Gerald McCoy draws instant comparisons to Ndamukong Suh. Both players were dominant in college and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted McCoy just one spot behind Suh's No. 2 overall selection in the 2010 draft. The comparisons continued through the players' rookie year after both of them showed a knack for interior pass rushing.
Until the 2013 season, Suh had a clear advantage over McCoy. Suh's rookie season was one of the most dominant seasons by a defensive tackle in recent memory, with 10 sacks, 66 tackles, a fumble and an interception. Suh slumped a bit during his sophomore season, mainly in run defense and discipline, but rebounded nicely and has been among the NFL elite at tackle for the past two years.
McCoy's career, on the other hand, has been much more inconsistent. He showed promise in his rookie year and in 2011, but both seasons were cut short by arm injuries. He began to come into form last year, when his 5 sacks and 30 tackles punched his first Pro Bowl ticket and he played in all 16 games for the first time.
He continued this upward trend this year and has gotten to the elite level a top-three pick is expected to reach. He currently has 6 sacks on the season, with 4 in the last two games, and Pro Football Focus rates him as the top defensive tackle on the year. Yes, ahead of Suh.
The point of this article is not to debate whether Suh or McCoy is better, but merely to show how well McCoy is playing this year. Suh is one of the best tackles in the game and is having perhaps his best season so far, so the fact that McCoy is arguably having a better season provides insight into his level of play.
What does this mean on Sunday? McCoy's default position is at the left tackle spot, so he will be lined up primarily against Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford. Warford is having an amazing rookie year and has already held his ground against several top-tier defensive linemen (like Geno Atkins), but he will have his hands full.
Part of McCoy's recent burst of productivity is a result of him taking more control over defensive line play calling and running fewer stunts in favor of straight-on rushes. This means that McCoy will get to the quarterback faster and Matthew Stafford will have to make sure his release is quick, something he usually excels at.
Warford will also have help from center Dominic Raiola, who is having a great season in his own right, as McCoy is the main source of the Bucs' interior pass rush. The Bucs don't reach the quarterback very often -- only 22 times on the year -- and McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David account for exactly half of that number.
Two weeks ago, McCoy's pass rushing ability would not have worried me. The Lions' offensive line was doing a great job protecting Stafford and the Bucs were reeling. However, the offensive line had a rough game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, and McCoy and company have helped lead the Bucs to their current mini-win streak. The Lions' offensive line and the Bucs' defensive line seem to be trending in opposite directions.
The Lions absolutely cannot afford to lose this winnable game if they want to prove that they are a playoff-caliber team. Stifling the Bucs' interior pass rush is a vital component of achieving that goal.