Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs 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 of the Week
Normally for these Cover 3 columns I like to address what Bucs fans are going to be talking about the most following a game, then break it down into more details. But this week the things that will be talked about most will probably be the fact that the officials screwed the Bucs out of yet another win, or Jameis Winston’s interceptions, which head coach Bruce Arians said were not his fault at all.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do about the officials, and all the All-22 video in the world won’t tell me what route the wide receivers were supposed to be running, at least not in the sense we would need to see it. (Although I’ve been told by multiple – and very credible – people that Arians wasn’t just blindly defending Winston and both of his interceptions were, in fact, the fault of the receivers.)
Don’t hate me, I’m just a mere scribe.
There is an area of this most recent Bucs game I did want to break down, though, and that was the work of their defensive line. The Buccaneers are one of the best teams in the NFL when it comes to defending the run, but against the pass, they’re one of the worst. I think we’ve come to the conclusion that the cornerback play hasn’t been what it has needed to be – Arians has echoed that himself. But I also believe that part of what is hurting this team’s pass coverage is Tampa Bay’s lack of pass rush, or better said, its lack of finishing its pass rushes.
The Buccaneers are spending $32.3M on their defensive line, which is seventh highest in the league. Yet their sack production doesn’t match. While featuring the league’s sack leader in outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, the Buccaneers have just 16 total sacks in 2019, which is tied for the 23rd most in the NFL.
Bucs OLB Shaq Barrett – Photo by: May Holt/PR
Barrett’s 10 sacks through seven games (he had nine sacks through four games) is phenomenal, even if his most recent games have been a bit less disruptive. But after him, outside linebacker Carl Nassib has three sacks, and then it’s two players with one, defensive end William Gholston and outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, who played his first game last weekend. As for defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, they each have just a half a sack to their season’s stat sheet.
This could be a reason why the Buccaneers are struggling as much as they are in the pass defense department. Not that it takes all the blame off the secondary, but when you can’t get home to the quarterback, starting-caliber passers will find their receivers in time.
But sacks aren’t the only way to judge production from a defensive line – even pass rushers – so I don’t want to be without context there either. In terms of recorded pressure on the quarterback, the Bucs’ 70 pressures are the 10th best in the NFL, and that number is fourth-best among teams that have played just seven games like Tampa Bay. If we go to pressure percentage, which is the percent of total pressures per drop back, the Bucs are more towards the middle, but still in the top half, at 14th in the league.
Of quarterback knockdowns, meaning how often a defensive player makes contact with the quarterback as he throws the ball, the Bucs’ 21 knockdowns are fourth-best in the league, second-most of teams that have played an equal amount of games. Tampa also has a QB Hurry rate of 10.7 percent, which is in the top half of the league. They are also one of the most aggressive teams in the league with a blitz percentage per drop back of 41.7 percent, second highest percentage in the league.
So, it seems as though the Buccaneers are getting pressure on the pocket, they’re just not finishing the plays in the backfield at the same rate they are affecting them. Pressure and hurries are good, but as long as that quarterback is standing with the ball in his hands, he’ll always be able to make a play. You want to make it so he can’t make a play.
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Sacking the quarterback is an art, an art not every artist who picks up the brush can succeed at at the highest level. I think guys like Suh, Vita and Nassib are talented players and relentless workers along the line, but they aren’t sack masters. They don’t have that art.
Barrett has grown into a young budding pass rush artist, but recent games showed us he couldn’t do it alone when protections were sliding his way. Thankfully now there’s a veteran amongst them who knows a thing or two about the art of pass rushing to help him out.
It took exactly two plays for Pierre-Paul to get his first sack of the 2019 season, which was a sight many Bucs fans had been anticipating for a long time. Pierre-Paul played in 68 percent of the team’s defensive snaps on Sunday, which was the third most of any defensive lineman behind Suh and Nassib. But for a guy who played over 1,000 snaps a few years ago, that kind of dependability can be expected.
I don’t want to understate how incredible it was that Pierre-Paul was even out on the field last week. Not many players can come back from a broken neck at all, let alone come back to play against that same year. But as Pierre-Paul said himself, not many can come back to play in the NFL after blowing off his hand either.
Now Pierre-Paul has done both, and this team is thankful for it, because Pierre-Paul’s artistry of sacking the quarterback is what hold the key to what this Bucs defense can potential be. From what we saw last week, he and Barrett could be one of the best edge duos in the NFL.
Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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