Pierre-Paul off a good start with Tampa Bay

by Gary Shelton on October 11, 2018 · 4 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Rays

Pierre-Paul is off to a good start./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Four. It doesn't sound like a lot.

Four. Heck, there were that many Beatles. That many seasons in a year. That many leaves on some clover That many Cartwrights (original issue).

Four. Four is a start. Four is a solid month. Four is a full set of Horsemen.

And in the case of Jason Pierre-Paul, four is a good start.

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Pierre-Paul, acquired in a trade from the New York Giants, has four sacks through the first four weeks of the NFL season. And if that doesn't sound like a lot, consider this. There are three other complete seasons in Bucs history (1986, 1988 and 1994) when four sacks led the team. There are 10 other seasons in which the team's sackmaster had 6.5 or fewer. There are 22 seasons, total, when the leading sacker had fewer than 10.

So, yeah, four isn't a bad start.

"He told me in the offseason when he didn’t come to OTA’s ... he said, ‘I know what I’m doing," Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. "I’ll be fine. I’ll learn it.’ Basically, don’t worry about it. And I’ve got to admit I kind of thought, ‘Just wait. I’ve heard that before,’ but he’s done it. A guy that backs up what he says, I have a lot of respect for that. He has played very consistently not only in practice, but in the games. As I’ve said before, I’ve been impressed with him as a vocal leader and a leader that sets the example by how he works. Can’t say enough good things.”

The thing is, Pierre-Paul has been a bit of a slow starter in his career. Only once before -- in 2011 -- has he had more than a sack and a half after the first four games.

Now, with the team playing poorly on defense, Pierre-Paul is a sign that things might get better. He's 11th in the NFL in sacks, but nine of the players in front of him have played five games. He also has 17 tackles, which puts him seventh in the league among defensive ends.

“It’s amazing," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said. "Jason is such a competitive guy. We want to have a rotation and it’s hard to get him off the field because he wants to play every snap.

"It’s just amazing and he’s great with the younger guys. He’s a guy that likes to collaborate. He likes to talk about things and I think that’s good. I think that’s going to help us in the long run. Again, we’re four games in to it with this group and we’ve got new pieces and we’ve got pieces playing in different spots from week-to-week.”

Pierre-Paul has a simple approach to football. He doesn't think he can be stopped.

"Nobody can’t block me unless I block me, man," Pierre-Paul said. "Two men, three men, bring them on. I  feel no one can block me. There are going to be times (the offensive tackle) blocks me, but then he has to block me again."

Whether Pierre-Paul can make Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan feel heat will go a long way toward stopping the Falcons. Last year in Atlanta, receiver Julio Jones caught 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. This year's secondary has been lit up already.

“Julio’s one of the elite players in this league," Koetter said, "and we have a couple on our team as well. As we said last year after the game at their place, we played at Green Bay one time when I was coaching([in Atlanta), and I saw Julio get that hot. Julio is good every week. He didn’t get many balls thrown his way last week, but going into last week he was leading the NFL in yardage if I’m not mistaken. I think he was leading targets and yardage.

"I don’t know the ins and out of Atlanta’s game plan or what Pittsburgh did. Pittsburgh obviously did some things that tried to take him out and they worked. Sometimes you can have a call that you think is trying to take him out of the play and he still beats it. Julio – much like Mike [Evans] for us — he gets double-teamed a lot. They can do different things to get him open. They can move him into the slot. They can put him in motion. They can pick for him. They can run for him. They can do different stuff like that, but he’s a tough player to stop. He’s definitely on our game-wrecker list for this week and he will be for every team they play.”

Smith has been the head coach for Jones and a defensive coordinator charged with trying to slow him down.

“Julio’s had some big games against a lot of folks," Smith said. "I’ve been on both sides of it. He’s an outstanding wide receiver. He is a mismatch. He creates mismatches. They do a good job in moving him around. They don’t play him every snap. He’s not an every-down player. He’s going to play upwards of 75 percent of the snaps. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got great hands and he’s got great zone awareness.  He has a knack for sitting down in zones and then again playing him one-on-one and if Matt has got the time to the throw the ball, he’s going to put it in the tight spots – Julio’s going to catch it.

“When you’ve got a guy on the other side that can stretch the field as well, it’s going to create issues. I think they are very good in their play-action game and that’s something that they do very well. That’s where they get their deep shots. When you’ve got two that can go down the field, it gets difficult to double cover both of those guys and be able to still be strong against the run because if you don’t stop them in the run, they’ll pound you with([Devonta) Freeman. He’s a very good back and so is (Tevin) Coleman.”

So far this season, the Falcons have lost four of five games and have given up 163 points.

Granted, the Bucs' defensive front hasn't been as relentless as the hope was, which was exposed the secondary, which has meant too many receivers are crossing too many goal lines.

"The sky is not falling," Smith said of his critics. "I can assure you, it felt like it was frickin' crumpling on top of us when we walked off that field in Chicago. But that's an anomaly that's one of one. And as a defense, we are committed together to right that ship and not play defensive football like we played there."

If this team has a chance this year, however, it starts with a step toward a quarterback. It depends on that first move outside of the offensive tackle. It depends on closing speed on the quarterback.

It depends, too, on Pierre-Paul showing that he can still be an impact player.

The next test comes Sunday in Atlanta.





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