So Dirk Koetter Likes His Pass Rush … Really?

April 5th, 2017


Dirk Koetter is apparently content with the Buccaneer pass rush.

I’m not.

In a story that has longer legs than the Rays’ perpetual search for a new home, the Bucs are still looking for a big-time sack master. The last time a Buccaneer registered a double-digit sack season (2005), Joaquin Phoenix was walking the line in movie theaters dressed as Johnny Cash.

Operating in a quarterback-rich division places an annual premium on making opposing passers uncomfortable in the pocket. Tampa Bay did an OK job on that front in 2016, but OK isn’t good enough for a franchise hoping to end a nine-year playoff drought.

At the owners meetings last week in Phoenix, Koetter suggested Tampa Bay’s ability to collapse the pocket was not a major concern.

Let’s go to the video tape.

On first glance, the Bucs boasted a solid rush last season. They finished with 38 sacks, tied for ninth in the league, and the defense improved markedly after that 3-5 getaway.

But 15 players across the NFL registered at least 10 sacks while Gerald McCoy led Tampa Bay with seven takedown; 31 players had more sacks than McCoy.

Former Raiders owner Al Davis, who happens to be in the Hall of Fame, was famous for a lot of memorable sayings like “Just win, baby,” and “We don’t take what the defense gives us, we take what we want.”

But my favorite line from the NFL’s Prince of Darkness came when he was asked for his defensive philosophy.

“Somewhere in the first 5 to 10 plays of the game,” Davis said, “the other team’s quarterback must go down — and he must go down hard.”

Are you listening, Mike Smith?

Obvious Need

Replacing Akeem Spence with Chris Baker represents an upgrade at defensive tackle and the former Redskin should combine with McCoy and Clinton McDonald for an effective interior rotation.

But on the edges, where pass rushers traditionally feast, the Bucs have Will Gholston, Robert Ayers and Noah Spence. Gholston hasn’t proven himself as a pass rusher while Ayers and Spence struggled with injuries last year.

Jacquies Smith, who has shown promise, missed virtually the entire season with a knee injury and the 49ers are still looking at him as a restricted free agent. Add George Johnson, Ryan Russell and Channing Ward to the mix at defensive end and it’s obvious that edge rusher remains a position of need heading into the draft.

Statistics can be misleading. They can also be illuminating.

The Bucs registered 2 or less sacks in 9 games last season, going 4-5 in those games. When they posted at least 3 sacks, they were 5-2.

There’s a pattern here because in the past four years, Tampa Bay is 7-31 when opposing quarterbacks are dropped less than three times.

A pass rush that peaked with a six-sack effort against Seattle shriveled when it counted the most.

With the Bucs at 8-5 and in control of an NFC playoff berth, they ventured into Jerry’s World and dropped a 26-20 decision to Dallas as rookie Dak Prescott completed 32-of-36 pass attempts.

Sacks by Lavonte David, Gholston and Sealver Siliga accounted for only 15 yards in losses and Tampa Bay was credited with only 4 QB hits. Meanwhile, the Cowboys hit Jameis Winston 9 times and dropped him 4 times.

Money Men

Six days later, the Bucs traveled to the Superdome. It had been only two weeks since Tampa Bay battered Drew Brees in a 16-11 triumph, but this time around, Brees had enough time to go through his progressions and order a muffuletta.

In a 31-24 victory, Brees was sacked twice for a total of 5 yards and hit on only 3 other occasions while completing 23-of-34 passes.

Unless my math is off, Prescott and Brees combined to hit on 55-of-70 throws without a single interception.

You can blame the secondary… I’m calling out a dismal pass rush as the major culprit in the two biggest games of the Buc season.

In his second year, perhaps Spence will become the “animal” that Jason Licht envisions. Perhaps Ayers stays healthy and Gholston learns a few new pass rush moves off left end.


But instead of standing pat, it’s more likely that Licht and Koetter decide to draft a defensive end in a few weeks. And don’t be shocked if the Bucs add another pass rusher when final cuts are made in five months.

Remember, you can never have enough pass rushers. They get the big bucks because they make the big plays.

For my money, they’re not making enough of ’em.

The Custodian of Canton, eye-RAH! Kaufman is the sage of Tampa Bay sports and he’s the only Pro Football Hall of Fame voter in the Tampa Bay area. Ira’s columns appear on every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his podcasts are Tuesdays and Thursdays. All of his work can be neatly found right here.

37 Responses to “So Dirk Koetter Likes His Pass Rush … Really?”

  1. Joehelldeloxley Says:

    First, I don’t think you go on public place and criticise your players. It will have a bad effect on them.

    Second, I agree that our numbers are not good enough. BUT There is a point you are not looking at : it’s when and where these sacks are happening, two sacks per game at the right moment could be more effective than 6 sacks ! This is an angle that nobody is looking at.

    Third, sacks and interceptions are linked in my vision. If you don’t press the QB he will have plenty of time to find a receiver, so less chance to make an interception. In the same time, if the QB can’t find a receiver you give more time to your DL to get to him. At the end of the season our defense was pretty tired, with some keys injuries especially on DL. SO yes we didn’t put enough pressure on Brees but there were some good reasons for that.

    DL should be better this year but our DBs have to also make better plays (especially INts) during the three first game of the season (remember what koetter said about VHIII). If our backfield become a major threat for QB then the DL will do damage and so on.

  2. Destinjohnny Says:

    He can’t mean it Ira.
    But again he is a coach not a personal guy.
    It’s not his side of town.

  3. Dlavid Says:

    We have not had a sufficient pass rush in years . It is brutal on Sunday’s watching opposing QB’s stand in the pocket like a statue and pick the team apart . Rookies , veterans , has beens all have feasted on this team far to long . Hopefully this is eradicated this season !

  4. JJ813HeadBusta Says:

    It won’t be long before you all are on the pirate ship walkin that plank sacks or picks be it either or it’s on and popping

  5. Tampa Tony Says:

    I like when Ira’s articles contradict the Joes. They think the o line is good, yet Ira shows how the Cowboys game the o line was a weakness…

    Cowboys game the d played scared, very little blitzing. If Mike Smith is worth the money he’s getting he needs to mix things up

  6. Kalind Says:

    Nope. A rookie will be the 5th DE on the roster. Rookie DEs dont make a difference in year 1. So he’ll ride the bench for most of the year as the pressure builds to play him over Spence and Ayers. Just to flop. Cause he’s a rookie.

    When you draft a 1st rd DE it’s a time investment. One none of us want.

    They’ll be drafting a full time or darned close to full time player in rd1. Guaranteed.


  7. tdtb2015 Says:

    Taco Charlton is coming to the rescue amigos!

    Licht got this!!!

    Go Bucs!!!

  8. Bobby M. Says:

    The Bucs need a little luck with injuries on the D-line….if we stay healthy, i believe the talent is there to create the pressure they desire.

  9. Ben the Ga Buc Says:

    You can’t believe anything the coaches/GMs say this time of year. ‘Tis the season for dis/misinformation.

  10. JJBucFan Says:

    I thought George Johnson retired 2 years ago, LOL, that guy is the new Teflon Man. Just kidding but I agree we need a DE, just get the “motor” guy. The kid from Illinois, FAU, both 2nd/3rd day guys, just don’t go 1st or 2nd round we have too many other needs. I would say not even 3rd round unless the right guy drops. Oh and please don’t play your starting DE on ST, go get a FA LB that would enjoy the NFL life as a ST-er. Look at that cat from Buffalo-been a ST-er his whole career and now shocked the league as a DE.

  11. Jim Says:

    Ira is the best.

  12. Lord Corn Says:

    The only full time player I feel guarenteed about in R1 is a RB.

    WR would be in rotation since they’d be the #3 at best
    TE would be in rotation – Nkoju prob gets 2-3 targets a game tops
    S is no guarentee to start full time and could easily be rotated in
    LB part time
    O line likely on bench or maybe starting – so maybe that but we know they’re not going there
    CB would be part time / ride bench

    I’m fine with a DE r1. Spence made a lot of impact with his snaps last year

  13. Pickgrin Says:

    There’s always room for improvement and statistics may not back me up – but I think if the combination of Ayers, Gholston. Spence and Jac Smith can all stay healthy – we will be just fine with that group of DEs this year.

    That’s a big IF though as all missed games last year and Jac Smith was out for the season from game 1.

    There’s no easy answers as top DE talent is hard and expensive to acquire. Perhaps if Barnett were to drop to 19 he would and certainly should receive serious consideration. I’m not feeling the 1st rd value w/ Taco…. And we truly do have bigger needs on both sides of the ball that this draft is a better fit for filling (like Safety, RB and TE).

  14. gotbbucs Says:

    I think the double-digit sack thing is a bit overrated. There are alays teams sitting on the sidelines come playoff time with double digit sack guys. Don’t get me wrong, I want individuals that put the fear of God in QB’s, but the scheme also needs to be engineered to make normal players able to put pressure on too. The days of lining up four guys and sending them after the QB without some disguised rushers are almost gone.
    Hall of Fame caliber 43 DE’s and 3-tech’s are hard to find, and you almost need that caliber of player to just line up four and say “go get em”. You can generate sacks and pressure with a good rotation of multi-faceted defensive linemen.

    I still say Haasan Reddick though, nobody is going to get me off that kick. He’s not the only player I’ll be accepting of in the 1st round, but as far as this year’s early round pass rushers go, he’s my favorite one.

  15. Mike Hohnson Says:

    You can never have enough pass rush or DE’s Ira. If Dirk is satisfied with his pass rush, then hr’ll be content to finish average or slightly better. Buc fans are so dazzled with Jameis, they forget 7 times last season teams scored more points than us. And arguably, in at least 4 of those losses, our D line let us down terribly. We need another impact DE. A great pass rush equals so many things. Interceptions/turnovers are the biggest gains here. Funny how we went downhill after we got away from our bread and butter…Defense for many years. Lets make teams shutter when they see our Defense again. I’m all end for DE with the 1st pick.

  16. TouchDownTampaBay Says:

    Interesting take. Koetter is saying publicly the right things but I am sure he knows that is something that needs to be addressed. What is interesting is that Joe uses public comments like this about the o-line to defend his stance that the offensive line is a strength and not a weakness. I really hope that behind closed doors he and Licht have a clear plan on how to address weaknesses that need to be addressed in the draft and what remains of free agancy. I think some of Tampa’s success last year was smoke and mirrors. I fear that if the wrong things are addressed and fixes are not made in the offensive and defensive lines, we may see a repeat of a few years ago when the Bucs followed up a winning season with a clunker.

  17. The Buc Realist Says:

    Head Coach Koetter also said that he was “content” with the O-line and then preceded to shuffle the deck!!!!

    The second free-agent they brought in was a DT so that tell you how content they actually were!!!!!!

    Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes!!!!!

    Go Bucs!!!!!

  18. Javier Says:

    Nice take there Irv…. I believe we definately need an upgrade on the DE. We need two new bodies on the DL from this Draft.

  19. Ben Says:

    Great article Joe!!!! Not many highlight these two games where the pass rush did nothing. Im a die hard fan and have been saying all along the bucs pass rush did nothing down the stretch. On paper they have a couple good starters but they need more. Applying pressure on a regular basis will help get them into the playoffs and help the secondary which requires more depth at safety.
    Finally an article that highlights the often overlooked problem this defense has. Must show up in big games!!!!

  20. BUC55 Says:

    IMO the Bucs will not draft a d lineman in the first 4 rounds. Other needs elsewhere and unless a de is taken in the first couple rounds it is unlikely he will have much impact anytime soon. I would like the pass rush to improve too…..its just that it will need to happen this season with our current players.

  21. JJBucFan Says:

    Ben, I agree, but Mike Smith stopped blitzing in those games which allowed the O-Line to just concentrate on their assignments and were not forced to make a decision to get the blitzer and leave their man or stick with their guy and ignore the blitzer. The previous 5 or 6 games he blitzed like crazy and we won like 5 or 6 in a row.

  22. Judge Smails Says:

    I think Mike Smith and our blitz packages are also to blame. In today’s game it can be really tough to generate a 4 man pass rush. Well timed blitzes have to work. And the Bucs just either don’t blitz well, or their schemes are not that great. Seems like with David and Alexander – we should be more effective. These guys are fast and athletic. Smith has got to put them in better position a to be effective blitzers.

  23. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    “At the owners meetings last week in Phoenix, Koetter suggested Tampa Bay’s ability to collapse the pocket was not a major concern.”

    He also said kick returner was no big deal, and then brought in a kick returner to consider drafting (Jackson).

  24. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    “Replacing Akeem Spence with Chris Baker…”

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but Akeem Spence WAS NOT a starter, right? Which means I was right, Baker will not start (unless he earns it in camp).

  25. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    Kalind Says
    “Nope. A rookie will be the 5th DE on the roster. Rookie DEs don’t make a difference in year 1.”

    That would depend on the player. There are exceptions. And also, you are making a broad assumption that the DE cannot be ready at some point during the regular season.

    Frankly, I think we should start Noah and a rookie and just let them grow in the role. They’ll grow faster that way.

  26. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    I would take any one of these guys:

    • DE Solomon Thomas (obviously)
    • DE Jonathan Allen (obviously)
    • DE Derek Barnett (obviously)
    • DE DeMarcus Walker
    • DE Takkarist McKinley

  27. unbelievable Says:

    “Somewhere in the first 5 to 10 plays of the game,” Davis said, “the other team’s quarterback must go down — and he must go down hard.”


    Unless my math is off, Prescott and Brees combined to hit on 55-of-70 throws without a single interception.

    That is scary, disturbing, and should be unacceptable.

  28. unbelievable Says:


    Are you saying Noah Spence didn’t make an impact last year? (Playing hurt, no less).

    C’mon man!

  29. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    William Gholston is robbing the Bucs of $7,000,000 this year. Anyone here think he’s really worth that? He’ll get it, because it would all be dead money otherwise.

    However, we could save $4,662,000 by releasing George Johnson, Jacquies Smith, and Ryan Russell.

    We need better and healthier talent at DE. Bad.

  30. The Buc Realist Says:

    @Buc Bonzai

    Look for some different packages this year, such as Big Baker as NT and WG92 and GM93 as the D-ends, with NS57 in that outside rushing lb look.

  31. Buccaneer Bonzai Says:

    That would be interesting to see.

  32. Buccfan37 Says:

    I’m on board with this need to ramp up the pressure on opposing QB’s. A punishing sack is almost as enjoyable as a Bucs score. Too much time allowed back there while the QB is unpressured.

  33. Capt.Tim Says:

    I trust both Licht and Koetter.
    But I just dont believe a thing they say, this time of year.
    Neither one will ever say” yes, we desperately need a DE, and will be drafting one at 19″
    Thats giving the other teams info that they dont need

  34. The Buc Realist Says:

    @Buc Bonzai

    They did some line ups during training camp, but it went out the windows when JS56 got hurt. They can come to the line and show a 4-3 then NS57 takes a step back and WG92 and GM93 spread out on the line!!! And word on the street is that they liked JJ Wilcox who can step down in to the extra LB role from the safety to give different looks as well. (Like what Mark Barron does now)!!!

    Expect a little deception this year on the Defensive side of the Ball!!!!!!!!

    Go Bucs!!!!!!!!!

  35. Bucsfanman Says:

    @Realist- I hope so because last year, while better, was not good enough. I know injuries played a huge factor but we need to start putting heat on opposing QBs.
    @Bonzai- I was shaking my head at the Gholston deal too. But, it’s not my money and hopefully, with a “little” money in his pocket he will be properly incentivized to work harder on his craft.

    Back to you Realist, I hope they do use a variety of schemes. That’s what we thought we were getting last year and it never materialized. It’s time to start making teams regret coming here again!

  36. Eric Denman Says:

    Let’s see how much faith they have in Ryan Russell.

  37. Phil Says:

    Why haven’t they signed Mario Williams?