Pierre-Paul and the pursuit of passers

by Gary Shelton on November 29, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Pierre-Paul has rushed the passer well./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m

It isn't that hard, really. A quick start. A strong move. A bit of closing speed.

The offensive tackle flinches, and you are past him. The quarterback holds the ball too long, and you close in. The receiver runs a sloppy route, and you are there.

A few more feet to the quarterback, and you usually know where he is going to be. Third-and-long helps. A relentless nature doesn't hurt.

A couple of more steps, and you extend your arms, and there he is.

The quarterback

And the sack.

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Forty times or so, the quarterback will drop back to pass. If you get to him once, that's a good day. If you hit him a couple of other times, that's a great day.

So what's the big deal?

The big deal is this. Like no other play in football, the sack is a drive-killer. It strips an opponent of down and of distance. In 2017, a website called Setting the Edge tabulated all of the sacks of a season. Its summation was that 83.99 percent of drives that suffered a sack were stopped.

So you can see why it's such a big deal that Jason Pierre-Paul, at last, has broken the 10-sack margin for the Bucs. It's the first double-digit sack season for Tampa Bay since 2005.

What to know how long that is? There have been 219 double-digit sack seasons since 2005 (some sackers had more than one season). And of all of those seasons, playing four linemen at a time, the Bucs had zero.

Gaines Adams. Greg Spires. Kevin Carter. Chris Hovan. Jimmy Wilkerson. Stylez White. Tim Crowder. Roy Miller. Michael Bennett. Daniel Teo-Nesheim. Adrian Clayborn. Robert Ayers. Dozens more were stopped just shy of the opposing quarterback. To average 10 a year, a guy needs 2/3 of a sack on game day. That's it. But this team couldn't get it done.

Now, it can. Pierre-Paul has 10 1/2. Gerald McCoy has six. Carl Nassib has 5 1/2. Now consider this: In 2010, White led the Bucs' sackers with 4.5. It was 5.0 in 2006. It was 6.0 in 2017, Yeah, there were a lot of players with clean jerseys back them.

For Pierre-Paul, it has been a proving season, although he doesn't use those terms. Pierre-Paul hadn't had double digit sacks since 2014, back before the fireworks accident that left him with a mangled hand. This is just his third season of double-digit sacks of his nine.

“I think everything starts with JPP (Pierre-Paul) and (Carl) Nassib – the two ends," said coach Dirk Koetter. "I think those two, from a disruption standpoint. Gerald [McCoy] is still a handful when he gets singled inside. Teams haven’t been able to focus quite as much on Gerald, but I think the penetration of Carl and just the overall doggedness of JPP – that he just won’t quit – I think that’s pushed the entire group to bigger heights.”

Consider this. In 16 games last year, the Bucs had 22 sacks. In 11 games this year, they have 29. Yeah, there are still gaping holes on defense, but the pass rush has been good.

“I think our defensive line really overall played a darn good game the other day," defensive coordinator Mark Duffner said. "I think (that) was one of the reasons why we were able to play productive defense. They’ve been working real hard on the pressure and putting pressure on the quarterback and impact him in terms of the pocket. I’m pleased that they’re having results that are reflective of their efforts.

“(Pierre-Paul and Nassib) are both guys to be concerned about if you’re on the offensive side. They’re both — number one, they’re high-energy guys, high effort guys. They’re going to work like hell to get the job done. Number two, they’ve got talent and when you add those two things — attitude and talent — together you get some production. I can’t be more excited about what they have brought in terms of their personality, their character, their work ethic and their production to the defense. JPP he’s down, didn’t know if his knee was torn up or what and the rascal goes over, warms up, goes back in and plays. You’ve got to love a guy that’s got that kind of toughness and commitment to his teammates.”

As for Pierre-Paul, who also leads the defensive linemen in tackles, he talks first about turnovers, not sacks.

“I know we need turnovers," Pierre-Paul said. "We can’t give turnovers and just a whole lot of flying to the ball and everybody playing together. I think the guys are going to come out this week and we’re fired up. Like you said, that win is over and done with, but it gave a little bit of a boost. We know what we’re capable of playing, but like I said — we were supposed to beat that team I know that. At the end of the day, it is what it is. Everybody on the team is probably banged up at this point, but you’ve just got to fight through it. I feel like if you fight through it, everything will work out for itself.”

It'll be harder for the Bucs this week. Carolina's Cam Newton can be difficult to sack (20 on the season).

If the Bucs' defense is going to have a chance, however, it'll need a couple of drive-stoppers along the way.






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