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
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: email@example.com
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