Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’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
Now that we’ve entered into the regular season with our Cover 3 columns – something new! – we’re in uncharted waters. We’re no longer talking about what “could be” or what needs to get better in terms of a starting roster, but rather, we’re reflecting on the season as it’s unfolding. There’s going to certainly still be some emphasis on what needs to improve, both in the statistical page and in the All Twenty-Tuesday section, but a lot of it is going to be reactionary and simply pointing things out as we can go back and slow down the game to see what really happened and why it did.
This week I have the stat of the week section set up differently than I have in the past, but I think it’s to your benefit. This week there are three numbers or sets of numbers I want to point out, all telling for different reasons. We’ll jump into why they’re important, whether they’re good or bad, and the reasons why they exist to either improve or hopefully, for the team’s sake, sustain.
The three numbers I chose this week are: the number negative three, the number 20 and a pairing of the numbers one and five.
Here’s what each of those numbers mean, who they come from and what we should think of them.
The Number Negative 3
Negative three represents the number of total yards Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen rushed for on the first play of T.J. Ward’s career as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – thanks to his gap-shooting tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
Last week I wrote a Cover 3 on Ward, his story and his skills, claiming that he may not be the traditional safety you’re used to seeing. But, that’s not to say he can’t be the dominant Ward you’re used to seeing either.
Ward, as a member of the Buccaneers, is truly an X-factor type defensive back. He came from an aggressive, Cover 3-main defensive system in Denver that had him play up near the line of scrimmage, in the box and in the slot as a corner more than he did a traditional drop back safety. That kind of role and scheme helped Ward earn two Pro Bowl honors with the Broncos to add to his previous Pro Bowl with the Browns.
Tampa Bay doesn’t play that kind of scheme, so to get the most out of Ward, defensive coordinator Mike Smith is going to have to get creative – and I believe he can. Ward only played on 44 percent of the Bucs’ defensive snaps against the Bears (28 plays), but he also added five more snaps as a special teams player. With Robert McClain playing well as the slot cornerback, it’s not likely for Ward to play a slot coverage role as much as he did in Denver. However, I believe there will come a time to where the Bucs will be playing a team with a certain receiving corps., which includes tight ends and pass catching running backs, that will call for an unconventional X-factor defensive back.
That’s where Ward will step in.
On Ward’s first snap in Tampa Bay, he showed the Bucs the speed, the skill and the instincts for why they brought him in. His use has only begun, even if it might look a little outside the box compared to the vanilla defenses Bucs fans have been unfortunately used to.
The Number 20
The number 20 represents how many total rushing yards the Chicago Bears gained against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense on Sunday.
This number was 102 yards less than the rushing total the Bears amassed in the teams’ previous meeting last year.
So, how did they do it? Well, this offseason the Bucs made some new friends like defensive tackle Chris Baker and linebacker Kendell Beckwith, and they brought them all along in a tag-team effort.
It truly was a total team effort among the Bucs’ front seven to limit the Bears to the rushing total they did – a number that has them No. 1 in rushing defense averages in the NFL by a country mile. But, a key reason for that low number wasn’t just the starting seven. Yes, Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander had great days, but it was the guys beyond the stars who stepped up more than expected that helped shut it down.
When Alexander went out, Beckwith stepped into his middle linebacker spot and nabbed two tackles for loss. The rotation among the interior defensive linemen with McCoy, Baker, Clinton McDonald and William Gholston was stout. All that and including the fact that the effort, experience and production from McDonald on the inside and Adarius Glanton at the linebacker level off the bench are probably two of the better bench players in the league, and you have your answer as to how the Bucs did it.
Don’t expect the rushing averages for the Bucs defense to stay that low, but in terms of making a statement in your first game, the statement was made.
The Numbers 1 & 5
Numbers one and five represent the attempts and completion by quarterback Jameis Winston when attempting passes of 20 yards or more – one completion in five total attempts.
Now, I know that Tampa Bay head coach Dirk Koetter categorizes “explosive” or “dynamic” plays as ones that are 12 or more yards on the ground or 16 yards or more on a pass, but I wanted to point out the ones of 20 or more yards because extended time that the ball is in flight is where the Bucs really need Winston to succeed more than he has, so, I expanded it.
Winston attempted two deep passes to the right and three deep passes to the left. He did not attempt a deep pass between the hashes. Winston’s rating while attempting these deep passes was below average as a whole, but his 50 percent connection to his right was right around the league average. His lone completed pass of distance was 21 yards.
Four of Winston’s passes of 20 or more yards were targets for wide receiver DeSean Jackson with the other pass an overthrow to Charles Sims. For Jackson, the first was in the corner of the end zone in the first quarter, two more were deep passes into the end zone from midfield, and the one completion was along the sideline during the 1-minute drill before half.
These passes weren’t too far off, but they weren’t completed, and, in fact, it could mean everything in a negative way.
The Bucs won this game easily, and there likely won’t be many more like this one throughout their schedule. Knowing that, Winston has to be better. It was the first week, so if you want to call it rust, fine. However, Sunday was another day to add to the “this is who Jameis Winston is” file in terms of missing throws he shouldn’t miss on. There will be weeks when Winston is hitting more consistently than others, but the Bucs don’t want that from him in Year 3. If anything, they want week-by-week consistency to be much higher while throw-by-throw consistency may still be less than perfect just because of who he is – they’ll take that.
On the next page, we’ll jump into the film on each of these three categories to get a better look and a better explanation of how they happened.