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.

All Twenty-Tuesday Part 1: Offense

I’ve been waiting months and months and months for what was last Friday night. All the draft profiles, the free agents, the Cover 3 columns we wrote and read over the offseason, all of it was leading up to this Cover 3 – the first of many that can finally recap game action.

Getting to training camp is the goal since the players report back and you get to write about new progress instead of looking back on old tape, but it’s still just practice. Last Friday’s game between the Bucs and the Bengals, though it was preseason, was the moment I’ve been waiting for.

People can say that preseason football is just the warm up and you shouldn’t put too much weight into it, but I think only half that statement is right. Preseason football is just the warm-up, however, though the result itself may be meaningless, when you put performances under a microscope, it will tell you plenty about where players and units are in terms of progression and chemistry.

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here, and over the next four weeks in our weekly Cover 3. Since the stats themselves aren’t of a major importance, I’m not going to be doing a “Stat of the Week” portion of the Cover 3 until the regular season. Instead, I’m going to devote more time into the film room looking at the performance of the 90-man roster as a whole. We’ll obviously emphasize the starting players more, but the backup guys and players who could be fighting for a roster spot will get love, too, as they may be the ones who take leading roles down the road.

So, let’s get into it with the offense first.

Shake It Off

I’m going to start off with the offensive line since last Friday’s preseason game was really the first time we’ve been able to see them go full-throttle and full contact. Even when the pads were on in practice, they were going against their own team, so they weren’t looking to really bully them.

The play above is from the first drive of the game. In that play, offensive guard, J.R. Sweezy, got pushed back hard by All-Pro defensive tackle, Geno Atkins. I chose to point this out because this is one of Sweezy’s first plays back in action in over a year. As you watch throughout the preseason, make sure you keep things like that in context. It was a play that doesn’t look good, but things like that need time.

Next, I wanted to highlight part of left tackle Donovan Smith’s night, because I believe it had a story to tell.

Smith has been picked on a lot over the last few years, and with reason. He’s been one of the most penalized offensive linemen in the league, and his learning curve since starting as a rookie has been steep.

When watching the play above live, I could just feel fans start to say, “Here we go again.” In it, Smith was knocked off balance because he didn’t anticipate defensive end Michael Johnson’s long arms. That quick contact knocked him right back into the quarterback.

After the previous play, I don’t know what happened or maybe what was said to Smith following getting bullied like that, but the next two times those two faced off in pass rush and pass protection, Smith got the better of Johnson – handily.

In the play above, Johnson turned his shoulder too far into Smith, and Smith just shoved him straight out of the play.

On the next play, Johnson tried to get fancy with a spin move, and Smith wasn’t having any of it. Johnson couldn’t get his elbow around Smith’s shoulder for any drive or push past him, and therefore did nothing more than expose his back to Smith, who kindly sat Johnson on the ground.

I know it’s preseason, and Smith wasn’t going up against the better pass rusher for the Bengals, Carlos Dunlap, but in the situation he was in, Smith had a very encouraging game.

Process Over Result

Next, I want to break down the Buccaneers’ goal line opportunities from the first drive. That first series started from their own 6-yard line, and the offense moved the ball very well, especially through the air, to get all the way into the opponent’s 10-yard line. So, the efficiency leading up was good.

In most of the video clips I posted, I give a little commentary of what is going on. As long as you all promise to keep reading the Cover 3’s with these video commentaries, I’ll keep doing them.

A big reason why the Buccaneers were able to move the ball as well as they did on offense was because of very good play calling – even with a “vanilla” game plan. But, no place on the field is the correct play call more important than on the goal line. Though the Buccaneers did not end this drive with six points, the thought process behind their three plays was good.

The first play (shown above), was a run play. In it, there were three wide receivers to the left, each with a one-on-one. Had this been a passing play, it would have been a pick-your-poison. Because the defense couldn’t really afford to give up size and strength due to where they were on the field, they had to keep more linebackers in the game. This left DeSean Jackson one-on-one with a linebacker on the inside. In a passing situation, that’s ideal.

However, because it was a run, Jackson didn’t do much as a blocker (as expected) and his man actually made the tackle – if he was blocked, it would have been a touchdown. As the year progresses and tight end O.J. Howard becomes more of a receiving threat in the red zone, you’d like to see him lined up in that spot to keep the threat of a pass alive, but also block, knowing it was run play.

Overall, still a good design, even if there were pieces I would have shifted.

Because they saw how the Bengals were going to guard Evans on the goal line from how they lined up on the first play, the Bucs knew that if they gave Evans space on the outside, he would have another on-on-one. That was the case.

You hear the phrase, “he put it where either his receiver could get it, or nobody could get it” all the time in football, and where that’s great for not turning the ball over, the pass above had to be better. Evans has too much of a size advantage against almost any cornerback in the NFL for this not to be a more catchable pass. Quarterback Jameis Winston has to trust his guy more.

Setting up Evans for the fade here was the right call, it just didn’t work.

The third and final offensive play of the drive, minus the field goal, was much of the same from the second. However, there were more details here that again hinted at a good mental process and play design.

If you’ll watch the clip above, I explain how there were actually three mismatches in this one play. Jackson had a favorable matchup with space in the middle, Brate was on the outside against a smaller player, and Evans was again one-on-one on the outside – that’s always advantage Evans.

In a real game, I would think this ball might go elsewhere, specifically to Jackson somewhere in the middle. He’s too good in space, and the design to get Brate to cross in the middle would have left jackson wide open in the back of the end zone if it played out.

No six points, but I thought it was the right design on each down.

Best of the Rest

I’ll start by saying that the back up offensive line was not great. There were too many collapsed pockets, and a bad play by Cole Gardner was the reason quarterback Ryan Griffin got hurt. Even Caleb Benenoch, who has been rotating in some with the first team at offensive tackle, had a rough night. Rookie defensive end Jordan Willis go the better of him in the clip below, but that’s honestly probably more for a great jump by Willis than anything Benenoch could do.

Though Ryan Fitzpatrick had the touchdown on the stat sheet, Griffin was the more accurate and efficient quarterback before he went out with an injury.

Griffin was called on to run the Bucs’ 1-minute drill, and had a nice string of completed passes before that Willis sack forced a punt. Griffin showed good anticipation and recognition, but his arm strength is still a question mark. He’s not really a guy who can stretch the field, and doesn’t put a lot of velocity on his passes, either. He’s a game manager, but that style was still more alluring that Fitzpatrick’s more reckless rick-or-reward plays.

There was not much to note from the running game, though starter Doug Martin did have that nice recovery and run on the first clip we showed. Jacquizz Rodgers was the next man in, and Charles Sims had some nice runs himself, but overall the backup offensive line just didn’t play well enough to learn anything about the running backs.

The big surprise was how limited rookie receiver Chris Godwin was in the game plan. He only received one target, which he caught for 14 yards, but was very quiet otherwise. Instead, the team targeted Josh Huff, who had a hot and cold day, Bernard Reedy, who made a nice catch and a good kick return, and Freddie Martino, who led the backups in targets, but had a case of the butterfingers all game.

That’s all for the offense. Flip to the next page to see a breakdown of the defensive’s night, including some first-year guys who played expanded roles.

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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: [email protected]
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Iowabucfan
Iowabucfan
4 years ago

I thought that Willis was off-side on his sack. I am encouraged by Jameis, Evans. Oh man we keep hearing Spence’s name and VHIII. That is very encouraging.
For me, I don’t get to bent out of shape about preseason game no. 1. It is a glorified practice.
Thanks for pointing out the possible experiments and possible let’s see what we got scenarios.
Your video commentary is fun to follow.
Go Bucs!

WiltheBrewer
WiltheBrewer
Reply to  Iowabucfan
4 years ago

I’m w/ you Iowabuc- looked like he jumped off on that sack…Trevor, I liked the audio breakdown. You made me feel slightly better about them not scoring that early TD, but I don’t want to see that again next week- although I feel slightly less nervous by the kicking game moving forward.
Good to see Smith getting solid play in at CB

chandlerglover
chandlerglover
4 years ago

I was disappointed to see that no one mentioned the command over the offense and zip Ryan Griffin had on the ball. He incompletions were drops mainly of which he cannot be blamed.

dfk68
dfk68
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
4 years ago

I thought his arm strength was noticeably better than last year.

chandlerglover
chandlerglover
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema
4 years ago

As always I appreciate your insight. It doesn’t seem, however, that we are practicing expectation management when it comes to a backup quarterback. Do we expect to have a backup Jameis in the fold backing up the starting Jameis caliber quarterback?

I’m not attempting to be snide. But I think that is a question worth evaluating. We know what the ideal starter/ backup situation is, (See Bledsoe-Brady, Montana-Young, Favre-Warner/Rodgers, Brees-Rivers), what is our objective and PRACTICAL starter/ backup situation.

ISLAND BUCS
ISLAND BUCS
4 years ago

Trevor:

I really appreciated your “clips” with your commentary.

You have a real understanding of what the Bucs are trying to accomplish

Phattitudes
Phattitudes
4 years ago

Number one, loved your analysis. Very informative. As a fan watching the game, my biggest disappointment was in the domination showed by Cincinnati over both the offensive and defensive lines. Offensively we may not have the deepest bench, but I would have hoped our 2nd and 3rd team defensive lines would showed better than they did.

Atrum
Atrum
4 years ago

Trevor, have you noticed Mike Evans catching passes without gloves in practice? Noticed it while watching hardknocks. Is this common for receivers or is mike specifically doing it to improve his hands?

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
4 years ago

I want to see one of the young players step up on the D-line not named Spence. Somebody has to emerge from this clustered pack.

skipper
skipper
4 years ago

I thought the defense kicked it up a notch when Riley Bullough came in, I understand he played with and against 3rd stringers but the guy was in on a lot of plays and just missed a hit in the backfield.

HoneyBadgerW4
HoneyBadgerW4
Reply to  skipper
4 years ago

Yes, absolutely! I noticed that, too. I have to admit I watched him specifically on the plays he was in. He did get beat badly by an Olineman on one play, but he looked really good, was very active and involved in every other play.

I also thought Sefo Liufau played extremely well, even it was against their 3rd string.

tnew
tnew
4 years ago

Love your segment and breakdown as always. I saw the two incompletions in the end zone a little differently. I saw it as Evans and Jameis not being on the same page versus bad throws. He might have missed a little, but I think Evans did as well. On second, Jameis looks to be working a back shoulder fade, but Evans continues the route into the CB looking to post him up. On third, Evans stops the route about a yard shorter and looks like he is looking for the back shoulder throw but Jameis throws the ball like Evans… Read more »

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
Reply to  tnew
4 years ago

Both looked rusty on the end zone pass attempts after smoothly working it down field … kind of a replay of last season, where the offense put up some yards but came away without points far too many times in the red zone – that’s the area that both players and coaches acknowledge the offense needs to improve. They’ll get an entire half to work with tomorrow night, that should provide a better indication of how the starters are doing.

fl0nase
fl0nase
4 years ago

Trevor, I like your analysis with the video clips. So much of the play is before the snap so it’s nice to see you pointing out just how many mismatches the D has to try and account for with the Bucs roster this year. Is it a thing for a coaching staff to hide a player intentionally on plays during preseason or is that counterproductive rather than strategic. To me it seems like Godwin has been blowing it up in practice all of camp. Is it possible they fed the ball elsewhere to see what they have at the bottom… Read more »