TAMPA – What a difference a lead makes.
That’s how Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter summed up the sudden success his pass rushers found in getting to quarterback Josh McCown during thei 15-10 victory over the Jets at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
After recording just eight sacks through eight games, the fewest in the league and three less than the individual league leader, the Bucs broke out against the Jets with six sacks by six different players.
They came, Koetter said, not as a result of some new pressure package the Bucs had thrown together for this game or a re-imagined personnel grouping but as a byproduct on controlling the scoreboard.
“We had a lead,’’ Koetter said flatly when asked about the surge in sacks on Monday. “We were playing from ahead instead of paying from behind, so the team other team had to throw the ball.
“We’ve been playing from behind a lot – too much, really. It’s amazing how much better your pass rush is when the other team has to abandon their running game like we’ve had to several times – too many times.’’
The Bucs really didn’t force the Jets out of their running game until the second quarter. Prior to that, they’d allowed the Jets backs to gain 40 yards on six carries.
After taking their 3-0 lead late in the first, though, the Bucs allowed just 12 yards on seven carries in the plays leading up to their first sack, which came on a second-and-6 play at the Bucs 37.
Little known Will Clarke recorded that takedown and Kendell Beckwith followed up five plays later with his sack, which came off a 3-4 alignment in which Beckwith lined up as an outside edge rusher.
The Bucs have been toying with that alignment for a few weeks now, using it mostly on third down, including 18 time during their loss to the Panthers last month, but their success against the run allowed them to expand its use on Sunday.
“(Defensive coordinator Mike Smith) went to that package on second-and-long,’’ Koetter said. “He hadn’t been going to that at all on second-and-long, but he went to it more (on Sunday), not just on third down.
“But the key was, we got them in some second-and-longs. They had several negative plays on first down and so we had second-and-10, second-and-9. And then we got ahead there in the fourth quarter.’’
Indeed, three of the Bucs sacks came after they’d taken a 15-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter, which all but forced the Jets to pass the rest of the way.
And while one of those passes did result in a touchdown that tightened the score, the Bucs defense managed to do something else in this game that’s it’s done very little of this year:
It finished strong and closed out the victory.