Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.

Sikkema’s Stat(s) of the Week

If I could make the stat – or number – of the week the No. 14, I would. If that were the case, I would dive into all 14 coverages that Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter claimed his team ran on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons and wide receiver Julio Jones – he completed that quote by saying “none of them worked.”

But, the fact of the matter is, even though I have a good idea of what I’m looking at when it comes to film, there are going to be some coverages that appear one way on tape that may or may not be what was actually called. Sometimes there are missed assignments or a miscommunication that makes one coverage look like one thing when in reality it’s another.

But, what isn’t subjective are the stats at the end of the game. Specifically for this Cover 3 I’m talking about the 12 catches on 15 targets for 253 yards and two touchdowns recorded by Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones.

Julio Jones – Photo by: Getty Images

This isn’t the first time Jones had gone off against the Buccaneers. Following Sunday’s game, Jones has the most receiving touchdowns of any player against the Bucs since 1994 (10). He is also just 153 yards shy of the most receiving yards against the franchise, and owns the highest catch percentage of any player with 55 or more catches (70.8 percent).

Simply put, Jones owns the Bucs defense.

Jones has played 11 out of his 90 career games against the Buccaneers. That’s 12.2 percent of his total games. He has 1,359 of his career 8,649 yards against the Buccaneers as well. That’s 15.7 percent of his total yards. Since Jones is currently averaging 96.1 yards-per-game over the course of his career, that means that he is averaging more than 100 yards per game every time he suits up against Tampa Bay.

Julio Jones is an incredible wide receiver, he might go down as one of the best to do it when it’s all said and done. But, even though you know Jones is going to get his each Sunday, it doesn’t have to be to the extent that it is with the Buccaneers. And even more confusing is that the two men coach against him on Sunday, Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Smith, know Jones well because they were his coaches in Atlanta.

So, since I can’t get into all 14 different coverages individually, I’m going to do the next best thing.

On the next page we’re going to take a look at all 15 of Jones’ targets from last Sunday’s game on NFL Game Pass and identify either what worked (not as often) and what didn’t (much more often) when covering him.

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  1. Re watching those highlights, you can see other receivers wide open on multiple occasions. If you ask me the Bucs would’ve been better off holding Jones at the line of scrimmage on every play! It would’ve been a slower death, holding 5 yards 1st down on every pass play ha, ha. Better then letting them burn us alive. Imagine what they would’ve passed for if their star running back was in the game, and we had to play the run more.

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  2. Someone please explain to me again how short and slow CB are best for this defense.
    Bucs wake up most teams have fast and 6’3 and taller WR’S.
    New England gave up a 1st rd. Pick for a taller CB they also tried to trade Butler.
    I am not a fan of Bill Belacheat but he is aware of how things change.

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  3. As to answer the question of who was responsible for the loss could not answer because it did not have or all the above!!!

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  4. I don’t know who we should get, but this isn’t working what we have now. To have the offense we have at this point in time with Koetter actually being involved with it the last three years says it doesn’t work. For Smith who was a past DC, then HC, back again to DC, says it doesn’t work. Licht is a 4 year GM who has done fair in drafting and poor in obtaining free agents tells me he can’t evaluate whether it’s coaches or players. I’d like to take a chance, again, with a young up and coming Coach and potential GM who has a different message as to how this game is now being played and what kind of players it takes to get to the Superbowl; then make it happen. I don’t care if they have to blow up everything again; I want some hope here! The rules have changed immensely these past 10 years. Trevor based on the GM, OC, DC being gone, what are your suggestions?

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  5. It’s pretty clear to me at least that the pass rush is the hugest issue here. Any scheme can work if you can get to the quarterback. As is demonstrated here already, it seems the team did indeed try a number of things to try and make it work but it just didn’t.

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  6. Has Grimes ever followed a #1 before – Tampa or MIA? Going into this game I thought we might see some of that and simply did not.. not even when he continued to rack up catch after catch after catch. I wonder what this defense would be if Banks just met his expectations of a solid starting CB.

    Am I the only one who seems to think the Bucs defense is flat out terrible at situational awareness? Worst third down team in the league, scheme hasn’t helped, but the players do not seem to curtail their play to down & distance. If you take away the first option on 3rd and long, which is almost always run at the sticks – your rush has an extra beat. Works the other way, third and short – DL get in the throwing lanes!!
    Couple years ago I thought this defense was going to be stout. Best 3rd down % in the league. Now they’re playing 9 yards off the ball on 3rd and 4.

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  7. Two things become glaringly apparent in these clips.
    First, as everyone knows, there is very little pressure being put on the QB.
    Second, all of the WRs are allowed to get off the line of scrimmage without being jammed or hit. They are allowed to get into their routes so automatically are players are having to react to what the WR might do. They are not allowed to attack from the get go. That is a passive reaction.
    This is the same type of defense that got Mike Smith fired in Atlanta once he lost the pass rush of John Abraham. I call it, “The death by a 1,000 cuts.”
    With five games left and his job on the line, Smith ought to remember the worn out definition of insanity and move to something new.
    He’s facing a raw QB with very little experience.
    Get the CBs to attack the WRs and bring the blitz to him from every direction, just not that tired double A gap blitz that the DL doesn’t look like it’s coordinating right half the time.
    I mean really, what do you have to lose except applying for unemployment insurance which takes more time to do than waiting for Donald Trump to tell the truth about anything.

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  8. Nice C3.

    1) Target 4 was definitely C4. The nickel needs to get a better jam, he pretty much allows Julio to free release to stretch the safety. Because it’s a straight vertical, Ryan Smith can’t help out and he’s too far away. Just straight Julio wining one-on-one.

    2) Target 6, Ryan Smith falls down because of bad technique. Why is he isolated against Julio? And he’s not helped by no pressure, as Trevor mentions.

    3) Target 7 is definitely C2, Grimes has got to help out on that C2 beater. As soon as he sees Julio climb he has to be ready to fall underneath. LB doesn’t help by letting Julio run free. If he gets in Julio’s way then Grimes has more time to get underneath the flat corner. It’s an easy read for Ryan to recognize C2 and go to the right play.

    4) You see on Target 11 that Smith is playing 12 yards off. But unlike VH3, he doesn’t backpedal. He sits and uses his depth to be more patient. His recognition just needs to be faster. But that’s how you play a deep alignment – you don’t lineup deep and THEN backpedal.

    5) Target 13 – Conte plays bad technique. Not helped by the fact that the LB covers space. The Bucs LBs really hurt the pass defense. Bad drops.

    6) Target 14 is the second time they target Julio on a slant vs. the safety. The nickel has to do a better job, he has inside LB help and he should fall off. But the Falcons also know the Bucs are in C4 and just run C4 beaters. On the flip side, you’re hitting Julio hard.

    You can really see the Bucs problems. Predictable coverages executed poorly with no pass rush. Without pressure, it’s so easy for Ryan.

    On top of which, the Bucs LBs do not help out the secondary. Bad awareness and route recognition on their drops. Some of these plays don’t work if the LBs are more active.

    Also discouraging to see busts from so many different players. Talent and coaching.

    And I understand why Mike Smith didn’t want to shadow Julio with Grimes (it’s more complicated than it sounds), but at least give Ryan Smith more help… He’s overmatched against one of the best WRs in the NFL and is too often left on an island.

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  9. The only critique I have a problem is the long TD pass to Jones from Sanu.
    There s absolutely no way Conte was involved In this coverage but it does demonstrate why so many times our safety is left hung out to dry in one on one coverage with the oppositions fastest WR.
    Conte is situated to the left closer to the line as if he is expecting them to run out of the wildcat. How he could provide coverage support of Jones from where he is located is beyond me.
    Sanu and Atlanta’s offensive coordinator must have seen film of the Bucs defensives and ran this play specifically for the big play by the way they lined everyone up. Sanu must have been drooling when he saw the coverage and knew Jones would be in one on one coverage with our safety.
    The ref helped by being slow and out of position so Jones could give a little push off to make the catch.
    Just read where Ryan only completed 52 percent of his passes when the Bucs blitzed and applied pressure.
    Gee, I can see now why Smith insisted laying off in their passive “Death by a 1000 cuts” defense so Ryan could carve us up. It was, after all, just a couple of days past Thanksgiving.

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