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

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.

Bucs SS T.J. Ward - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs SS T.J. Ward – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs DE Will Gholston - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

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.

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  1. Overall, the Bucs played the Bears about the way I thought they would. The offense wasn’t quite in sync as I thought they would be and the defense played a bit better than what I had hoped they would play at, but in the end the results were the same.

    I said in a number of threads I thought the Bucs would win 28-10 and win going away and that was pretty close to the final score. However, I knew the Bears would not be that good from watching them against the Falcons. I could see that the Falcons were already looking toward the Green Bay game so the Bears looked better than they were. The Vikings OTOH are a much more capable defensive team and Bradford, if he plays, offensively can make them efficient. That said, I think Bradford misses his second game and the quarterback gap drop off will be the difference in this game.

    Because of the Viking’s first tape, the Bucs will not be looking past them and now because of the Bears game, the Vikings have some good tape on us so I expect a closer game even if Keenum is the quarterback.

    I think the defense is the real deal and will play another good game against Minnesota and allow 14 points or less. However, our offense, especially our line play on both sides of the ball has to improve. Keenum is more mobile than Glennon and we will need to get some sacks in this game and the left side of the offensive line will have to better protect Winston.

    In the end, I think Winston plays a bit more efficiently because the game will be tighter – takes a fewer shots downfield and hits his tight ends more frequently than last Sunday.

    I’m expecting a tight game with the Bucs winning 23-14.

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  2. Our running game has to be better.

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  3. ok so basically we are ragging on winston for being 1 of 5 on deep ball but we already established that the first one he threw was on the money and was just good coverage and not really a catchable ball he still got it to him right on the hands but corner was forcing him out. how do you hold that against him? that’s a good play by the defense. the next one you say winston had to climb the pocket and still got the throw off on target just maybe slightly a head of jackson or jackson just lost the ball i couldn’t really tell on that one looked like it should’ve been caught. so that’s 2 of the 5 that jameis threw that were right on the money but the defense was just playing good and made a play. does that ever happen in the nfl? are we expecting expecting the other team to just let us complete the long ball? there’s a obvious problem here and i’m supposed it wasn’t pointed out with jameis and it’s not the biggest of deals just something he needs to continue to improve on is , the deep balls that he missed are ones that he should have so easily made… i talked about the other 2 he missed that were good defense low precetage throws that jameis almost turned into touchdowns. that’s incredible and doesn’t concern me at all. 95% of qbs don’t make those throws. the ones he definitely needs to hit are the ones he was most off on…. the one where jackson splits through the defenders and gets open jameis needs to hit him… you only get so many of those opportunities with jackson and you have to make them count… he is still getting used to jackson so i’m not going to make a huge deal of it right now. and finally the one where he completely over throws sims you can sorta tell he was so used to throwing deep to jackson at that point especially since he took so many deep shots on that same drive that he just over threw sims . him and sims are another pair that have never really had great chemistry i recall jameis over throwing sims quite often. what it all comes back to mostly is jameis just needing to in the moment when he sees the open man he just needs to stick to the basics and play pitch and catch too often he gets wide eyed when he sees the open man and just launches it that’s why most the time he’s overthrowing people instead of underthrowing them

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    • I pointed out the statistics in a raw manner on the first page, but then gave clarification for two of them in the film. He still missed on the other two, and that meant he only hit one. A few were excusable for the variables I explained, but the two he missed are two he missed – as you state yourself.

      I’m not ragging on Winston, I’m just pointing things out as par for the course in a Winston game. It was game one. I don’t mean to make people hit a panic button, that’s why I noted some of the surrounding factors to two of the misses. But, he also missed two home run balls he shouldn’t have, a stats that contributes to why the Bucs were the only team in the NFL without a 50+ yard touchdown last year.

      It was just one game, but Winston’s stats were what they were, and even if you excuses the ones you justifiably could, he still should’ve been better. He can be.

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  4. I didn’t see the game so my comments are based on highlights and the videos you posted. I am not worried about the Bucs being outscored in the 2nd half. They had a big half time lead and they did win. I am fine with the mindset of the team. The beginning of the season was a bit chaotic. Even with that they beat a team they should of beaten. I am not sure about the pass rush. But, the run defense was good, as you pointed out. So, right now, I am not concerned about it. I was impressed with Whinston-Evans connection. Now that Djax is here, I think he will see more single coverage. I slightly disappointed on that they could of played better. But, they know that and are working on it.
    I posted in another thread that I was driving through Illinois Monday morning and had the pleasure of listening to Chicago Sports talk radio. Oh my goodness gracious. For those of you down on the Bucs, that would provide good perspective. The Bucs are so far above where the Bears are. I am going to enjoy this season because the Bucs have a good, competitive team.
    Thanks Trev and Go Bucs!

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  5. “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.”

    Trevor, the coverage of Winston in this Cover 3 is maddening. First you take him to task for not hitting his deep shots & say he shouldn’t miss these passes. Then you bring up the All-22 that shows his only bad miss was to Sims, (Which he needs to hit) but then wrap it up with saying he wasn’t a playoff QB on Sunday. (I’m assuming in part because he didn’t hit deep passes) You didn’t even mention the defensive holding on that 2nd deep ball to DJax that interfered with him getting to the spot Jameis threw it to. I rewatched to chart his incomplete passes and in my opinion, the only deep pass that was bad was to Sims.

    The Ward and run defense breakdown is great as usual. Really was pleased with the run defense and swarming nature of the defense. I know we didn’t get more than one sack, but Glennon taking 3 step drops certainly contributed. DL still created pressure & affected some throws. Will have a good test this week vs Dalvin. Vikings OL isn’t as good as the Bears, so I’m hoping for a 3-4 sack day.

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    • The penalty on the Jackson throw wasn’t on him. Winston just over threw him.

      I didn’t mean for it to be too damning, but just at 60 percent completion while missing on two deep shots you should’ve hit (including two others you had a chance at, but didn’t connect) led me typing that statement.

      Again, not trying to hit a panic button or anything. That’s not my intent. All I was saying was that we expect Winston to be better in year three. He does, too. That includes not missing two deep shots you shouldn’t. You have to make defenses pay.

      Chemistry is totally a thing, and I think that will come, but I have to write about the status of the important piece of the Bucs’ roster. He did some good things, but also some things he should’ve done better. That’s why I said it’s a typical Winston game. That’s his narrative, and he’s still working on moving past it.

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      • Wouldn’t you agree that a defensive holding on DJax would interfere with him getting to where Jameis threw it? That ball was a foot & half off from DJax. Maybe it’s just me but I assume DJax easily makes up that space if he’s not held by the DB. It’s a miss, but also a holding penalty. Same with his touch pass to Brate. Just how I saw it.

        I know you’re not trying to be too damning as you’re not a “hot take” writer. Nor is this site. I just want Buc fans to use context when viewing Winston and his play. He should’ve hit the deep pass to Sims and he left a clean pocket for no reason, which lead to a bad high pass to Mike in the end zone. To me, those two were the worst passes from Sunday.

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        • D-Jax didn’t get held on that play. The penalty was on the linebacker that was guarding Brate, not Jackson. He got bumped, sure, but that’s football.

          Not trying to be a hot take writer at all. But I’m not trying to baby Winston, either. This is the area he has to improve most. It’s fair to criticize when he doesn’t.

          But, I’m also not here to argue. The game ended in a victory. The throws, to the result, didn’t matter. The context is that in a game of inches, Winston has to be more precise. Missing Jackson by a foot or half a foot only means something if he remedies it to a completion next time around.

          He can, just saying it still needs to be done.

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          • I stand corrected. I thought the holding penalty was on the DB. Hence why I commented that DJax would get to where Jameis threw it if he wasn’t held.

            Not arguing with you. Was just trying to have a discussion. It’s year 3. I’ll be criticizing him when his play and the circumstances warrant it.

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  6. Great cover 3 Trev. For me personally, the most insightful articles. As for your analysis, SPOT ON. I truly believe Winston would agree with your analysis as well. If the Bucs are to win a playoff game ( Winston’s team) he has to complete those deep passes. As mentioned, this is Winston’s team, he is the lead dog and with it comes more accountability. If chemistry isn’t there, get it there; he will. I’m biased but even if I try and think as objectively as I can no one in the NFL loves football more than him. He will find a way…he’s so damn young still! What is refreshing to me is the Bucs organization knows it needs to play better even though they made Chicago look like a college team. Vikings will bring more of a challenge and I wont be surprised to see Winston connect with Jackson a couple times over 20 yards..

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  7. To be honest my biggest concern was how many pass plays were defended only by a wide open receiver dropped the ball. If they caught a little better I don’t think we would have come close to a donut.

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  8. I’m extremely pleased with the defense. I don’t care about number of sacks … sacks are just a means to an end. The “end” is getting sufficient pressure on the quarterback and his offense to take them out of rhythm and force turnovers. We did that throughout the first half and early the second half. However, our offense’s inability to sustain and complete drives and score points did two things: they tuckered out the defense in the fourth quarter allowing the Bears to score a garbage time TD, and they gave the Bears hope of a comeback. Only 3 points in the second half, no touchdowns, that’s simply not acceptable, especially considering how worn out the Bears D was from repeatedly having to defend short fields after our take-aways.

    Our offense wasn’t bad, but it needs to remain productive for the entire game, not just one half. Productive means points first of all, and second of all, staying on the field to wear out the opposing D and keep the opposing O off the field. We didn’t do that on Sunday.

    The inaccuracies of Jameis’ passing were pretty obvious, he missed high on most every incompleted pass – it was not due to poor performance by the receivers, or dropped balls. The good news is that there weren’t tipped ball drills resulting in INTs when he passed high. It’s good that Jameis didn’t turn over the ball himself, that’s progress worth applauding. But I remember well all the pre-draft arguments back a few years ago, and Winston’s ardent supporters kept bragging about his ability to fit balls into small windows as good NFL quarterbacks need to be able to do. We just haven’t seen that out of him yet on any balls thrown longer than 10 yards. I suppose it must be a mechanics issue that Bajakian is trying to help him fix.

    With the improved performance of the offensive line on Sunday that gave Jameis plenty of time to throw, and a good rushing game (117 yards and a TD), and the excellent receivers he has available, I expect more out of JW than mediocre results against a mediocre defense.

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  9. I want to see a complete game from the offense before I can feel confident about any kind of post season prospects. I agree with Trevor’s statement that in year 3, we don’t want to see ups and downs from a franchise QB. He should be consistent and he’s got to be comfortable using all his reads because he’s got the players to be open at each position. I think when Martin’s back we’ll see things open up more because Martin is just so much better than the number two back but no excuse not to win games in the interim.

    Mentioning the #2 back makes me think back to a point SR made weeks back about trading up and missing on Aguayo in last years draft and the affect it has on this years. Maybe we would have drafted Kareem Hunt instead of Evans…. Oh man to dream.

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  10. As a FSU fan and a Bucs fan, I will always be a Jameis Winston fan. I named my dog Winston. But at some point we need to sarted grading his performance based on what he is and not the potential for what he can be. The goal is to win the Super Bowl, and for us to make it there he has to be great, not just good.

    Based off the the Defense we saw on Sunday and the weapons we have on Offense, an early exit from the playoffs would be a dissappointment.

    I believe Winston himself would agree.

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  11. Only thing ill add here is that Trev is the best addition to PR in ages. LOVE your work sir.

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    • Agreed, thanks Trevor!

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    • Thank you!

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  12. Picky picky picky.
    In the first game yet after a three week layoff.
    I wonder if the Boston press is dogging Brady for hanging 3TDs on the Saints in the first quarter I believe and then losing focus for the rest of the game because he didn’t match that total for the remainder of the game.
    Give me a break.
    Winston was actually leading the Bucs on another good TD drive in the third quarter when the always enigmatic Charles Simms coughed up the ball close to the end zone.
    If you want to work out on someone, Simms would be the better target.
    The Bucs went into a soft shell zone defense midway through the third quarter which allowed Glennon to put up a bunch of meaningless statistics on long drives that kept the Bucs from getting the ball more often.
    Hence only scoring three points in the second half.
    Gee whiz.
    Talk about over analyzing.

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  13. Let’s not forget, just about everyone looked bad in week 1. Hell, I had Julio and Michael Thomas on my fantasy and they scored 7 points COMBINED. Carson Palmer (in for Jameis) also scored only 6 points. This was our first game of the season after a 3 week layoff for the starters. Not to mention the players were preoccupied with a natural disaster up until the week before. So I think it’s ok that they didn’t look in playoff shape.

    That said, Jameis played a very efficient, mistake free game. No turnovers and appeared to be more accurate than seasons past. The most exciting development to me is the fact that he didn’t NEED to be a playoff QB to win big in this game. We have a defense that is strong enough to negate an offensive slump if we ever have one. Remember the Broncos Super Bowl year? They had a defense that was good enough to pick up the slack for a declining Peyton Manning. We have that now, and our QB is nowhere near declining!

    This week against the Vikings will be a good test for Jameis. We’ll see how he plays against a much improved secondary from the one he faced against Chicago. I forsee the defense continuing their dominance and shutting down Dalvin Cook. The Vikings look to be without Bradford for another week which will give us less trouble in the passing game and allow us to focus in on the run.

    Jameis will need to be accurate and not make any mistakes. But if he does, we can recover from it. Our timing between QB and WR/TE will improve with more game time and I forsee a big week for our TE group. They may have to pick up a little slack as our WRs will be up against a solid CB group this week.

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