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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

If you can’t block, you won’t win.

Over the next 20 or so minutes of your life, you’re going to read some stats and watch some film of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line that will all come to the conclusion that you just read in that first sentence.

Bucs RG J.R. Sweezy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs RG J.R. Sweezy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Trench play is essential to the game of football. In fact, for those who may not be aware, this is how the importance of football operations are measured: the closer you are to the football at the snap, the more vital your job is. When the center exchanges the ball to the quarterback, both he and the quarterback contain the highest importance. From there, it becomes a proximity game. The quarterback will always be the most valuable because the ball is in his hand, but as the clock runs after the snap, it’s usually the offensive tackles and the defensive ends that close in on the ball the quickest, especially on pass plays, and that’s why those three positions are coveted more than any other.

Even in the run game, the importance of players remains relatively the same. The running back is ultimately the one who has to conduct where the ball goes, but due to the fact that they have to get beyond a line of defenders, on most plays, the offensive line carries equal, if not more, importance to success because they are where the ball is going.

If you can’t block well, both in the run and the pass, you simply won’t be able to move the ball with the effectiveness that is needed to win.

Right now the Bucs cannot do that.

Going into the 2017 season, we thought that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to have an improved offensive line from the one that got them nine wins the year before. Left tackle Donovan Smith was supposed to really take the the next step in his third year. Demar Dotson was a constant on the right side. Ali Marpet was scheduled to move to center and achieve great chemistry with Jameis Winston. Kevin Pamphile was in a contract year and a year of more experience as a guard/tackle hybrid. Plus, the team was finally getting their key free agent from 2016, J.R. Sweezy, back and healthy.

All of those plans came to fruition in this season – but not in output.

Instead, we currently have the Pro Football Focus grades as shown above. Smith hasn’t improved much, if at all, this season. Pamphile hasn’t been consistent enough and is rotating with Evan Smith. Sweezy hasn’t been the player the team thought they were signing. All of that has led to inefficiencies on almost a play-to-play, but certainly a drive-to-drive, basis.

Let’s take a look at each group individually.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

I’m not sure why PFF has Pamphile listed as an offensive tackle and doesn’t have him listed at all as a guard, but I assume it’s because he’s listed like that somewhere on an “official” page, but his grade and performance affect how he’s played at both positions, so we’ll wait to discuss him.

According to PFF, and other outlets, too, Dotson has been very good this season. The 32-year-old is having a renaissance year in which he is the No. 2 overall tackle in the entire NFL, grade-wise – not just right tackles. Dotson has been fantastic in pass protection. He’s only given up eight pressure on the entire season, and has one of the highest grades of all offensive tackles.

Smith, however, does not share the same success Dotson does. In fact, Smith is ranked as the 59th overall offensive tackle in the NFL, and even if you throw in a few rotational guys like Pamphile for a few teams, remembering that there are only 64 offensive tackles who start makes the 59 overall rank very concerning. Smith has given up 26 pressure so far thus season, a much higher number than his teammate.

OFFENSIVE GUARD

If you throw Pamphile’s 50.3 overall grade in here, he isn’t an upgrade from the other two. Pamphile was thought to be the unquestioned starter at the left guard position as the season began, but even in the first week, that hasn’t been the case. Pamphile has out-snapped Evan Smith 281 to 275, which isn’t much difference at all, so you can really see it’s an even time split. PFF’s grade for Smith is certainly higher than Pamphile’s, which raises the question that if there’s such a gap in efficiency, why is Pamphile playing so much? Shouldn’t Smith be the starter?

On the other side, things look even worse, according to PFF’s grade. Sweezy was suppose to come in and be this bulldozer of an offensive lineman who could help bring a mean-streak culture to the trenches. He’s an intimidating guy, but he’s been all bark and no bite midway through the season. Sweezy’s 58 overall rating is again close to the bottom of all starting guards in the NFL, on the left or right side. What’s concerning is that he has a 33 grade when it comes to run blocking, which is supposed to be his calling card.

CENTER

Marpet’s move to center has looked good to the folks over at Pro Football Focus. He had a few shaky games in the early parts of the season, where he was failing to snap the ball correctly from the shotgun, but in terms of blocking, his performances there have been well above average.

He currently ranks as the No. 6 overall center in the NFL in terms of PFF grades. However, in PFF’s signature stats, he’s the No. 17 overall center in terms of pass blocking efficiency, and has given up a recorded 13 pressure through eight games, which puts him in the bottom half of starting centers.

Marpet making the transition to center has had its ups and down. He certainly isn’t the weakest link on the offensive line, but him adjusting to that position is certainly being felt.

Now that we know a little bit of where the offensive line stands in terms of grades and efficiency, let’s look at some of the tape from their most recent game against the Saints.

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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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Brooks Dunn-Winston
3 years ago

It’s all Jameis’s fault.

Alldaway 2.0
Reply to  Brooks Dunn-Winston
3 years ago

Good post.

This cover 3 shows the trenches are a big issue and we saw this coming a mile away.

cgmaster27
Reply to  Brooks Dunn-Winston
3 years ago

Haha of course it is, so sayeth the uneducated. Jameis hasn’t played well this year, we can all agree. But to put the blame squarely on him as most tend to do is a joke in itself. ZERO run game and a bad offensive line.

Naplesfan
3 years ago

Interesting analysis and questions, Trevor. My responses: 1) A chain is no stronger than its weakest links, and an offensive line is a chain. We have a couple of weak links 2) No to moving Dotson – don’t break what ain’t broke, in an effort to fix what is broke 3) Donovan Smith just doesn’t seem to be progressing much … getting a new left tackle when you don’t have a reliable one is always a priority for any team. Whether there’s someone in free agency, trade, etc, or a high draft pick, it’s gotta get fixed. 4) Leave Marpet… Read more »

Buc 1976
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 years ago

D Smith needs to change positions maybe LG?
With the 1 rd pick do we go O LINE or D LINE? Neither Line has drafted a sure fire lineman since G McCoy. So many needs and not enough picks.

e
e
3 years ago

Interesting how the Patriots like to spend a lot of high draft pick on both lines…

Alldaway 2.0
3 years ago

D. Smith to LG.

Find a new LT.

That is the starting point. If Benonoch, Pamphile and Lester are in the mix that is fine. Stick it out with Sweazy at RG, because RG isn’t the big worry. Finding a true athletic LT and also finding a replacement for Dotson soon.

Horse
3 years ago

It’s always about improving the OL and DL in every draft; don’t think we’ve done that so much.. As to the OL; Smith is the weakest link as Naplesfan put it. Time to try someone else regardless of his knee situation. I would bring in an older OLT off season and draft another OLT in 2nd or 3rd round. I would move Smith to Sweezy’s ORG spot off season. I don’t believe Smith is a complet bust; he just can’t play OT and OG might be his better position. I definitely would n”t Marpet as he is rated as a… Read more »

Buc 1976
Reply to  Horse
3 years ago

It doesn’t matter how many weapons you have on Offence if you can’t protect the QB or open some holes for RB’S.
After ignoring the DL for so long the Bucs will have to pay big in FA or draft and hope.
Also just for fun I saw that Dwight F. has 2 sacks lol

EastEndBoy
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
3 years ago

I seem to recall on draft day the book on Smith was “probably a better chance at guard than tackle”….should we be surprised he’s failed at tackle.

cbbucfan
3 years ago

This story brings up good points and helps to highlight what I believe is Tampa Bay’s biggest problem preventing them from getting wins: they cannot control the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. Their difficulties in generating a pass rush are well documented. Run defense is OK, but too many big gainers are surrendered. The pocket is almost never collapsed. They MUST find edge pass rushers, STAT. I am disappointed in the offensive line’s play thus far. Dotson has been good, but he’s 32 years old. They have to start thinking about a successor at RT. Donovan… Read more »

dfk68
3 years ago

Here is my problem with Jason Licht. (who has been one of our better GMs) He drafts flashy toys instead of dirty workers. Last year I would have taken either Bamma DT over a CB or undersized DE. This year Cam Robinson could have let D Smith move to RT. Elflein or Pocic could have let Marpet stay at G. Instead we get a TE, the least used position on offense, a WR whose played very little and a safety who’s played ok. It all starts with line play. EVERYONE knows this yet the Bucs, and other teams, just don’t… Read more »

Buc 1976
Reply to  dfk68
3 years ago

I have been saying the same thing about the line play. Some teams draft a D Linemen early 1-2 rd. Every year. The Bucs on the other hand seem to keep trying to build from the back end. With little to no pass rush NO CB OR SAFTY can cover that long.

Buc-in-Philly Fan
3 years ago

There were many of us after the draft and free agency that screamed from the mountain tops about how no moves were made to improve the O line. We were told the Bucs and the Media didn’t believe that was a weakness. They were very happy with the group that had. If “we” the Fans can see the lack of talent on the O line why can’t the paid professionals including a number of the Team here at PRR? Now Trevor, I am not calling you personally out with this post but I will say none of you were calling… Read more »

Buc 1976
Reply to  Buc-n-Philly Fan
3 years ago

Could Not agree more well said!!

surferdudes
3 years ago

Gruden had this to say on Mike & Mike this morning. The new CBA with less contact is killing O line play around the league. He attributes the Rams success this year as having to do with the fact they’ve had the same 5 starters all season. He credits McVay for getting them properly prepared during training camp, and of course staying healthy has a lot to do with it. Hmmm, getting your team properly prepared during training camp. That doesn’t bode well for Koetter’s soft camp.

plopes808
3 years ago

“Pressure theirs and protect ours,” the golden rule of the trenches. We’ve done neither and that needs to change before we can turn this ship around. All the weapons we have on offense in relation to our production has been nothing short of ridiculous. Many people point at Jameis’ inconsistency and the lack of a running game. Both would be fixed by fixing the OL. The weak link is D Smith at LT. Find us a starting LT in the draft and let D Smith enter the mix and battle it out with Benenoch/E Smith/Pamphile for the LG spot. Our… Read more »

Mic
Mic
3 years ago

I forgot you guys felt proud we weren’t gonna get new lineman. Tsk tsk tsk,

Roster building is like taking an exam you’re either 100% sure on a question that you’re right or you’re unsure. And when you’re unsure it can go either way. We had questions for Smith, sweezy, pamphile. And all 3 were wrong.

Charlie C
3 years ago

Don’t change a thing on the o or d line this year. Give them the full year to see where the players end up. Draft exclusively oline and dline next year. Do not bring in high priced free agents. Keep the staff intact. Show patience or risk becoming the Browns of the NFC coaching carousel. Scratch that, we already are. Tampa Bay, where coaches come to die

stlbucsfan
3 years ago

Dotson is performing admirably at RT, moving him does not make sense. Marpet is a good C but was a Pro Bowler at G so that’s where I would return him. Finding a starting caliber C in the 2nd or 3rd round should be feasible and I’d use the 1st round pick on the kid from Texas or Notre Dame to play LT. Donovan Smith should battle Sweezy in camp for his job or become the swing tackle if he losses that competition. Sweezy isn’t the weakest link but he has not stood out either, so I’d rather give Smith… Read more »

Horse
Reply to  stlbucsfan
3 years ago

As weak as we are in defensive ends I have to agree that the most important pick will be the left offensive tackle, if we want to protect Winston.

cgmaster27
3 years ago

Wow watching that film is disturbing. No wonder Jameis is getting skittish in the pocket. As for Doug, bench him, he’s done and cut him after the season. I think we’ve all seen enough. Donovan Smith is just terrible. I can’t even say average at this point. He needs to be moved next year, which sucks as we’ll now almost have to take a tackle in the draft this year when it’s sorely needed on defensive line. This team is just poorly coached, end of story. I saw another clip the other day of that third down early in the… Read more »

jfitzp
3 years ago

The Bucs have ignored the o and d line for too long. Bucs should have built the team from the line out, instead we draft an undersized corner when we had no pass rush . We were told better corners would allow the pass rush to get home. That hasn’t happened. Smith has been below average for years . Bucs need to load up on pass rushers in 1st and 2nd rounds as the cupboard is bare. A free agent tackle can be brought in for short term than address Tackle in the 2019 draft. I would move Marpet back… Read more »

Alaskabuc
3 years ago

Put Smith at right guard. Move Dotson to Left tackle. Bring Benonoch into RT. Evan Smith needs to play more than Pamphile. We are a mess on that line. Marpet is a stud though. On the defensive line, we are clearly not putting enough pressure on the QB. For some reason teams are running on us, too. Our tackles are just fine. We have no pass rush talent on the DE. Gholston is a run stopper, not a pass rusher. But he is injured now. Spence is our only positive, but he is smallish, and injured. How about this on… Read more »

GoldsonAges
3 years ago

Dotson is the only player capable of playing left tackle on the roster. I would move him and then let Pamphile and Smith fight it out for the right tackle position but I agree with the idea of moving Smith to left guard, as he has never played on the right side this should be an easier transition for him. Another part of the problem is coaching. Warhop is not a good coach. Regardless of talent what we should see on passing plays is a pocket develop around the QB. This is something that needs to be coached. Too often… Read more »

inspecto
3 years ago

please remind me why we just cut D. Penn??? wasn’t that one of meathead ‘s first move?

inspecto
Reply to  inspecto
3 years ago

Penn is still a starter for the Raiders.

EastEndBoy
Reply to  inspecto
3 years ago

Pro bowl last year.

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
3 years ago

So many things have gone wrong on the OL since the 2015 season. Licht has addressed the OL needs for the last 3 years. But, almost every player they needed to excel and move they’ve made hasn’t panned out. Sweezy, D Smith, Pamp, Caleb haven’t come good. -Dot: Playing well after an okay 2016 season. But he’s also 32. -Sweezy: Disaster of a signing as he’s not great in pass pro AND not the run mauler we expected. -Marpet: Great draft pick. Stud G & getting better at C. I love the grit of Hawley, but he got pushed around… Read more »

hoya55
3 years ago

Trevor, I agree with most others thoughts on here about moving Smith to LG. As you pointed out, while he is athletic and strong, he doesn’t have the feet and awareness necessary to play on an island. Some of that could be potentially mitigated by putting him in a box at LG, reducing the space that he would have to cover. On the same note, I vote to then try Pamphile at LT. I think his issue, at LG, is a lack of strength and aggressiveness. Trying to take on DTs without is tough, but moving him to LT could… Read more »

hoya55
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
3 years ago

Agree completely you would have to get a lot in return and have everything in place to do something like this, not to mention win fast because if you don’t, as a GM, you’d be fired quick. But, at the end of the day, while Winston has potential, that’s all it is right now. He is excellent under pressure, but inconsistent when not (which makes me think it’s a combination of footwork and overthinking) and his slow starts to games have, at times, put us in holes we can’t climb out of. I’m not saying I want this to happen,… Read more »

cgmaster27
Reply to  hoya55
3 years ago

Trade Jameis? Haha that’s a good one. And what exactly has Kirk Cousins won? Yes let’s trade a 24 year old for a 34 year old. The density of some of you is astonishing.

hoya55
Reply to  cgmaster27
3 years ago

Question from the dense one here….where did you get that Kirk Cousins is 34 years old? There’s a thing called Google now, don’t know if you heard of it, but a quick search will show you he is 29. Just wondering, since I’m the dense one.

plopes808
Reply to  hoya55
3 years ago

Wow…I really can’t even comprehend this as a legitimate option. I think any QB would be shaky in his accuracy when he’s being pressured more than 80% of the time. Jameis is a young gunslinger and along with that comes some bone head decisions, but also some good ones. Shore up the OL and give him some time to make good decisions and he’ll make them more often than not

adoutt
3 years ago

Nice Article Trevor. I have a question, rather than have Smith continue to struggle at LT, why don’t they move him inside to guard? His size and strength would be great for the interior and his footspeed would be less of an issue. What are your thoughts?

tog
tog
3 years ago

I’m confused by this article.

Yes, the OL has struggled in run blocking. But the same grades you’re using show the OL has been very strong in pass blocking. Yet you primarily criticise pass blocking in this article? And don’t mention how good the OL has been (outside of Smith) in pass blocking?

tnew
3 years ago

Love the article. One thing that I have been wondering about is the mish mash of styles. We seem to have some guys that are better man blockers, some that are better zone blockers. I was initially excited about Marpet. Marpet can man or zone block very well but I thought they would use his athleticism and short area quickness to be more creative with the blocking schemes. The problem is Sweezy and Pamphile have struggled. Sweezy looks to be a power/man blocking guy. Pamphile looks to man block better while E. Smith is a good zone blocker. Donovan Smith,… Read more »

tnew
3 years ago

Also, how much of this lack of chemistry can be attributed to what, Pewter Report and others called “the softest camp they’ve ever experienced”?

tnew
3 years ago

Ok.. One last point.

Other sites have reported that the Titans and the Bucs run similar offensive schemes. I took it upon myself to do some serious film study on the Titans. Watching Taylor Lewan vs Donovan Smith just isn’t fair. It is like they are playing two different sports. No big knock on Smith. He just can’t do what Lewan does.

BucsPhan2Phear
3 years ago

Hey man… long time. Look, Donovan Smith was thought to be a guard prospect. I think he would be an ideal left guard. He’ll always get help and can use his strength in a phone booth a bit more. It keeps him on his left side so he’s not having to relearn the same techniques and flip them due to being on the right. He would provide depth at the left tackle spot too. With that said, a team is usually graded talent wise on the premier positions : LT, edge rusher, Cornerback, QB, and wide Rceiver. The latter two… Read more »

matador
3 years ago

This is an interesting take. Potentially leaves us with two strong Guards, a good RT if we can get another year out of Dot, some cap space if we dispatch Sweezy, serviceable play at C unless a high quality prospect falls to us in the 3rd round (if not take one in the 2nd round the following year) and spending our 1st round pick on LT this coming draft (which we have to do any way with Licht’s gamble on Smith not panning out, and as others mentioned that has a reinforcing effect helping both pass pro and the run… Read more »

Mb Nfl Lock Of The Szn Pewter 728x90 Jpg