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.