Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Does The Bucs Defensive Line Lack Talent?

So I got a question in the TGTBTU comments section, well it was actually a question and a comment, that I thought I would address in a post. It went like this:

Maybe the use of the 3-3-5 and the 5 D-lineman on goal line is directly correlated to the fact that we basically have a terrible D-line group.

Isn't it generally considered a good idea to put your best players on the field? Aside from a few exceptions, that group is lacking in that category.

Now the logic of the first part is flawed in my opinion and I said so in addressing the question in that thread, but the underlying sentiment that the Bucs lack talent on the defensive line seems to be accepted as conventional wisdom in some corners of their fan base and even in the media. And the thought that the lack of talent is why they are using so much 3-3-5 is also settling in as a "fact".

But is it true?

Well there are two aspects that I want to point out when it comes to this subject. First we can talk about the players and their strengths and weaknesses as opposed to their peers. Secondly, and maybe more relevant, we can talk about the position as a group on this team in contrast with other position groups.

So lets talk about who we have on the team. Starting line up has been:

Kyle Moore: Bucs 4th round pick from last year. Hasn't been dominant but has shown flashes of skill. Needs to work on getting off the ball, pass rush especially on early downs, and on getting being more explosive upfield in his gaps and against the tight end.

Gerald McCoy: Number 3 pick overall this year. Has been inconsistent but at times is close to unblockable. Has really come on strong the last three weeks in all areas of his game.

Roy Miller: Bucs 3rd round pick from last year. Has a very good season a year ago as a back up. Has been pushed around too much for most of the year but has also shown the ability to hold the point well at times. Needs to play with better technique and pad level and needs to be more attentive to detail.

Stylez G. White: Elder statesman on the D Line. Had 8 sacks his first year as a Buccaneer. Led the team last year in sacks with 6.5 and has 22.5 for his 4 year career . Is currently leading the team in sacks again this year with 3. By far the best pass rusher on the team on a consistent basis but was not using any inside moves to start the season off and that hurt his numbers. Underrated against the run.

Now the backups.

Tim Crowder: Former 2nd round pick. Came in last year and immediately became the primary backup at both defensive end spots. Is a consistent performer with very good technique. Maybe not flashy athletic ability but he makes the most of his tools.

Brian Price: Bucs 2nd round pick this year. Showed a lot of flash as a pass rusher. Slowed by injury all year before being put on IR.

Ryan Sims: A much better nosetackle than undertackle but not especially good at either. Can hold the point well against double teams but is lacking in pass rush ability. Has been hurt the last two games. Worth mentioning that when he came out he was the 6th pick of the draft in 2002. Just thought Id point that out.

Michael Bennett: Has all the tools to be a dominant player according to his athletic ability but is still learning to play the game within the confines of the defense. Best get off of the group, really explosive with his hands on tight ends, has a knack of making plays and shows great hustle running to the ball.

Al Woods and Alex Magee: Magee was the 3rd round pick of the Chiefs last year and Woods was the Saints' 4th round pick this year and Magee A little too early to make an informed assessment but I like what I have seen out of Woods so far.

So to recap the defensive line sports two top 10 picks in the draft (although obviously Sims is kind of a misnomer), two 2nd round picks, two 3rd round picks, and two 4th round picks out of 10 players.

Accepting that draft status isn't necessarily a good arbiter of talent, still I don't think there is anybody that the Bucs have on their current roster that couldn't make most other teams roster providing they also run a 4-3. I'll point out that last year people didn't think much of Jimmy Wilkerson but the Saints signed him as a free agent when he was still rehabbing a torn ACL.

Now I understand that none of the guys has had what you would call a dominant year this year, but that doesn't necessarily mean they don't have talent. I know people who will claim Stylez isn't a good pass rusher because he only has 3 sacks but if I point out that Justin Tuck and Jared Allen only have 4 sacks then they will claim that it isn't just about sacks. Look there's a lot in this world I don't know, but I DO know defensive line talent and the Bucs have it. I can't account for how they are using it though.

I want everyone reading this blog to seriously think about this question though. What defensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last 5 years would you say got better and progressed as his career went on?

Its a serious question, especially when lack of production is being blamed on lack of talent.

Could the Bucs have been that terrible at evaluating defensive linemen? Or is something else at play?

Well look at other positions on the team. Just about every where else other than defensive line you have players that weren't initially held in high regard who are now out performing their draft status. You look at Sammie Stroughter, EJ Biggers, James Lee, Geno Hayes, Ted Larsen, Cody Grim, Donald Penn, LeGarrette Blount, all players that have outplayed their draft status at this point. So why is it that in at least the last 5 years you would be hard pressed to come up with someone on the defensive line that improved in a comparable fashion?

I think maybe the closest you could come is Bennett but then you have to remember that he WASN'T EVEN ACTIVE for the first few games of the season. Stylez doesn't count because he had been player of the year in the Arena League when he got to the Bucs and his numbers have actually gone down since that first year.

At the end of the day there's only two ways to look at this from my perspective. Either the Bucs need to fire everyone that they use to scout defensive linemen or maybe its not the players. I'm very much leaning towards the latter.

For what its worth, its really hard to credibly say that the Bucs are using the 3-3-5 because they can't get a rush with four defensive lineman for one important reason. They never committed to rushing with four defensive lineman to see if it would work before they went with the 3-3-5 as their lead 3rd down personnel. And they certainly haven't always used their best pass rush combinations on the rare occasions when they did use a 4 man line. Earlier in the year when Price was still active, seeing him and McCoy on the field at the same time on 3rd down was a rarity. Instead Moore always was lined up inside which never made any sense whatsoever. Even on Sunday when the Bucs sparingly used their four man rush they had Crowder inside at tackle where I can't remember him ever having pass rushed even though both of his sacks this year came at left end rushing against the Panthers. And they had Bennett rush from left end which isn't all bad except for the fact that he was probably the best option to rush inside along side McCoy and not Crowder.

And I know I know, the run defense still hasn't been fixed so its OBVIOUSLY all the defensive line's fault.  Except that the only guy on the defensive line that has had problems playing the run consistently has been Miller which is odd because he was actually pretty good at it last year.  Moore isn't the greatest run stuffer either but he hasn't been a liability.  Everyone else has been pretty good for the most part.  There are, after all, more than just four people involved in defending the run on any given play. 

There has been so much about the defensive line rotation on third down that hasn't made any sense all year that it makes my head hurt. But unfortunately all most fans hear about is that they don't have talent.

Sorry but I'm calling bullshit on that.


  1. I completely agree. We have a huge coaching issue there.

    I bet if we take these same players and apply a great DL coach (like Marinelli), we'd have 3-4x as many sacks as we currently do.

    The real issue is that we just spent our top two picks on DTs last year and will probably draft a DE in the first two rounds next year...and those players may go to waste without some good coaching.

    In my opinion, this is our number one concern on defense at the moment.

  2. Also worth noting that the Bucs used a high draft pick on Gaines Adams (RIP) and saw nothing but athletic potential and zero production until they shipped him to Chicago.

    Point being that what we saw as a draft bust obviously had enough upside remaining for the Bears to spend a 2nd rounder on him.

    If you'd fed most of us the TBO and national press coverage on him and stuck us as GM on that deal we'd have been accepting a 6th round pick, so as you say the talent must be there, just no-one to get it out.

  3. Is the bar really set so low that we've resorted to asking if any d-lineman other than McCoy would make another team's roster? Shouldn't we be asking if any of them would start? Miller was good last year so it's possible despite his struggles this year. The problem is when you look at the DEs. Would they make other rosters? Sure, but would any of them start? We have a wealth of backup caliber players, but there are only a few teams that would likely start any of them IMO.

    Having said all that, I agree that I think our d-line coach just isn't that good, but with how pathetic our pass rush is it has to be a combination of coaching and talent. If our guys really were that talented we would see flashes and impact plays in spite of bad situations. Upper tier athletes do this, they will make plays you think they were completely out of.

    Also, yes we can sometimes find other people's garbage and they pan out, but it doesn't happen all the time. Crowder and Bennet were both let go after being drafted within only the last couple of years.

    Sylez White.. well it's already been mentioned he slacks off in practice. If I've noticed one thing about players around 30 it is this. The ones that can perform at a high level for a long time are the ones who are absolute professionals and have a very detailed and intense approach especially when it comes to offseason training and practices.

    Kyle Moore.. well I'm quite frankly getting fed up and have at times been about to give up, never liked the pick, but he was also injured and missed most of the first half last year due to nagging injuries. He's really only played a couple games more than a full season now.

    My point being of course coaching is extremely important, however even when put in bad game situations upper tier players make something out of nothing every now and then. Also really talented players can still stand out when drafted by poorly run organizations from top to bottom. When you have as few sacks as we do your problem has got to be both coaching and personel.

    I really appreciate and respect your breakdowns of the Xs and Os, there is no doubt you know the game and plays inside and out, I don't question when you point to a scheme and say this won't work. On the other hand being a fan of this team or any team, it's easy to tout our players to be more talented than they are. I do it myself. If a player is putting up stats anywhere in the top 10 I automatically think they should be in the pro bowl over the other 9 guys.

  4. So Steve, if the players have the talent what is the problem?

    1. Scheme used (a.k.a. Bate's defense last year)
    2. Poor coaching of players
    3. Players not being motivated

    I mean if you say the players HAVE the talent it can only be one of the above or a combination.

    Where does the buck stop?

  5. @Coburn First because I was talking about the defensive line group as a whole then obviously not all of them would start on other teams. I kinda made that abundantly clear as well in the post. However I'd say McCoy, White, Crowder, Miller and Bennett could all start for other teams.

    Second whether Stylez slacks off in practice or not he's still our best pass rusher and he has proven he can do it against whomever he lines up against.

    Third I don't really agree with your first tier/second tier assessments. Ive seen good players play like shit in a bad scheme. Ive seen average players play gang busters in a good scheme. Ive rarely seen a good player ball out in a bad scheme. It just doesn't normally happen. But even at that my primary problem with the coaching is who gets playing time and where they are played.

    And lastly, I write about the Bucs because I am a fan but I don't write as a fan. Everything on this blog has my name on it and I take pride in that. I have been doing the defensive line breakdowns for a little over a year and a half now and I have a track record for my critiques. I don't over sell or under sell anybody the Bucs put out on the field, I just tell it exactly like I see.

    That's why when I talk about different players I will tell you explicitly what their strong points are and what their weak points are. I don't say somebody sucks or somebody is awesome which I know is a bit different around here. But there are more than just Bucs fans who read my stuff and believe me on this most of the people who know defensive line play agree with me.

    Doesn't mean you or any other fan has to, you are certainly entitled to your own opinion. But when you come to this blog you can expect the truth without any sugar coating. And not a whole lot else.

  6. @MrLucky I thought I had been pretty clear on it but both scheme and coaching play a role. I don't have any insight on motivation because they all seem to play hard on Sundays. Ive already said they need a new D Line coach and that they need to throw the 3-3-5 package in the garbage, not sure what else you are asking.

  7. Great read Steve!!!I have to agree there is talent...If there was a rookie D-lineman of the year it would have been R.Miller.G.M.C. isn't Suh but I think he will be a very disruptive force soon.Can you please tell us or write a story on who we should draft or what free agents we should be looking at for DE next year.Also can you tell us who you think the Bucs should hire for D-Line coach (if you're not interested).

  8. Well I don't want to go back and forth on this. I do enjoy reading this blog and have learned a lot through it. I'll just say with the Bucs being dead last in the league in sacks (close to setting an all time low) and next to last in run defense, I would have a hard time justifying just changing the line coach, keeping all of the players the same and hoping they respond well to the new coaching. Now I know you never said we couldn't improve at all, but I definately think we need at least one high pick spent on a DE.

  9. If SW can see these problems then Morris should be able see them, too. The buck stops with the DC/HC and he needs to address/fix it. We read this great critique on this blog and then we have to watch the D struggle every week. Love Morris as the HC and how the guys play hard for him but he needs to fix this mess. If he can somehow get things turned around this year, we can be a strong playoff team. Fire Walsh and hire SW.

  10. @coburn Well I am pretty sure Ive neber commented on whether the Bucs should or shouldnt draft an end next year but I will say if they draft one high and keep Wash they are probably going to be throwing away money. Also Ill point out, again, that Moore was a 4th round pick last year so its not like they havent attempted to address the position at all.

  11. Well that is something we can agree on Mr. White. I don't believe they will be getting much value for their pick if Wash is still around either.

  12. If these guys are regressing under Wash, why hasn't Morris canned him?

  13. The only explanation I can come up with for the 3 down lineman dominating the playcalling is depth and trying to keep a fresh rotation. Besides a few splash blitzes by Black or Barber, the formation has NOTHING to offer

  14. ODd as it sounds firing a position coach during the season is probably more disruptive than firing a coordinator. That being said I dont know if Wash is fiered after the season either. Ive seen some below average coaches keep their gig in similar circumstances but ultimately it still didnt end well.

  15. Hey Steve,

    I absolutely agree that there is probably a coaching issue on the D-line, however, I was merely suggesting the reason WHY we were using less D-lineman in situations that conventional wisdom would recommend we use more.

    I also think you misunderstood the point I was making. You mentioned that I was contradicting myself, when I was simply trying to explain Rah's logic. It shows a glimpse of what Raheem and friends think of their D-line.

    At no point did I refer to the scenario when they used 6 D-lineman and were successful on the goal line. I would hope they would have more success with that scheme.

    Aside from all of that, I don't necessarily disagree that we have talent on the D-line, but I don't think that our current group is very deep - especially after losing Price - and/or it's underdeveloped (possibly a sign of bad coaching... or youth), which makes sense since Rah wants to use less of them. Either way, right now, I don't think they're that good as a group as a whole.

    I also apologize for that massive run-on sentence.

  16. Steve,

    Not sure if this has been thrown out there but I think Rah
    might be working on his philosophy during the season.
    With so many young players I'm starting to think that he is
    building a defense for the future. That means slow going this year.
    Moving McCoy around is evidence of my point.
    Moving on to this weeks game what are your thoughts on two things?
    1 The Bucs not doing well in CA?
    2 Troy Smith at QB?
    I've been to the last 3 games at Candlestick all loses
    and the Bucs seem to be the better team but lose.
    Troy at QB bothers me cuz he is getting into a groove and has won
    two in a row.
    Also, forecast calls for rain Sunday! You've said a few
    times D Line has been on skates. Rain make that worse?
    I'm hoping Gore pulls a hammy!!
    Go Bucs

  17. Thanks for the great work Steve.