TAMPA — Sacks are a lot like home runs and slam dunks. They pull even the most casual fans out of their seats, generate ripple after ripple of high-fives and have a legitimate wow factor about them.
Suffice to say that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have not wowed their fans very much in recent years.
The Bucs finished 26th or worse in the 32-team NFL with 28 sacks or fewer each of the past four seasons. An otherwise wow-less 2013 season is fast shaping up to be something completely different, however.
After registering a season-high seven sacks during their 27-6 victory over the Bills on Sunday, the Bucs surpassed the 30-sack plateau for the first time since they recorded 33 in 2007. Tampa Bay now ranks 18th in the league with 31 sacks.
“Whether it was our three-man (rush), our four-man (rush) or our blitz pressures, the guys executed the (pass rush) plan really well,” Bucs coach Greg Schiano said of Sunday’s effort.
“The other thing the guys did a good job with was eye discipline. That’s something we’ve been talking about, just putting your eyes on your work and doing your job. And we did that pretty well on Sunday.”
Even with good eye discipline, the Bucs still don’t pass the eye test as sack artists. Their 31 sacks are two fewer than the league average through 14 weeks and 13 fewer than the league-leading Bills.
And it’s not like the Bucs have any league-leading sack masters. Their leaders are defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is tied for 27th in the league with seven sacks, and linebacker Lavonte David, who is tied for 42nd with six.
But by using an array of personnel groupings, rush schemes and well-timed blitzes, the Bucs have harassed opposing quarterbacks in a way that has generated not just sacks, but game-altering plays.
On Sunday, the Bucs increased their league-leading interception total to 21 with four picks of Bills quarterback EJ Manuel. A lot of those 21 picks were the by-product of the pass rush, Schiano said.
“We’ve been getting a little better pressure than maybe people feel and that’s what’s led to the increased interceptions,” Schiano said. “Again, it all ties together — the pass rush and the pass coverage. So we’ve had some quarterbacks throw us the ball under pressure.
“And what our pass rush has gotten better at doing is just (affecting) the quarterbacks’ throws by doing things like mirroring the throwing hand. It may not seem like much, but if you change the release point by just that much, then 25 yards down the field it’s that much and that’s usually the difference between an interception and a (completed pass).”
The Bucs did not come by their 31 sacks easily. Like a baseball team without power hitters in the middle of its lineup, they had to manufacture their wow moments through creative means.
A lot of credit for the success, Schiano said, goes to defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan, who has done a good job of disguising the majority of his blitz packages.
Schiano said Sheridan also has done a good job of incorporating Bucs newcomers into the pass rush, including a few who seldom, if ever, get involved in the sack party.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis recorded only the second sack of his career Sunday — and the first since 2008 — when he blitzed from the slot to take down Manuel midway through the second quarter.
“That’s something we worked on in practice last week,” Revis said. “When I’m in the slot I’m usually covering, but we changed it up a little bit and I happened to be there to make the play.”
Because the Bills’ slot receiver rarely lines up tight to the tackle or tight end, Schiano said, they knew it would take a little longer than usual for Revis to reach the quarterback.
“So, you’re waiting and waiting for Darrelle to get there, because Darrelle is fast, but he’s still a long ways out,” Schiano said. “But then he gets there and gets the sack and I’m sure he got a kick out of it, because he doesn’t get a lot of sacks.”
Revis isn’t the only unlikely source contributing to the sack total. Linebacker Dekoda Watson has two sacks as an edge rusher, defensive tackle Derek Landri has one out of his sub-package role and rookie William Gholston has two after recording 1.5 against Buffalo.
“We talked about that during the week, that we just keep putting William out there because as we give him more time he performs a little bit better,” Schiano said. “You’ve got to earn that chance, and we think that he’s earning it so we’re going to keep pushing him out there.
“Again, it’s not always about the sacks. It’s a matter of altering the quarterback’s release just a little bit. And we’ve talked about that a lot and a lot of that stuff is starting to pay off now.”