Sikkema’s Stat(s) of the Week

We all think participation trophies are stupid, right?

I grew up playing sports. If you’re reading this column, chances are you grew up playing sports, too, or were at least around them, in some way. I hated getting second place trophies – haaaaated it. And I don’t mean that as a cliche. Trophies that didn’t hold a “you’re better than this person” title to it didn’t mean much to me.

Today we live in a world where the phrase “If you ain’t first you’re last” doesn’t always apply – jeez, Trev, two weeks in a row with a Talladega Nights reference? There are ribbons and trophies – hell, even rings and titles given out to college players for things that taint the word “champion.” I graduated from the University of Florida, so I follow the Gators football team pretty closely. When they won the SEC East in back-to-back season in 2015 and 2016, they gave their players rings for it, even though they got destroyed by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game(s), not even the National Championship Game. That stuff is so gross to me. I get that it’s a recruiting ploy and that the players worked hard. Blah, blah, blah. They weren’t champions. You know and I know it.

Bucs DE Will Gholston - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs DE Will Gholston – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

So what does it take to build a championship defense? And I’m talking about a team that actually wins a championship, not one that just gets close to one. In the NFL, the common denominator for the last 10 years has been sacks. No team in the last decade has won a Super Bowl and not finished in the top half of the NFL in sacks. In fact, if you take out teams that have Tom Brady as their quarterback, that stat almost tells you that being in the Top 10 is necessary. You can give up yards, you can be sketchy on third down, you can lose the time of possession; all of those elements exist in certain champions of old. You know what doesn’t? A lack of sack production.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished dead last in the NFL for sacks in 2017. For reference on how bad they were, the Jacksonville Jaguars had four players – FOUR – who finished with more sacks by themselves than the Bucs entire defensive end group had combined. On top of all that, four of the Buccaneers’ top 10 contracts in terms of a per-year salary are invested in the defensive line, and they still couldn’t get it done.

Yes, losing defensive end Noah Spence hurt them, and yes, defensive end Jacquies Smith not returning to form didn’t help them. But, defensive tackle Chris Baker being a giant letdown in his first year and the team falsely convincing themselves that aging defensive end Robert Ayers and run-stopping end William Gholston were going to do something in that department is all on them – the front office and the coaching staff. Baker, Gholston and Ayers are three of the four players who currently command top 10 contracts on the team, and that’s a big problem for what they got out of them in 2017.

So where do things go from here? That’s the question. Wherever the hype came from, the fans, the media, the team or likely a combination of it all, it was all smoke and mirrors from the reality that unfolded. This team added high talent to luxury positions last offseason, thinking they had the main components of football settled.

They didn’t.

Now it has to change, and it has to change fast. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is playing at a high level, but for how much longer?

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson was signed to a three-year deal, and his presence could be a big deal, but only while he’s still in Tampa Bay. Brent Grimes has already toyed with retirement, and it feels like Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander are at their peaks; the Bucs have to capitalize. In reality, it feels like this core group of Buccaneers has about three years to hit it big.

If not, things will start to look a lot different.

So what are the option here?

First let’s look at this whole operation from base level.

3-4 vs. 4-3

During the summer, we went very in-depth into what makes up a 4-3 defense and what makes up a 3-4 defense, knowing that Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith was going to stay multiple in the things he did. To start the season most of what the Buccaneers did was from the 4-3 base formation. McCoy was the key to the front seven at the 3-technique defensive tackle position, Baker came in a (tried to) play the 0 or 1-tech nose tackle, Spence played as the wide edge player on passing downs and Ayers and Gholston played 5-tech defensive ends on running down.

This was thought to be ideal, but it didn’t exactly work out that way.

Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DT Gerald McCoy – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Baker at the nose tackle was bad all year. He was a good pass rusher in his final year in Washington from an interior defensive line position, but in 2017 he was getting blown off the ball left and right as a Buccaneer when it came to run stopping. The team also tried to get too cute with McCoy. Knowing that McCoy was going to get doubled, they tried to steer into that and use him as a decoy to get Ayers and Gholston one-on-ones, instead of running plays to alleviate the attention on McCoy. All of that backfired in a bad way.

As the season went on and the Bucs realized what they were doing in the front seven wasn’t working, we began to see more 3-4-type fronts – which included the 3-3-5 defense in nickel situations we saw them go to many times in the latter half of the season. Initially, they tried to play McCoy at the 0-tech of a 3-4 defense, but if you know anything about that formation, you know that the 0-tech is often the one who gets swallowed up and takes on multiple blocks, again steering McCoy into getting double teamed instead of focusing on getting him one-on-ones. I think this was due, in part, because they knew Baker was getting eaten up inside, but even that was trying to fix a negative with a negative. As the year went on, though, they started to use McCoy more as a 3-4 defensive end and had Clinton McDonald more in the mix as well – both of these were good things.

Starting to revitalize the Bucs’ pass rush will start with whatever formation they choose to deploy. If they chose to go back to the 4-3, fine, they just have to make sure they’re working their pass rush to get McCoy open looks – not Ayers. Next, if Baker is even in Tampa Bay next year, it has to be behind McDonald, who is a free agent and deserves to be re-signed, in the rotation. Baker can’t do the dirty work, and whatever formation you use, if you don’t have at least one dirty work defensive lineman, you’re going to fail. Finally, the edge pressure has to be better, and honestly, I haven’t been that impressed with Spence when he’s had his hand in the ground.

Bucs DT Clinton McDonald - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs DT Clinton McDonald – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

That brings me to the change I’m hoping happens. This is me officially saying I want this Buccaneers defense to be a 3-4 base defense. McCoy and McDonald can play the weakside three-technique defensive end spot and still be disruptive, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu can play the nose tackle with Gholston as the strongside five-technique defensive end as a dirty work player, and most importantly, Spence and linebacker Kendell Beckwith can rush from stand-up positions as outside linebackers. This, to me, gets the most out of Spence, and if this pass rush is going to be salvaged at all, Spence has to be maximized. McCoy is good enough to win as a 3-4 defensive end as Cameron Heyward does in Pittsburgh and Aaron Donald does in Los Angeles. Plus, in a 3-4, they can get away with Gholston being just a run stuffer; in a 4-3, they can’t; they have to ask him to do something he just isn’t good at (rushing the edge).

David and Alexander are good enough to play in the middle as the linebackers, and safety Justin Evans has shown he can play that Cover 3, single-high style that you need for a true aggressive 3-4 defense.

That’s what it ultimately comes down to, for me – aggression. This Buccaneers defense was soft. It was soft last year, it was soft in 2016 and it’s been soft since 2007.

Enough.

Shock the system, change it up and play like you want to win, not like you just want to get close.

That starts on the defensive side of the ball, and it starts up front, and there’s a player in this 2018 NFL Draft class who, if they bring in to a 3-4 defense, can make McCoy, McDonald and the rest of the front seven look at lot more playoff ready in a hurry.

Read who on the next page.

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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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FLBoy84

If I’m Licht and I’m looking at possibly being one and done I’m thinking option D. Taking Nelson at 7, trading back into the 1st using next yrs 1st and a 3rd this yr and grabbing Vea and then going RB in the 2nd.

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FLBoy84

Understand it wouldn’t be cheap, but if you’re Koetter and Licht, failure isn’t an option next year. Not sure it’s something I’d do, but if you could find the right partner and it didn’t hamstring the team too much going forward, do you make the deal?

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Nicholas Micciche

I like option D as well. Nelson/Chubb, Vea, and Michel would be an awesome draft haul, albeit wishful.

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surferdudes

I was wondering, Stevie T. really injured last year, or were the Bucs just red shirting him? If he had a legit injury, how’s he doing now? Cover one. Not only did Licht fail in bringing in talent, that talent was not used properly by the coaching staff. That’s a scary thought on many levels. Cover two. Vita won’t get past the Pats at the bottom of the first round. Cover three options. Who can we trade to get where we need to draft Vita?

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surferdudes

How’s Stevie doing? I liked what little I saw of him last year, do you see him in the team’s plan for next year? His draft highlight reel looked a like Vita’s does this year. Guy is hard to move in the middle. To bad he landed on I.R., he would’ve been better then Baker. That’s all mute when you consider what Licht paid Baker, what a lousy F.A. pick up.

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Ken Grant

Vea is still a brute that wins on strength and plays tall. Historically he is more likely to be Branch/Tuitt/Shelton than he is Ngota. Would far rather someone sudden with hands like Bryant or Payne.

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jerseybucsfan

Nelson/Chubb, Vea and Michel is a pipe dream. As for trading down with the Bills, the draft capital would be enormous in return. You’re talking multiple high picks, like maybe two 2s or a 2 and 3 this year and 3 next year.

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Ken Grant

With you. Nelson or Chubb and I’m thrilled. Most of the other options scare me.

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Dean

What about Arden Key at 7 (assuming Chubb is long gone)? Assuming the off field stuff checks out (hasn’t stopped Licht in the past) and his medical side looks good, he has a lot of talent as an EDGE guy in a 4-3 or 3-4. I think we can use FA to get a NT (someone like Poe) and that would solve a lot of problems.

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Ja'crispy

If Chubb is there at 7 I would go with Option A.
Rd1 DE Bradley Chubb
Rd2 DT Taven Bryan
Rd3 RB Rashaad Penny

If Chubb is gone id go with Option B
RDd1 DT Vita Vea
RD2 DE
RD2 CB
RD3 RB Rashaad Penny

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e

How about a trade down and picking up Da’ron Payne & Billy Price?

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JustaBuc

I like it. I say Payne dominating in the Georgia/Alabama game and I think he would do the same things we would want Vea to do.

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Brooks Dunn-Winston

I would trade down and take Da’Ron Payne. I prefer him to Vea and Wilkins.
Then in the 2nd pick up OT Braden Smith and DE Duke Ejiofor
In 3rd, Rashad Penny.

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SiegeTheBay

I would take Option A. Thanks for enlightening me on Vea because i knew very little about him as a player prior to this post Trevor. But I rather the chance at a stud guard or well rounded DE at the 7 spot rather than forgo the opportunity and possibly select a athletic space eater. If I was Licht for 72hrs I would: RELEASE – Chris Baker – Doug Martin – Robert Ayers – J.R. Sweezey RESTRUCTURE – William Gholston RE-SIGN – Clinton McDonald – Brent Grimes SIGN – Dion Lewis (RB) – Ansah/Lawrence (DE) (Make an incredible push for… Read more »

Horse

Vea looks a little too slow for me with his feet and reaction time.. I’m finally going to listen to what Licht has actually said as two priorities? DE, RB. I’m definitely for trading down to 21 or 22 spot or even as far down as to the Patriots position and pick up they’re two number twos which one of them is San Francisco’s. We would technically still have a number one and now three number twos. Patriots are going to have to seriously look for a QB to replace Brady in another year. Just my opinion. Rate this item:Thumb… Read more »

Destino102

Licht has a history of trading, then using the extra pick to move back up in a later round to get a guy they like. He even said so himself.

If Chubb is gone, I don’t see why Licht would stay at 7 and not move back a few picks to get the extra pick to use later. Especially if a QB slips to us at # 7.

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tnew

I like Vea… if he could be had and another pick acquired, that would be ideal. He brings swagger and attitude to a d-line that really needs it.

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Naplesfan

Stick with whoever is BPA at no. 7. Consider a trade up at no. 38.

None of this matters if we don’t fire Smith and Hay, hire competent replacements, and stop all the insane stunting by D-line.

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michael

I wholeheartedly agree that we should move to the 3-4. While the 4-3 can definitely work, and be dominant (obviously), from a schematic point of view I believe the 4-3 is inferior to the 3-4. It takes a lot more talent to run a 4-3 effectively than it does a 3-4. It’s very difficult to find the 4 down lineman for a 4-3 that can generate enough pass rush by themselves, and the linebackers have to be, generally really good in coverage. In a 3-4 you basically just need one disruptive Dlineman to play weakside DE. It’s not that difficult… Read more »

michael

Oh, and draft LINEMAN! That’s how you win.
and stop looking to FA to build a team, that’s what losers do.

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Brooks Dunn-Winston

Trevor, do you know what percentage of the time we were in 43 vs. 34?

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cgmaster27

hey guys

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cgmaster27

HAha I was checking my internet. Sometimes when I log onto this site and post something from google Chrome, it gives me an error, this time it didn’t. I do love the down vote there, gees people will down vote anything.

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cgmaster27

Another excellent cover three Trevor. I do think Chubbs will be there for us and that’s a no brainer. If he isn’t I’m all for trading back as well, but there’s so much grey area right now as free agency hasn’t set in and the Bucs absolutely have to be active there. Too many problems to fix in a draft. I am growing fond of the Nelson pick at 7 as well if we stay. Secondary is a big concern of mine as well.

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Jason Barker

I’ve been a long time advocate of shifting to the 3-4 defense. I think you can get a DT like Vea Power in the draft. So I’m looking to trade down and acquire some more picks, draft a DT or Rush OLB, then Michel in the 2nd, then back to the DL for rounds 3 and 4. Maybe OL or additional LBs in the 4-6. You can look to FA for DBs as a one year fix. Gotta use the draft for the trenches. I guess a DL like Star from the Panthers or Ziggy from Detroit if either of… Read more »

MudManVA

Trevor what about our Gator Taven Bryan? He was a beast all year.

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Charlie C

Trade down if Chubb is gone, get more picks, spend those 80% Dline, 20% other areas. Stay in 4-3, go with what you know best and do it better with more talent. Hard Knocks fooled me and a lot of other Bucs fans into thinking there was more talent on the team than there really was, especially on the defense. Hard to build a talent base if you fire everyone every two years.

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