The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost a tough game yesterday, but there's still reason to celebrate. That reason is mostly the defensive line, and specifically Michael Bennett and Gerald McCoy who both had ridiculous games. They both had two sacks, both forced one fumble, both had two tackles for loss. Bennett had one quarterback hit while McCoy had three, but Bennett added a pass defense to his statistics to round it out. If I had to choose between the two, I'd say McCoy had the better game, but truth be told: both were absolutely dominant. While losing Adrian Clayborn for the season is harsh, those two should be able to compensate for that, if they keep up this level of play.
The impressive thing is that this isn't new. McCoy and Bennett have both played well in the past, but they've lifted their level of play to new levels this season and have easily been playing at a Pro Bowl level this season. In fact, it's gotten so ridiculous that I don't think it's outlandish to say that McCoy is the best three-technique defensive tackle in the league right now (if we count Justin Smith as a 3-4 DE), while Bennett is certainly vying for a similar title at base defensive end. And we haven't even talked about Roy Miller, who's been an absolute beast in run defense, although he's still not doing too much as a pass rusher. The Bucs will want to re-sign both Roy Miller and Michael Bennett next season, and that should cost them a pretty penny. McCoy is eagerly waiting for his money the season after that.
One statistic should illustrate how impressive this defensive line as a whole has been: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed just 2.3 yards per carry, which leads the league, and their 142 rushing yards allowed ranks second in the NFL, behind only the Seattle Seahawks (and that could change tonight). That's a pretty big turnaround from the season before, when they allowed 5.0 yards per carry, 31st in the NFL, and ranked last in rushing yards allowed. That improvement has come at a cost, though, as the team ranks dead last in passing yards allowed. 6 interceptions and 10 total turnovers make up for that, but that's not very sustainable.
Thankfully, the Bucs' pass rush has picked up as the team eliminated all of the stunts from the gameplan, on McCoy's insistence. When your team captains are comfortable enough to go to the coaches and demand a different gameplan, you know two things: your coaches weren't doing a very good job, and you've got a real leader on defense.
McCoy and Bennett need to stay healthy the rest of the way, and the team needs to find a real replacement for Adrian Clayborn, but this is a very promising start for this young defensive line.