Greg Cosell is always worth listening to, and today he once again appeared on 98.7 The Fan to discuss the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and their upcoming matchup against the Carolina Panthers. He talked about a lot of interesting things and I'd highly recommend listening to the whole thing.
The biggest question the Bucs are facing this season is whether or not the offensive line can hold up, and give Josh McCown a fighting chance.Trading for Logan Mankins probably helped in that regard, but there are some questions about how far into his decline Mankins is, and how much he can still contribute. Greg Cosell thinks that doesn't matter much: the attitude he brings is much more important than just the quality of his play.
"When you start talking about guards and center there's a competitiveness, there's a tenacity that may well be more important [than athleticism]. There's not a lot of guards who you'd say are dancing bears necessarily. . And I think what Mankins brings is an attitude, and an edge, and a chip on his shoulder. And I think this O-line needs it, and I think he'll always bring that as long as you can put him out there."
One side of the ball that doesn't face those question marks is the defense. Specifically, the defensive line. Cosell noted that Gerald McCoy had a chance to emulate Warren Sapp's achievements in Tampa.
"I think he's best three-technique defensive tackle in the league. He's been dominant in the preseason. We know last year he had clear stretches of dominance. What I think you'd ultimately like to see, and theoretically this defense gives him that opportunity, is you'd love to see him become a sack artist."
At 9.5 sacks last year in a scheme that was mostly designed to not let him get to the quarterback, I don't think that will be much of an issue. And neither does Cosell.
"His skillset is such that he can do that. That's not the issue. You look back in the days of the Tampa 2 with the Warren Sapps, getting 13, 14, 15 sacks from that three-technique position. There's no reason Gerald McCoy can't be that guy."
Can the rest of the defensive line can profit from McCoy's dominance? You'd hope so, but that's an open question at this point.
"The question becomes how will offenses treat Michael Johnson. Is he someone that they feel that needs a second player, whether it's a guy who chips, whether they line up a tight end over him. How will offenses treat Michael Johnson?"
"You know he's had moments as a pass rusher. He's a long, angular, athletic guy, he's not necessarily an explosive guy. He's not Simeon Rice, he's not that guy. So the question is how will offenses treat him? If offenses feel they need a second blocker, then that's all you need. That changes the whole dynamic of their defensive line and their ability to rush the quarterback."
If Johnson can't demand double teams, or if the rest of the defensive line can't compensate for his lack of doing so, playing defense in this scheme will get a lot tougher.
"The key of course is to get teams in third-and-long. Because when you're gonna play Tampa 2, the whole defense is built on four-man pass-rush pressure on third-and-long. Because anything that happens after what we call the five-step-drop-phase, which is 2.1 seconds for the quarterback, anything that happens after that if the quarterback is still comfortable in the pocket after 2.1 seconds, the Tampa 2 coverage can't hold up. Because then there's too many voids."
"So the defensive line, when it's in third-and-long, has to at least make the quarterback uncomfortable or speed up within the five-step-drop period, which is 2.1 seconds. If they can't do that, then there's too many voids. So can this defensive line do that this given Sunday? You would think so. This is not a very good Carolina offensive line."
Of course, the Bucs would prefer not to get to third-and-long in the first place. They'd like to take the ball away on earlier downs, and force turnovers. And they won't be playing Tampa 2 all the time, either, or probably even as a predominant coverage. There's a lot of Cover 3 in the playbook, as well as man coverage and single-high looks. And Lovie Smith has said that they'd like to blitz around 30% of the time, which is pretty much the average across the league.
But yes, once you get into third-and-long, once you get to those Tampa 2 calls, that's when the defensive line will have to step up. And that's what will decide a lot of games this season.
Tons and tons of good stuff there, so make sure to head on over to 98.7 The Fan and listens to the whole thing.