Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Bucs 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

I need a hero 
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero” – Bonnie Tyler

It was truly – and I really do mean truly – pathetic. Just 22 sacks? All season? In 16 games during the 2017 season … only 22 sacks? I could have sworn the Bucs were going to break a record for the lowest amount of sacks by a team in NFL history, but that record is actually just 10 sacks by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. However, in the moment, it still felt like it was as bad as it could get.

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy led the team in sacks with six and fellow defensive tackle Clinton McDonald recorded five, but outside of them, no one Buccaneer had more than 2.5. If the sheer lack of numbers wasn’t enough, there were fans out there who were actually calling for Buccaneer legend Simeon Rice, who had retired from the game eight years prior, to suit up for the team and try to lead the team in sacks.

Can you believe that? The Bucs’ defensive pressure was so non-existent that they weren’t just asking for an aging, retired veteran or a guy off the street or even a look towards next year’s free agency class. They were convincing themselves that a 43-year-old pass rusher would have been better than anything they currently had to watch.

The Bucs can never go back to that place.

Legendary Bucs DE Simeon Rice
Legendary Bucs DE Simeon Rice – Photo by: Getty Images

Though it felt like an all-time low, the Bucs have never really been a team known for applying the pressure. In franchise history, Lee Roy Selmon, Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice are the top three men for sacks with 78.5, 77 and 69.5 sacks, respectively, and McCoy comes next with 54.5. But after him there isn’t a single player over 35 sacks, and there are only two who have more than 30. Heck, cornerback Ronde Barber is their seventh-leading sacker with 28.

The following season things did improve after defensive line coach Jay Hayes was fired, which PewterReport.com called for. In 2018, the Bucs amassed 38 sacks, which was right around middle of the road for NFL teams. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul finally broke the double-digit sack drought left by Rice before he retired with 12.5 sacks, while Carl Nassib recorded 6.5 and McCoy once again recorded six. A much better group at the top, but after those three there wasn’t much reliability.

New defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is here to change that in Tampa Bay.

But Bowles can’t do it alone; he needs a hero.

It would make all this a lot easier if there were stats to support that wherever Bowles was throughout his NFL coaching career, sacks numbers increased, or were at least pretty high. But that’s not the case at all. In 2012, as defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, Bowles’ defense tied for 25th in the league with 30 sacks. In 2013 and 2014 with the Arizona Cardinals, under head coach Bruce Arians, they were tied for sixth the first year with 47, but then 24th the next year with 35. During his four-year tenure as head coach with the New York Jets, Bowles’ teams recorded 39, 27, 28 and 39 sacks, respectively.

Over the least seven seasons, it hasn’t been as easy as “Bowles makes front pressure better” no matter what. But, in his best seasons, there has been a common factor. In his 47-sack season with Arizona, Bowles had edge rusher John Abraham record 11.5 sacks. Without Abraham the following year, Alex Okafor led the team from the same position but with eight sacks. In his first 39-sack season with the Jets, Bowles saw edge rusher Muhammad Wilkerson record 12 sacks. And, in his final 39-sack season, he saw a pair of seven-sack players in Jordan Jenkins and Henry Anderson lead the team from the edge rushing spot.

The common denominator in Bowles’ best years? An emphasized edge rusher.

Now, this can sort of be a “duh” moment, as every team would obviously like to have a top edge rusher – a guy capable of getting double-digit sacks. This is why these players are so coveted in the draft. But I think it is important to make sure that it’s known because there has been all this talk of versatility up front and A-gap pressure with linebackers over the past few months. All of that plays a role into creating pressure, but, at the end of the day, Bowles, like many defensive masterminds, needs a stud on the edge.

He needs a hero.

Who could that hero be? Jason Pierre-Paul.

I have absolutely no idea how far along Pierre-Paul’s injured neck is in his recovery from his car crash this summer. His timetable was originally set for him to return somewhere between October and November after electing to not have surgery. I don’t know what the status of this team will be by then when it comes to a potential playoff push. But I do know that if he comes back and they’re still in it, that’s when we’ll see Bowles defense achieve its top form.

Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul - Photo by: Mary Holt/PR
Bucs DE Jason Pierre-Paul – Photo by: Mary Holt/PR

On Monday, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said there was no update on Pierre-Paul’s status and there’s also no need for him to be at the team’s facility during his rest and recovery period.

“No, because he knows how to rush the passer and that’s all he’s going to do,” Arians said.

But Bowles needs a hero now. The Bucs can’t wait for JPP to be their only savior. If they hold out hope that long without one, they likely won’t make it long enough for his return to even matter. Someone on this team has to step up and take claim to the outside linebacker position that Bowles has found success with in his 3-4 defense throughout his career as a defensive coordinator.

Just who might that initial hero be? We dive into that 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: [email protected]

33 COMMENTS

  1. Bucs have enough pass rushers for now, but it is a process. At some point the Bucs will acquire a blue chip rusher as that is what Arians and Bowles emphasize when looking for talent to build a team But it is year 1 and the Bucs will probably roll with what they have for now.

    But even with the possible return of JPP I would not be surprised if the Bucs trade for a pass rusher or even sign one before the season starts. But I think it is a telling sign so far that the Bucs have not signed another pass rusher since the start of training camp and the conclusion of training camp. Barrett, Spence, Nassib, Huguening and Bond are more than enough for now.

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  2. Pre season has been encouraging for pass rushers this far. Just hard to say when season starts will it be enough. If they have no more injuries and Vea gets back for game 1 then I say they will be at least average in sacks. If JPP gets in the mix could be quite good. Will be fun to watch for sure. Much more attacking style than that lame ass defense Smith ran.

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    • Yeah right now it looks like this:

      LEO – Spence
      JACK – Barrett
      BUCK – Nassib

      Spence playing in space and using his speed in wide 9 is going to be fun to watch. Barrret is nimble enough to fly around in coverage but also rush the passer/run support. And then Nassib has the power to mix it up in the trenches on the inside or outside.

      All that is left is for these young guys is to go out and prove it on the field.

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    • Will be fun to watch for sure. I love the Bucs’ but they aren’t coming out of the tunnel and crushing the 34 game 1. This reminds me of ’96. Better coaching w/ a new D scheme. Reality football fans, we are going to see something this season.

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  3. To be honest trev we need everybody on deck for this defense to rush the pass effectively especially in this division the QBs are tough brees and matt can kill you with there arms cam with his feet . i feel like we might give up alot of screen plays. Nassib hand in the dirt spence and barrett leo and jack . we need everybody on the field that can rush the passer . so it would be vea goldson n nassib hand in the dirt barrett spence on edge. Jpp could take the defense over the top if he comes back. Trev im worried about Donovan smith he hasn’t looked good have you been watching him.
    Thanks for the nice cover 3 i love your break down of the game.

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    • I agree. They need a guy at the top, but they definitely need any and all contributions to show up.

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  4. Because of injuries I don’t see any players on this team except Suh who can effectively play in the 3-4.
    Spence, Gholston, JPP, you are wasting your time trying to convince yourself they would be effective.

    Once again I hope in 2020 draft we draft DL/OL in rounds 1 & 2.

    We seriously should trade a player or two to get some DL/OL help for this season.

    One day I hope to be positive about this team can be an 8-8 team. We aren’t there yet. Why? We are weak at the DL/OL positions.

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    Rating: -20. From 26 votes.
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    • I do not see it that way.

      Vea and Gholston are clearly better suited for a 3-4 defense. Vea, Gholston and Suh are the starters with Ledbetter and Nacho as the backups.

      Spence is a classic LEO as that is how the Seattle Seahawks used Frank Clark lined up in Wide 9. Nassib has experience playing in a 3-4 and Barrett will make the adjustment as well since has played in Wade Phillips’ one gap 3-4 defense. Bucs are a young stud pass rushing BUCK from being a complete front seven for a 3-4. JPP can be the BUCK but injury history and age is against him long term. Barrett is the better JACK than Nassib because he is more comfortable in coverage and playing the run. But Nassib makes up for it with his massive size.

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    • Alldaway 2.0. I said right now because of injuries. We really don’t know when Via is coming back and I did not list him as an issue.

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      • Understood your point but Allen is a proven NFL caliber NT so I think the Bucs are fine with their DL depth.

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        • Alldaway 2.0; I hear you about Allen but what has he done for us to say that he’s a solid defensive lineman?
          I hope I am so wrong and we go to the playoffs; that would be sweet.
          that’s a wish though and not reality at this point in time.

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  5. I believe this whole team is better suited for a 3/4 don’t sleep on our players I know they didn’t look good in the past years but I’m telling you the coaches didn’t put them in the best position to succeed . to me nassib is better then gholston n should start over him none of the pass rushers should be coming off the bench in my opinion and nassib does both.

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  6. If Vea comes back, we should have a good pass rush. If David returns and White turns out to be the stud they say he is, we’ll be fine. And of course, we get to the season without losing any more starters

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  7. If Vea comes back and plays and JPP neck fixes and he come back, and if White shows he can play which in first 2 games he has “not”! and with addition of Suh and we hope the 2 rookies in backfield can get up to speed quickly we should be every bit as good as we were last year on defense.

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    • LMAO here BAB. That’s a lot of IF’s you talkin about.

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  8. Until we see them play an entire half of football, I think it’s premature to say either way what our stock on pass rushers looks like. Cleveland’s OL will be a good test for Bowles’ defense, and their defensive line will be a huge test for our OL.

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  9. Horse not sure what your talking about? Spence is made for 3-4 bro. Your post doesn’t make any sense really to me. Gholston is fine too in what he will be asked to do.

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    • Yep, Gholston, Vea, and Suh are our DL starters and there is no weak man among them.

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    • Fredster, this game stay focused on either one of them and see how much they really do. Spence is manhandled most times and he can’t go to his left. Gholston, for the multiple millions he is receiving yearly, is just another average run stuffer; we can pay someone else to do that and use the money on other players; he is grossly being overpaid.

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  10. I wish Josh Allen was available at our pick. Oh wait……

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  11. Once again This Buc team starts the season with..IF’s And prayers. With no concrete Ohh yeah’s along the Defensive line. After all that slow motion, no motion, no sack performance of last year. You’d think..we would have gone all out to shore that weakness up. We shall see. I cannot wait. All other areas seem to look pretty good Except the D line. And that can hurt a team Badly. Biggest coaching staff in the NFL.For now, I’ll stick with my..8-8 prediction. We should..Beat the 9ers first game. Notice I said…SHOULD. Nothing is ever guaranteed with this team.

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    • The problem on Defense last year wasn’t the lack of a pass rush. It was clearly the lack of any kind of coverage on the back end. Receivers came off the line so cleanly all the QB had to do was throw it before the pass rush had a chance. Rarely saw the passer waiting too long for a play to develop.

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  12. I’m STILL miffed 16 years later that the idiot writers voted Dexter Jackson the MVP of the Super Bowl instead of Rice. And what’s the holdup with putting Rice in the Ring of Honor where he belongs…

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    • Totally agree. Rice set the tone.

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  13. News Flash just in
    Jason Licht may not be as Sexy as Joe Namath in 1967 ,But the Glazer family has just named Jason licht most beautiful man in the world for 2019
    at 48 this hunk to receive the Glazer Family Most beautiful man alive award , which was announced just after they named him General manager of the year again for 2019
    and a fresh new 5 year contract with raise.

    In reaction Jason said he’s “really happy with with these awards My mommy is going to be very, very proud.” Jason flashed a shy smile at pewter report camaras flexed his bicep and thanked the Pewter Report for their years of positive reporting.

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    • …..what?

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      Rating: +4. From 4 votes.
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    • Just when one thinks your juvenile remarks couldn’t get any more ridiculous you come out with this. Why don’t you just be yourself Bob and stop trying to exaggerate your fake on-line persona? After a while your material becomes stale.

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      Rating: +4. From 4 votes.
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  14. From watching film of Nelson in College he would make a good Jack once he is healthy and trained for it. He was strong enough to bull rush OTs so he can probably work inside and has good rush moves.

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  15. First off, these young players couldn’t pick JPP out of a line up. I mean that in they don’t even know what he looks like, since he hasn’t been at the facility. How can this new defense, new players, new coaches miss someone who hasn’t been here? Is he a buck, a leo? Right now he’s an aging vet with a broken neck. Can he cover? I guess, gonna be hard catching a ball with three fingers bandaged on one hand. Thinking JPP is going to come in and be a hero this year is like wishing to win the lotto. Fat chance. Cut him, and use that cap savings NOW before the season starts to find some talent. By the time JPP could be ready, it might already be to late.

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    Rating: +5. From 9 votes.
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    • Still think that JPP will be playing for Buc’s between game 1 and 4 of the regular season. His NFI allowed him to control his own treatment and not get the constant checks with the team physicians. Once he starts missing game checks, he may well play. Right now he has just missed OTA’s, training camp and preseason games. He has never seemed to like practice.

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  16. Broncos fan and Buc troll DumbAss has vomited again, Twice. Mom must not have hot plated the Thrifty Maid Tomato Soup long enough.

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  17. None of us can predict the future of this defense, but I have no doubt it’ll be better than the past few seasons. Some people may point out that Bowles failed as the Jets HC.. okay, so? He’s proved to be successful as a D coordinator and that’s what he’s been hired here to do. It’s unfortunate JPP is out, as he’s by far out best pass rusher… but I have a good feeling about Nassib. I’m just eager to see all the starters play for an extended period of time.

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  18. I think if the Bucs really want this defense to blossom they need to find a way to trade and pay Jadeveon Clowney. Its a bold move but that is what this team needs now. They have enough offense; now it is time to to get the defense up to par and Clowney in this defense is a game changer!!!!

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