The Bucs defense dominated the 49ers last Sunday. With 2 tackles-for-loss, 2 stuffs, 6 sacks and an interception this was a great game for a defense that had been burned with some regularity in previous games. And surprisingly, much of this dominant game could be attributed to the defensive line. They were consistently getting penetration into the backfield, causing chaos and disruption for the 49ers.
Perhaps the most impressive performance along that defensive line was Gerald McCoy's. More than anyone else he found himself in the backfield consistently, and found ways to disrupt the offense. With 2 half-sacks, 1 pass defensed, a QB hit and 2 tackles this was his biggest game yet. If he continues his positive play, the 49ers game will be seen as his coming-out party. Gerald McCoy has gotten stronger with every game over the past weeks, and he's starting to turn into that disruptive Defensive Tackles the Bucs hoped to have drafted.
This wasn't his first good game, though. McCoy has been productive in previous games too, the problem has been that he's been inconsistent as well. He flashed the ability to destroy offensive linemen, but then he disappeared on some other plays. This is normal for any rookie and he's still learning the position, though. His disruption has also been noted by Football Outsiders, noting the following in their Smarter Stats piece they write for the Washington Post:
First-round pick Gerald McCoy was catching some flak early in the season as Ndamukong Suh stood out for Detroit and McCoy was relatively invisible. But McCoy is starting to catch up; through Week 10, he has amassed six rushing Defeats (as many as Suh, and second in the league), and he's allowing just 1.2 yards per run attempt in his direction, better than Suh's 2.5. McCoy's nowhere near as dynamic on pass plays, but he's far from a bust, and he's getting better.
Those are some impressive numbers, but they're not unexpected. McCoy doesn't stop working throughout a play, but he doesn't seem to have great long speed so the plays he makes are often close to the line of scrimmage when he blows up an offensive lineman. And despite those plays, we are still the worst team in the NFL in defending the run up the middle. Our defensive line is still playing poor football.
So then, if our defensive line is that bad, how did they manage to stop one of the top RBs in the league? How did they manage to get to the quarterback 6 times? Well, it's a combination of things. For one, the Niners O-line is a poor pass-protection line. They've given up 25 sacks and are 28th in the league in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate. Add to that that Troy Smith is a mobile quarterback, and mobile quarterbacks get sacked more frequently than pocket passers as they try to extend plays a little too far. That's a bit of a problem for Josh Freeman at times as well, I might add.
Besides being a poor pass protection unit, the San Francisco O-line was also missing its starting left tackle due to injury. However, there is one thing that speaks in the favour of the Bucs: the 49ers were a mediocre run-blocking unit by Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards. Still, that's not much to hang your hat on.
All this to add a little perspective. Yes, the Defensive Line had a very good day, the best of the year by a mile. It's clearly an improving unit, and they can build on this performance. But this performance was less impressive than it looks at first glance, and I wouldn't expect a repeat of this performance at any point in the last six games.