Analysis on the Washington Redskins Upcoming Opponent – Spotlight on DT Gerald McCoy
Before we start on the spotlight, let me get this out there: Tampa Bay’s 26th overall ranking for their defense is a mirage. They held Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to 10 points in week 1. They held Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense to 16 points in week 3 (7 points was essentially gifted on an offensive turnover too). And through 3 quarters in week 2, they held Eli Manning and the New York Giants to 16 points. This team had an unbearably bad meltdown in the 4th quarter against NYG where they allowed approximately 260 yards of offense and 25 points; that quarter is skewing their statistics. In 11 out of their 12 quarters thus far, they haven’t just been good; they’ve been elite. That’s the defense the Redskins should expect to face on Sunday.
One guy that the Washington Redskins must keep an eye on this Sunday against the Buccaneers is Gerald McCoy. McCoy was selected #3 overall by the Bucs in the 2010 NFL Draft (one spot ahead of Trent Williams) and has had a relatively quiet start to his career. He suffered from nagging injuries in his first two years which took a toll on his production over that span. As a result, he has started to develop the label of being a “bust.”
Let me warn you now, McCoy is far from a bust.
Over the first three games this season, McCoy has 3.0 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 1 batted pass, and 1 forced fumble. He’s on pace for 16.0 sacks this season, which is extraordinary for an interior lineman. What makes McCoy so dangerous? Well, part of it has to do with the considerable physical gifts that made him the 3rd overall pick in the 2010 draft and the array of pass-rushing moves that made draft guru Mike Mayock call him a better prospect than Ndomakung Suh coming out of college. The other part of it has to do with the aggressive 4-3 Under scheme that the Buccaneers run.
Above is the Buccaneers’ base 4-3 defense. What makes this a 4-3 “Under” defense is the alignment of the four down linemen. In this play, the strong side of the offensive formation is to the left of Tony Romo (the right side of the picture, where the two TEs are aligned). “Under” signifies that the defensive front is shifted away from the strong side (in this picture, shifted slightly to the left). The ultimate goal of this is to isolate DT Gerald McCoy in a hopeful one-on-one matchup.
Gerald McCoy is circled in yellow in the picture above. Carefully notice the alignment of the four defensive linemen. The left defensive end (Michael Bennett) is about two yards outside of Dallas’ right tackle. Gerald McCoy is lined up in-between Dallas’ right tackle and right guard. Tampa Bay’s other defensive tackle, Roy Miller, is lined up in-between Dallas’ center and right guard. Finally, Tampa’s right defensive end, Adrian Clayborn, is lined up between Dallas’ right tackle and their innermost tight end.
At a glance, if you saw a DT lined up in-between a guard and tackle, you’d think there was a fair chance he’d be double-teamed. McCoy is lined up in this type of technique above. However, if each of the Buccaneers’ defensive linemen shoots up the gap that they are lined up across from, something interesting will end up happening. Adrian Clayborn (RDE) will engage Dallas’ left tackle and innermost TE (if the TE stays in to block). Roy Miller (RDT) will engage the right guard and the center. With Dallas’ LT, LG, and C occupied by Clayborn and Miller, the alignment leaves Michael Bennet (LDE) and Gerald McCoy (LDT) in one-on-one matchups with the RT and RG, respectively. This is the goal of the 4-3 Under scheme. They will consistently ask McCoy to fire off the ball upfield with his initial step and create havoc with his gap penetration against a single offensive lineman. Obviously, it will never be as simple as described, but the philosophy remains true; the 4-3 Under forces opposing offenses into a bind because the scheme makes it difficult to double-down on the best interior pass-rusher on the defensive line. As much as edge-rushers tend to get the glory for their pass-rushing prowess, truly elite defensive rushes consistently collapse the pocket from the inside. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have done this very well this season.
The Bucs are not static in their relative alignment either. In the first picture showed, McCoy is aligned in the 3-technique (between the guard and tackle) to the left of the defensive formation (for ease I referred to it as the LDT). In the picture below, McCoy is aligned in the 3-technique to the right side of the defensive formation (RDT).
Even though the offense’s strong side is to the opposite side of the field, McCoy is rotated to remain the 3-technique in the Under shift. The defensive front’s alignment is basically the same, only flipped. It’s all about getting McCoy into the best pass-rushing situation against their opponent’s base offense.
In obvious pass-rushing situations, the Buccaneers like to line up in almost the same front (only difference is the 4th DL is in a two-point stance instead of having his hand in the dirt), but they shift McCoy further inside to where Roy Miller was aligned above (at the 1-technique between the Center and Right Guard). Why? So that they can shift their usual LDE, Michael Bennett, inside as a second dominant interior rusher. In the first picture, Bennett is lined up to the left of Gerald McCoy as a defensive end. In the picture below, Bennett (yellow arrow) is playing as the 3-technique DT while McCoy is at the 1-technique (yellow circle).
McCoy is going to get double-teamed (which he is still talented enough to beat) while Michael Bennett will get the one-on-one matchup against the Left Guard. This is a philosophy made popular in the media by the New York Giants, who are famous for shifting Justin Tuck and even Jason Pierre-Paul inside on pass-rushing downs, matching up the quicker pass-rushers against interior linemen that are not used to protecting against guys that athletic. Not surprisingly, Michael Bennett joins Gerald McCoy atop the statistical charts of the Bucs with 3.0 sacks apiece on this season.
At the end of the day, the Bucs thrive on pressure from the interior of the line. This isn’t surprising as they have been chasing the New Orleans Saints for the last six years in the NFC South, and the key to disrupting the Saints is to pressure Brees up the middle (which the Redskins illustrated perfectly in week 1). When the Bucs collapse the pocket from the inside, they win defensively. Tampa Bay runs an aggressive, read-on-the-run scheme that prioritizes gap penetration before everything else. Gerald McCoy in the 3-technique is the key to this philosophy. This is the same philosophy that has groomed some of the best interior pass rushers and pass-rushing seasons of all-time: Keith Millard (18.0 sacks in 1989), John Randle (nine consecutive seasons of 10 or more sacks), La’Roi Glover (17.0 sacks in 2000), and Warren Sapp (averaged over 8.5 sacks per 16 games from 1995-2003). These guys were getting sack totals that rivaled some of the best defensive ends and 3-4 OLBs in any given season. If the first three games of 2012 are any indication, Gerald McCoy could be on his way to reaching his potential as the next DT to fear. This is a guy the Redskins must keep an eye on if they want to continue their pace as the #1 scoring team in the NFL. He is the cornerstone of that defense, and he will be a key to the success of the Redskins on Sunday.
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