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 of the Week
It had been a long year, one that couldn’t get over fast enough. Before that snap, you could see the entire season flash before your very eyes; Hard Knocks, the hurricane delay, the first win, the ensuing losses, Jameis Winston going down in the Cardinals game, no bye week, the frustration in the Super Dome, injuries, free agents busting. You could hear every press conference ringing in your ear. The disappointment, the hollow promises, the dejection. Not a single division win had been recorded. Heartbreak in Carolina at the last second on Christmas Eve, and the same in Green Bay in extra seconds.
We had all had enough. The players, the fans, the coaches, the media; we were done with 2017.
But we weren’t done yet.
On a first-and-10 on the Saints’ 39-yard line, with 15 seconds left in the 2017 season finale and trailing by a point, it happened.
Four-wide with running back Charles Sims to Winston’s right. New Orleans showed Cover 3 with a heavy blitz coming up the A-gap with both linebackers. Center Joe Hawley snapped the ball to Winston, who was in shotgun, but the linebackers dropped back into coverage instead. The pocket formed and the field was scanned. All the Bucs needed was 10 yards for a field goal. Sims was open on a release route up the middle; there it was. Winston had that pass, but his eyes saw something else. Without hesitation, Winston looked to his right, he saw the match-up, and he let it fly.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
The ball went up and as it came down, it was perfect. Right into the hands of the in-stride rookie receiver Chris Godwin.
Touchdown Tampa Bay; victory Tampa Bay.
You see, where that flashback story could have been highlighting quarterback Jameis Winston’s pass or head coach Dirk Koetter’s play call or the offensive line’s good work, none of those things were the main takeaway, for me. Yes, all of those things needed to happen at the right time, and they did. But, if you ask me, that play was Godwin’s highlight, because no other player on the field could have made that play. Not Mike Evans, who was being shadowed by star cornerback Marshon Lattimore, not Adam Humphries, who would not have been asked to run a vertical route like that, and not Cameron Brate, who likely would not have had the speed to breakaway from the defender to receive that pass in stride.
That final play of the season brought together a lot of the things we mentioned before, a lot of things that went into the Bucs forgettable 2017. But more memorably it also brought together and finalized a great rookie season for Godwin.
In a year that the Bucs’ main goal on offense was to “get more dynamic” they didn’t exactly live up to that in the passing game.
Winston’s shoulder being hurt did not help them, but the utilization of the players they had didn’t seem to pan out, when healthy, either. If you take out tight end O.J. Howard’s insane 16.6 yards per catch average, Godwin finished the season with the next highest efficiency rating per catch. If you’ll notice, Godwin also had the longest play of any receiver at 70 yards. Godwin wasn’t suppose to have that much of a role in 2017 with such a deep receiver pool on the roster, but he did. You know why? Because he’s that damn good, and it was obvious midway through the season that experience was the only thing standing in his way.
Godwin got off to a slow start in 2017 with just eight catches and 83 yards in his first eight games. But, as the opportunities came, Godwin took them and never looked back recording 26 catches for 442 yards in the second half of the season, trailing only Evans in total yards.
Godwin got his chance to shine due to injuries to many and a suspension to Evans last year, but going into 2018, it seems as though injuries to other players won’t be in the way of Godwin getting “starter” reps. At least, that’s what his offensive coordinator Todd Monken thinks.
“I see him as a starter,” Monken said. “That’s how I see it. He’s earned the right to be a starter. Whether it works out that way or not, I don’t know. But he’s earned the right, finished the year that way … Whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it well, and he’s only going to continue to get better. Why? Because he’s big, he’s fast, he’s physical, he’s smart. He’s going to continue to develop and it’s important to him. He takes care of his body, does it exactly the way you want.”
A starter, huh? Well, what does that mean? I mean, Evans isn’t going anywhere. Does that mean Godwin is going to start taking reps from DeSean Jackson?
Bucs WR DeSean Jackson – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Let’s look at some numbers.
In 2017, Jackson averaged 13.4 yards per catch, a career-low for him, versus Godwin’s 15.4 average. Jackson also recorded just 1.53 yards accumulated per route run, another career-low, while Godwin finished his season with a 2.04 average. In yards after the catch, Jackson finished with a 3.8 average, you guessed it, another career-low, and Godwin ended with a 5.1 average. Finally, Jackson’s longest play of the year was for 41 yards, yep, a career-low, and Godwin, as we know, recorded the team-best 70-yard play late in the season at Carolina.
Jackson will be 32 years old coming off one of the worst seasons of his career while Godwin will be a decade younger and coming off a pleasantly surprising rookie campaign. But, are the numbers as damning to Jackson’s role as a starter and as boastful to Godwin’s case as one as it seems? Is Godwin really ready to overtake such a role from one of the best deep threat players to play the game over the last decade?
On the next page, we dive into Godwin’s film to answer those questions.