running back. At this point, any Buccaneers fan watching the game had to be pleased, because an active defensive line has always been an indication of Buccaneers success. While this is certainly not the Tampa 2 defense we once revolutionized in Tampa Bay, an active defensive line is a very valuable asset to an NFL defense.
McCoy’s best single game performance this season has to be the Dallas Cowboys game in week 3. The defensive tackle registered 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 “stuff” (ESPN’s terminology for a tackle for loss for a lineman) and a forced fumble against Dallas, and certainly did his part in what would be a fantastic defensive effort by the Buccaneers. The first impact play for Gerald in the Dallas game was another tackle for loss just 6 minutes into the game. McCoy got a great initial push, and combined with the effort of Roy Miller, completely shut down the Cowboys’ run blocking scheme. DeMarco Murray was lost in the backfield, and McCoy shed his blocker and began pursuit. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, McCoy’s motor was definitely running, as the lumbering lineman changed direction twice on his way to the Cowboy ball carrier. He made yet another sure handed tackle to cause another loss of yards, and the drive eventually would end in a punt.
He would make an even bigger impact in the 3rd quarter of the Cowboys game. Tony Romo dropped back to pass, and McCoy easily shed the guard assigned to block him, and had a truckload of momentum headed towards the Dallas center. He would ram the center back a handful of yards, and find himself within range of the quarterback, so he disengaged the blocker and pursued the quarterback, and wrapped him up. Romo would, for whatever reason, decide it best to try and fling it forward, but did so with an empty hand, as the impact of McCoy and his lack of balance led to a fumble, which the Buccaneers would recover. McCoy showed strength, speed, and excellent pursuit yet again on this play, and it is moments like these that define a Pro Bowl season.
As a defensive lineman, particularly an interior lineman, the voting that coaches, media, and players do is not only based on statistics and flashy plays, but on the impact that player has on preparation, and how difficult they are to play against. Surely the Dallas Cowboys offensive line marked down “G. McCoy, Tampa Bay” on their Pro Bowl ballots, because his impact on the game was felt by Romo, Murray, and the rest of the then struggling Cowboy offensive unit. McCoy would proceed to have solid statistical games against the Eagles and Saints, but his impact was beyond what a stat sheet can hold.
In the first quarter of the home loss to the Eagles, McCoy lined up at tackle on 3rd and 14. Philly had rookie Nick Foles under center, and the quarterback was in the shotgun, hoping to pick up a first down. However, his time in the pocket was brief, less than 2 seconds in fact, as McCoy simply blew past his blocker and had a hand on the quarterback just after he released a pass that had no hope of being a first down, even if Jeremy Maclin was able to haul in the slightly off target throw. This is the kind of play McCoy made all season, and while it doesn’t show up on a traditional box score, it impacts the game, the gameplan, and the players around him. Football outsiders ranked Tampa Bay as the best defensive line against the run in all of football, and it’s not even remotely close. Using their Adjusted Line Yards statistic, the Buccaneers were more than half a yard better than the next closest team, the Bears. McCoy was certainly the driving force behind this disruptive defensive front four.
For me, the most important statistic for McCoy was the amount of snaps he has played. Gerald has seen the field for just under 900 snaps on defense this season, ranking him 8th in the league. For references, that means he’s been on the field for more plays than Elvis Dumervil, JJ Watt, Vince Wilfork, and Cameron Wake. Given McCoy’s injury history, to see his first full season end with a Pro Bowl selection shows just how much talent and drive the young man out of Oklahoma possesses. So as we descend into the depths of the offseason and consider the Buccaneers future at many other positions on the field, remember that the Buccaneers are fortunate to have one of the better defensive tackles in football in red and pewter, and he’s only getting better.
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