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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

Following the 2016 NFL season, the offseason strategy for the Buccaneers was clear: Weapons for Winston. The Bucs were coming off a 9-7 season with Dirk Koetter as head coach, and with an offensive mind at the helm, the thought process going into the curve of 2017 was centered around getting their young franchise quarterback, Jameis Winston, all the offensive weapons he could handle.

The previous year, wide receiver Mike Evans was the leading pass catcher with over 1,300 yards, but after him it was wide receiver Adam Humphries with 622 and tight end Cameron Brate with 660. They needed more fire power. So what did they do? They signed wide receiver DeSean Jackson in free agency, and drafted tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin in the 2017 NFL Draft. All three of those players were being added to the offensive arsenal without losing any of Evans, Humphries and Brate.

Weapons for Winston achieved.

Fast forward to the present day and the Bucs continue to have one of the most potentially potent and attractive offensive cores in the NFL. Yet here they sit at 3-7, staring down the likelihood of a third straight 5-11 season.

What gives? I thought this was an offensive age? Isn’t that what’s supposed to win football games in today’s NFL. Well, yes, but it’s still about getting the most out of your offense, not just getting something out of it.

When head coach Bruce Arians took the job in Tampa Bay, he did so for a number of reasons. For one, he hated broadcasting. Two, he had a good relationship with the current general manger Jason Licht. And three, he thought there was a ton of talent on this roster, especially on offense.

He wasn’t wrong, but here we are 10 games in and they can’t figure out how to turn their yards and scores into wins.

Byron Leftwich is the Buccaneers current offensive coordinator and play caller. The Bucs thought they were hiring Arians to call plays, as he has throughout his entire coaching career. But Arians informed the Bucs decision makers that he would not be doing that and instead sang the praises of Leftwich, assuring them that he was a rising star of a coach in this league.

Rising maybe, but I would say a star yet.

This season has produced a lot of production from the Bucs offense. Godwin and Evans are the highest totaling receiving duo in the NFL, Winston is second in the NFL in terms of passing yards with already over 3,000 on the season, and the offense as a whole ranks sixth in points per game with just over 27.

But I’ll still tell you it hasn’t been what it could be, and while the Bucs defense certainly has not held its end of the bargain when it comes to weekly execution on Sunday, the offense and its play callers are also short of perfect.

I’ll start by saying this: I do not understand this team’s current offensive philosophy.

My biggest gripe with Koetter’s offense in 2017 and 2018 was how long it demanded Winston to hold onto the ball in order for vertical routes to break, and also how it continually asked Winston to hit some of the hardest throws in the game (tight window throws deep down the sideline) with regularity. Every offense in the NFL asks its quarterback to do these things, but it felt like Tampa was asking it more than it needed to. It could have been simpler, easier for their quarterback, especially with the weapons they had.

When Arians came to town, he spoke with such confidence about what could fix Winston’s problems. I figured that this would be more passes over the middle, as Winston historically has a much higher completion percentage in that area, and much more quick-hit throws built into the offense that weren’t just slot out routes to the sideline (still difficult) or swing passes out of the backfield.

But I’m not really seeing that. It’s still really vertical with a lot of tight window sideline stuff.

Take a look at some of these Next Gen Stats measuring average separation, which is the average distance between a receiver and the nearest defender at the point of the catch, and then targeted air yards, which measures the yards downfield at the time of all passing attempts that the receiver is the target.

Avg Seperation:
Chris Godwin: 2.6 (75th)
Breshad Perriman: 2.6 (78th)
Mike Evans: 2.3 (109th)

Targeted Air Yards:
Mike Evans: 15.5 (2nd)
Breshad Perriman: 13.5 (27th)
Chris Godwin: 10.4 (55th)

Long routes, not a lot of separation. Let’s take it a step further and check out the average cushion yards defenders are giving these receiver at the snap.

Avg Cushion:
Breshad Perriman: 6.8 (8th)
Chris Godwin: 6.5 (11th)
Mike Evans: 5.4 (79th)

Evans sees a lot of press coverage because he’s giant, so it makes sense that he is naturally lower with less cushion yards on average. But as a whole, on average, defenses are giving these Buccaneers receivers tons of room to work with at the snap, and yet defensive backs are still successful with it given the separation averages. This is because they know the Bucs offense is going to have their guys run long distances before the ball is thrown their way.

Finally, knowing the targeted air yards and the cushion given to each guy, let’s look at the expected yards-after-catch number for each, which measures the expected yards after catch, based on numerous factors using tracking data such as how open the receiver is, how fast they’re traveling, how many defenders/blockers are in space, etc

Exp. YAC:
Chris Godwin: 4.5 (59th)
Breshad Perriman: 4.2 (76th)
Mike Evans: 3.4 (99th)

It just doesn’t seem to be easy. It’s all vertical concepts that ask Winston to hold onto the ball for longer than one should behind this offensive line, and the designs of the routes are not creating open space for pass catchers to run with it after receiving the ball. This all went into my biggest drawback from what Koetter was doing, and it appears it has remained through the first year of Leftwich.

Though I do think the offense is being made more difficult than it needs to be, as stated before, this team is still putting up big numbers. But there’s another area of Leftwich’s rookie year as a full-time play caller that is hurting them, and that is in the decisions of the plays within the game itself.

We take a closer look at that on the next page.

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About the Author: Trevor Sikkema

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: trevor@pewterreport.com
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chefboho
1 year ago

As always, great article Trevor. It reveals what most of us who don’t even get paid to know, already know. You have a rookie play caller in a big contract year with a QB calling long routes with an oline that can’t hold up this causing jameis to turn the ball over. It’s seemingly the same shit Koetter did. I was told these players would be placed in the best position to succeed. Why isn’t that happening? This coaching staff is as responsible for this crap year as the players themselves.

Easythe great
1 year ago

Rookie OC calling plays in a make or break season. This is squarely on Arians. Time to blow up the entire organization and start over from scratch with a new young head coach to help mentor our new quarterback…..Jalen Hurts.

cgmaster27
Reply to  Easythe great
1 year ago

Yeah thats genius, let’s stuck a rpo qb in this offense. What could go wrong?

dm4bucs
1 year ago

Trev, do you think the offense has been catered to what Jameis wants since it is so similar to Koetter’s long developing routes???

On OJ, he looks like someone enjoying life and maybe his “want” to play football isn’t quite high enough to be a top 5 TE…. :(

The Wall
Reply to  dm4bucs
1 year ago

So, all we need is a better offensive line, a running back who can run and block, a more experienced secondary and an offensive coordinator with a clue. Oh yeah, A quarterback who doesn’t mind having defenses in his face on every pass play and still be accurate. On top of that, we have another first round pick who is turning out to be a bust. Maybe there was a reason Howard dropped as far as he did in the first round. We already have a great tight end and a couple of decent backups. Remember, Howard was supposed to… Read more »

EastEndBoy
1 year ago

YES! It is the OLine! The bigger problem though Trevor, is that many of us here on PR (at least) have been saying precisely what you quoted “They want to be vertical in what they do in the passing attack. But they don’t have an offensive line that can make that happen,” for years!!!! And for some unknown reason Jason Licht (the guy that gets praised all the time around here for being a “admit your mistakes and move on quickly” kind of GM) refuses to fix this OLine. He drafted Marpet – great…he got 1 out of 5 right.… Read more »

Ron Potter
Reply to  EastEndBoy
1 year ago

When you ask Winston to throw the ball 50 times, the OL has a greater chance of looking worse than they are. Yes… Winston AND THE OL must improve! But Byron Leftwich has recreated the same problems we had under Dirk Koetter because of our lack of commitment to the run game and the defense also allowing too many points that put us in very big deficits.

stlbucsfan
Reply to  EastEndBoy
1 year ago
Bucsfan1983
1 year ago

This season is already shot, but moving forward, BA must take over play calling.

cgmaster27
1 year ago

So wait, you mean the offense is running longer developing plays, with little reciever seperation, and a bad o line. Gee who wouldve thought considering most of us have been saying that for weeks. But hey it doesnt fit the nattativ of the anti jameis crowd. He does make his share of mistakes, not denying that, but this is exactly what ive been saying for weeks

Bob Will
1 year ago

I am not the sports writer you are and don’t have all the statistics. I have sat in the stands for home games for the past 2 decades and have heard all the excuses for everyone since they fired Gruden. As a fan who has spent over $35,000.00 to watch these guys play I can tell you the product is not good enough. I am not sure the short quick passing game would work because Winston has a wind up much like his offensive coordinator did when he played. He does not have that short quick delivery to throw the… Read more »

EastEndBoy
Reply to  Bob Will
1 year ago

I think that deep pass to Scotty Miller was pretty sick (plenty of air, on the money, in stride, deep down the sideline, just over the DBs outstretched arms)…but ya, he can be erratic quite a lot…too much really.

Bob Will
Reply to  EastEndBoy
1 year ago

One pass in 10 games not a very good long pass record. Have you noticed what Jackson is doing this year with Philly. If he can throw the ball on a line it is ok. But a rainbow not so much.

Buc-in-Philly Fan
Reply to  Bob Will
1 year ago

This is where I take exception to your thought process… DJax has been MIA because he is fragile. He has only played one full game with the Eagles. I know because I live up here and have to watch that shitty Team. He also is not willing to put the work in and has a piss poor attitude which impacts how hard he works on the field during games. Make your point but use actual facts to back it up. Winston’s time should and needs to be up here. I have personally made excuses for him long enough. He doesn’t… Read more »

Alstott_Rulez
1 year ago

BA is old, stubborn and arrogant. He refuses to accept what we have already learned, that Winston is an interception throwing machine! He is not doing Winston any favors with these deep passes that require him to hold the ball forever, increasing his chances of getting sacked or fumbling the ball (which he leads the NFL in) or the high probability of having the ball intercepted on a long deep (low success percentage) throw!! Which Winston also leads the league in most interceptions thrown. BA’s stubbornness and arrogance thinking he knows it all will guarantee our continued failure. 2020! Get… Read more »

4girls
1 year ago

I’m guessing if BA hasn’t taken over the playcalling thus far he won’t start now unless the Glazers pull rank and demand it. I’m guessing BA is thinking two things: 1. It’s the same as a rookie player. Leftwich needs more game experience to get better. At this point, it’s a lost season. Let’s just stay the course and hope he gets better for the future. (Heavy sigh.) 2. I don’t want to. I’m almost 67 and I’m too old for this shit. That’s why I hired 252 coaches, so I wouldn’t have to do that shit. Besides, it would… Read more »

scubog
Reply to  4girls
1 year ago

Now that was a funny Seinfeld analogy 4girls. George’s strategy to “do the opposite” might work too.

wish-in-one-hand
1 year ago

Great Breakdown Trevor, what i don’t like is abandoning the run and we go full panic mode after falling behind and it hurts not only our QB but as you said but puts a lot of pressure on the o-line (reminds me of the last regime too). Why can’t they be patient try to establish the run to set up the pass helping Winston out with less pressure on him (and less hits and probably INT’s too)? The Coach says the game determines the plays called, and i get that, but don’t you see whats working and what isn’t? It’s… Read more »

surferdudes
1 year ago

After six years of Licht, this is the team we have. He’s had five drafts in the top 10, all kinds of resources, and six years later all we can really count on is losing. Licht needs to go. The Glazers owe to us, and themselves to explore a different view point. They should listen to people other then Licht. Don’t see this team changing any with Jason Licht leading the way.

Dman
1 year ago

Great analysis and write-up, Trevor. Here’s the problem you don’t seem to grasp – it’s all Winston. He’s the problem. If we only had Marcus Mariota or some other guy all our problems would be solved. Not!

OJ Howards is a separate thing, but the rest of the offense is on BA and Leftwich. Either put Winston in a situation where he can be successful or let the guy go someplace where he can be, but increasingly, it’s not in Tampa and it’s not on him.

scot pederson
1 year ago

Trevor-= Good points, but some of us already knew this going back 3-4 years ago. Part of the blame is the playcalling/scheming, but part of it also is that most Independent Analysts have Winston ranked low because they know he has tendencies to Zone in on 1 WR, he has a hard time reading progressions, his mechanics are more like a baseball outfielder so this results in High passes and easy fumbles. Very few will talk about his small hands at 9 3/8″ this seems to affect his accuracy on deep ball throws. Fine hands for baseball throwing, not so… Read more »

Horse
1 year ago

Why you ask; it’s simple? We need more offensive and defensive linemen. Good luck on Licht agreeing. We waste many millions on underperforming players! Good GM’s trade those types of players a lot sooner man we do.
What do you think Trevor at what I have said?

twspin
1 year ago

All most of us know is..Its time to do something different..Anything. Try something. We are not in the playoff hunt. Arians is a smart football mind. Its time for him to reaccess this team and go forward. Look what ATL did, they put Raheem back with the Defense, did a few more coaching shakeups and have won 2 straight against divisional opponents with..Winning records. And they Might..be comin after us this week! We are so sick and tired of losing? Hell, we deeyham near expect it.

Buc stops here
1 year ago

Interesting article. The most important stat at this point is the turnovers. By Arians count, 10 interceptions are Winston’s fault alone. At that rate, he is going to throw 16 interceptions which is almost his worst performance in 5 years. On top of that, he has 8 more interceptions than are his fault – so at minimum we are going to see 24 inceptions this year, and it could be more. With that many turnovers you are not going to win many games – period. Writers are noticing. This below is a well written piece – and it shows the… Read more »

bucballer
1 year ago

It certainly a combo of all the above! It’s easier to change QB’s than the entire roster. That’s just the way it is. Jameis needs a change of scenery and his body language suggest it as well. I honestly don’t believe no other team is going to pay Jameis 27 million for one season which is what the Bucs will do if they use the Franchise Tag for a one more year look see. I don’t think he is worth that! Sign Andy Dalton for 2 years and draft a QB early if there is one you believe can be… Read more »

BUC-ASS-BOB
1 year ago

More and more I convinced this team ownership has no intentions of being a playoff team we all sit here and bla bla bla every week. If the Bucs had done nothing other than draft who the expects in media had piked for the Bucs this team would have some all pro and studs. instead each year they pick off the predicted path and we get nothing burgers. They have no intentions of letting Ryan Griffen on the field that would create a QB controversy. I am 100% positive Bruce Arians is not all there upstairs he is not the… Read more »

pomer1eau
1 year ago

It’s Jameis, the tackles, and the play calling. All of them have contributed to the 98 turnovers since Jameis was drafted. Think about that. In the 69 games Jameis has played he averages 1.4 turnovers per game, 1.7 TDs per game and gets sacked 2.3 times per game. That’s really really bad. Both tackles and Jameis should be replaced next season in my opinion and Lefty should give the play calling back to BA or find some one else.

DMIbucs98
1 year ago

The first play would’ve been a first down permitting the Wr catches the ball if the RB piccs up the blitzing man faster. He was already in arms reach before being engaged. The second play was on Dotson. He went for the double team on the DE and getting to the second level. The rush linebaccer is crashing down freely in the bacc field already in play before the protection can pull that way. The ILB next him loops outside knowing his man has to be blocced inside and he will meet the RB having to bounce outside. Dotson has… Read more »

revfish
1 year ago

Thank you Trevor! Great article with the receivers. And very informative, letting me know I am actually seeing the things I am seeing

bucianco
1 year ago

We expect our offense to be perfect only because our defense gives up 30 points a game. Not very realistic. Phillip Rivers threw 4 INTs last night. Anyone calling for his head? No, because he doesn’t do it every other game, but also because the Chargers have been competitive during his tenure. However, they’re not competitive just because of Rivers, but rather because they have had a pretty solid defense for a good while now. No other fan base expects every play perfection like Bucs fans because Bucs fans are quite simply tired of all the losing. So now we’re… Read more »

twspin
1 year ago

I’ll take an Outstanding Defense (like we had when we won our ring) over a good offense anyday. We won a superbowl with an average offense. We are scoring points. But we cannot stop anybody now can we?

bucballer
1 year ago

Curious as to what the Glazer boyz have to say about the state of affairs of this Bucs team… Bueller, Bueller,…crickets!

BucRy
1 year ago

I’ve been saying that we need an offensive line for years..will we finally fix it next year? I don’t know, seems like Jason thinks Donovan Smith is a great linemen to build around. Ryan Jensen isn’t getting any younger, Cappa has been decent and Marpet is Marpet. As of right now, our interior offensive line is decent compared to our horrible Tackles…Defense..we really need to work on bringing some veteran defensive backs, We just have a bunch of young guys who really has no veteran presence to help them in their young careers..We talk about our communication problems on the… Read more »

BUC-ASS-BOB
1 year ago

Mike Smith has the 27th rated defence in the league and every on all over his ass
Game face Bowles has the 32nd rated defence in the league remember there are on 32 teams and no one says a word about the moron running defence.
Not one word
Never mind Offence has to score 32 points just to win a game
Silence from the pewter boys
Even the Jameis trolls say nothing about the pressure Jameis is under to win a game with the worst defence in the league!!!!

Ron Potter
1 year ago

Yes… Leftwich forced the hero ball out of Winston once again. Next story.

tnew
1 year ago

Thanks Trevor… Been watching the All-22 for past 3 seasons… was really hoping this year we’d see more easy crossing routes (kind of like the one Godwin scored on) and a true running attack. Arians preached that he didn’t want Winston to feel like he had to do everything and yet here we are with the same narrative again. Winston isn’t blameless.. he can play better but my goodness, he’s being sent out with no running game, a slow developing passing attack, a below mid tier offensive line and the worst passing defense in the league. I’m tired of Arians… Read more »

Ron Potter
1 year ago

Trevor, how about spending more time on the All-22 finding the bad calls and missed calls in regards to officiating. This team needs help no matter who is QB, who is HC or who is GM. This team has been the victim of egregious officiating. The NFL won’t pay attention until somebody mounts the evidence and delivers it to an attorney who is a fan of the Bucs…. like the Saints did. If enough evidence was compiled and the city of Tampa organized to file against the NFL officials over a decade of grievance, there should be enough evidence in… Read more »

Ron Potter
Reply to  Ron Potter
1 year ago

Maybe give it to Brad Culpepper’s firm?

plopes808
1 year ago

Great article as usual Trev! I agree 100% with everything you’re saying. We have a suspect Oline that we ask to block on vertical routes, we pair that with our QB who always thinks he can make the play and makes some poor decisions. That’s a recipe for the disaster we’re seeing

Race to 10
1 year ago

Highly disappointed in this season and it’s all BA’s fault. Letting leftwich call plays has been the biggest downfall of this offense. He’s not hands on enough and the Glazers were right not to want anyone else calling plays and I would love to know how he can put lipstick on that pig, theres no way to escape that criticism. Playcalling is horrible in critical situations but doesnt excuse execution. If your going to lose might as well lose with a cheap rookie quarterback and new gm, if BA doesn’t like it he can quit again.

scubog
1 year ago

The Glazers must feel like the guy who has been married and divorced seven times (Dungy, Gruden, Morris, Schiano, Smith, Koetter and Arians) and maybe now contemplating yet another dissolution, all while questioning what they were thinking when they let go of their first soul mate (Dungy). What’s that saying? “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s like we’re in the movie Groundhog Day. It’s de-ja vu all over again. We’re stuck on a perpetual merry-go-round looking at the same scene over and over again. We’re boomerangs. Our theme song should be “Right Back Where We… Read more »

Captain Sly
1 year ago

We keep screaming at the OC for his inept play calling, ineffective TE usage, and lack of rushing attempts. We clamor for BA to take over play calling, But we fail to realize that Leftwich is calling BA’s offense…. At any point in film study, practice or during the game BA can take over play calling and we would never know. My point is this BA has signed off on everything Leftwich is doing and that’s not even debatable… Every Wednesday’s meeting begins with game plan, play design, play call. BA has to sign off on everything from offense to… Read more »

fredster
1 year ago

Good article. What even more concerning to me is that I don’t see steady improvement in Play calling either. It’s getting worse. I don’t know how you can watch last 4 years of what Koetter tried to do. Run long developing plays with bad O line and Bad run game and expect Winston to throw 50-60 times when you know he has a tendency to turn it over! They even said it would be different this year and it’s not. Not only that but it’s getting worse! Howard is having some either maturity issues or has a hidden problem with… Read more »

Horse
1 year ago

Everything first starts with your lineman; then most things will work.

PriMech54
1 year ago

Say what you will but the truth is that Jameis has the arm talent for his coaches to rely on him as the “offense carrier” and know that he is capable of making every throw so it results in them constantly asking him to push the ball past the sticks. Winston’s two biggest strengths are also his largest flaws when surrounded with an inept team; he never gives up on a play and is ELITE when throwing the intermediate areas of the route tree. This is the reason he’s led the NFL or been top 3 every single year in… Read more »

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