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

About 24 hours after the Buccaneers 24-17 win over the Carolina Panthers, I figured I’d be writing this Cover 3 about Buccaneers safety Andrew Adams. After all, he did have three interceptions in the game, one of the only a very few players to accomplish such a feat in the last five years. I figured he would be the storyline and he would be the main focus.

But then I went back to the game film and after watching the coach’s film back a few times, I realized that the story here wasn’t really just about Adams, it was about all of it. It was about a defense reborn.

It was about Mark Duffner.

We’ve written about Duffner, the Bucs interim defensive coordinator, plenty over the last few weeks, but this game against the Carolina Panthers was his crowning achievement for many reasons. For one, it capped off a few statistics.

After finishing dead last in the NFL the previous year, and being in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks to start the season, since Duffner has taken over, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are second in the league in sacks (a seven week period of time) – the lone team in front of them is the one they face this upcoming weekend in the New Orleans Saints.

In the first six weeks of the season, the Buccaneers were minus-29 in the point differential. Now, with an improved defense, they’ve been nearly even in the last seven weeks. Over their last four home games, the Buccaneers defense is holding teams to just 16.25 points per game, where on the road they are surrendering an average of 39. Though it seems that they’re having difficulty bringing their show on the road, their improvement at home shows promise – a lot more promise than it did before.

Former Bucs DC Mike Smith and current Bucs coach Mark Duffner - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Former Bucs DC Mike Smith and current Bucs coach Mark Duffner – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

And that’s really where the main theme in all of this comes in, and that is that this is not Smith’s defense anymore; this group has potential.

The Buccaneers defense isn’t just playing better, they’re playing different. I don’t even mean that they’re lining up different or that the players’ roles are different (we’ll get to that more on the next page). They’re just playing different.

As I watched last Sunday’s game from the press box, I not only saw a scheme that was built to go out and be aggressive and win (not playing scared like I was used to seeing under Smith), I saw players play with a fire and focus like I haven’t seen in a long time.

I hate to say it, but with this Buccaneers franchise, even in times it would win and I would hear a player or a coach give a fiery speech at the end of the game, I would always appreciate it, but I never really believed it would make a difference. Ten years of watching a losing team with hundreds of players and many different coaches will do that to you.

But this time, when I saw the coaches and players talk to each other and get each other pumped up, it actually did something. They actually believed it. I think that’s all on taking the identity of Duffner, their new defensive coordinator.

The Buccaneers are still near the bottom of the NFL in many of the major statistical categories when it comes to yards and points given up for the year, but after two games where quarterback Jameis Winston remained turnover-free, and all that pounding of the table for turnovers has come to fruition, the Buccaneers are currently plus-five in that category in the last two games. In fact, their four-sack, four-turnover game last week was a great indication that it’s not just one area having better luck; it really is the entire defense elevating and creating opportunities and stops together.

Under Smith, the Buccaneers gave up 16 touchdowns and and had just one takeaway in five games. Under Duffner, they have just 12 touchdowns given up and six takeaways in seven games. Under Smith, the Bucs had one of the worst third down defenses in the NFL (fluctuated between 29th and dead last). Under Duffner over the last seven weeks, even on the road, they’re the third-best third down defense in the league.

What might be even more impressive than the stats themselves are the players that Duffner is recording them with. No Kwon Alexander. No Kendell Beckwith. A beat-up, 30-year old Gerald McCoy. A hurt Lavonte David. An injured Jason Pierre-Paul. A hobbling Justin Evans. None of the team’s top three cornerbacks last week.

Bucs DBs Andrew Adams, De'Vante Harris, Javien Elliott and Jordan Whitehead - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs DBs Andrew Adams, De’Vante Harris, Javien Elliott and Jordan Whitehead – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

I mean, for goodness sake, after Evans went out at halftime the Bucs didn’t have a single defensive back who was a starter for this team – or any team – in Week 1. It was virtually practice squad guys and guys they found on the street.

But perhaps, as my colleague Mark Cook said, maybe that was a good thing. Maybe playing guys who haven’t been tainted by Smith’s conservative, too-safe, risk-adverse defensive approach was what this team needed. These new guys have been able to come in with fresh mentalities and don’t know anything in Tampa Bay other than what Duffner is teaching them.

Winning football.

It’s a crazy concept, right? Coach your guys to be creative and aggressive and you’ve got a chance. This is why PewterReport.com called for Smith to be fired and replaced by Duffner during the bye week. And as crazy as it is to type this, that’s what the Bucs have against the high-powered Saints – a chance.

On the defensive side, it’s because of Duffner.

Share On Socials

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]
Subscribe
Notify of
40 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Buc stops here
Buc stops here
3 years ago

A much more simple way to look at it – is the simplification and the blitzes that are being called now rather than the four man rush that Bucs had under Smith. Apparently, they are finding ways in blitz situations to get to the QB fast enough to make them make mistakes or take a sack. It was something Smith was not willing to do but Duffer is with nothing to lose. Saints will be a huge challenge to make this work again this week, but it might just do it. It will take error free football with Winston and… Read more »

cgmaster27
cgmaster27
3 years ago

This defense is night and day different with duffner at the helm. Some said it wouldn’t make a difference whos calling plays but its proven that it has. Duffner is much more aggressive and doesnt jave his his playing 10 yards off. Like smith was the weakest link on this staff, followed closely by Warhop. As for koetter I give him credit for firing his buddy but mike smith should’ve never even been brought back. He had one good 5 game stretch in 2 years and it cost us game after game. Koetter has had to make some tough choices… Read more »

Horse
Horse
3 years ago

Good article Trevor.

Horse
Horse
3 years ago

Let’s see what happens I two more games.

Pete Wood
Pete Wood
3 years ago

Bucs have the number one offense in the league for the entire season. The last seven games we have a top ten defense.
And, our new kicker is perfect.
The Bucs do not need to fire anyone. Y’all, things are going to get a lot worse if we clean house.
If we keep the current staff, we’ll be a playoff team next year.

nitey
nitey
3 years ago

I think Koetter has made a couple of good decisions this year, and a few not so good ones. Handing the playing calling over to Monken was a good decision, taking it back for that one game was a bad one. But he learned from it and gave it back the next week. He DID stay with Smith too long IMO. After the Chicago game, it was clear that Smith didn’t have any answers and he should have made the move at the bye week, but I can understand why he gave Smith one further game. Hindsight is always 100%.… Read more »

tiapanda
tiapanda
3 years ago

I didn’t think there was any chance of Koetter being here next season, but Duffner may just save all their jobs. Except for Warhop. He has to go, as does whoever coaches the ST

Buc76
Buc76
3 years ago

Beating a garbage 49ers team and a Panthers team on a losing streak means little. Let’s see what happens the next 3 games. That will tell the story. I would bet we’re 5-10 after that and all of these people will be gone. too little too late. The Glazers cannot go into 2019 with this regime if they want to sell tickets. If they win out maybe its a different story but that not going to happen. Saints are coming off 11 days rest. we already beat them. No way they lose this Sunday and go 0-2 to the Bucs

chefboho
chefboho
Reply to  Buc76
3 years ago

It’s any given Sunday in this league buddy, just ask the colts who lost to a jags team that had lost seven in a row. So tired of the excuses some of you come up with when this team wins. It’s laughable at this point. What are you going to say if they beat the saints??…. “well the saints had lost the week before and were on a losing streak?” Lol smdh

scubog
scubog
Reply to  chefboho
3 years ago

You’re right about that Chef. They’re all ready to mark their asterisk beside the W.

e
e
3 years ago

I just caught myself looking at playoff scenarios on NFL.com… Crazy.

TheBaron70
TheBaron70
3 years ago

I freakin agonize over whether or not Koetter should be fired. Some days I think yes, others I think no. It’s pretty evident that this team has the horses to win football games against good teams. Just look at last week’s game. It’s also pretty evident that we need better coaching in specific areas of the game if this team is going to be consistent winner. My opinion is that if Koetter refuses to lose Warhop, he’s gotta go. That’s a given. I also think he’s go to go if he gets blown out in any of the remaining games.… Read more »

nitey
nitey
Reply to  TheBaron70
3 years ago

The biggest reason I wasn’t on the bandwagon this year about this team was the coaching staff, particularly Smith and Warhop, but especially Warhop. Both were given one more year than they should have gotten. While I kinda/sorta see why Koetter decided to keep Smith, Warhop should have been given his walking papers. The offensive line has talent and he hasn’t got anything out of it. Additionally he’s responsible for the running game and that’s been a bust this year as well.

EricNV
EricNV
3 years ago

If the Bucs win out, or get to 8-8, I think the decision to stay the course with Koetter and Licht is an easy one for the Glazers. The tough decision for them is if the Bucs win only 1 or 2 more games. Will the team have shown enough improvement in the post-Smith era to justify keeping one or both men? I’m not going to hope for a playoff spot just yet, though. I just want to continue seeing this team improve week-to-week first. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again. I like what I’m seeing… Read more »

MudManVA
MudManVA
3 years ago

Nice article Trevor- 2nd guessing & hindsight are luxury for fans & publications have. I remember when Smith was considered a top HC candidate a couple years ago. When the BUCS resigned Smith as DC PR came out and wrote that the best FA pick up was resiging Smith. Oh how wrong PR & some fans were. Off with their heads!!! Can’t be wrong The last 1 1/2 years with smith many would argue that lack of D impact players, injuries, depth, and offensive turnovers was the Achilles heel to the defense. I’m sure Koetter & Licht questioned whether it… Read more »

Pete Wood
Pete Wood
Reply to  MudManVA
3 years ago

Smith looked like a genius when he strung together five improbable victories in November and December, 2016 against the likes of the Saints, Chiefs, and Seahawks. Signing him the next year seemed like a no brainer.
What ever happened to that Mike Smith?

MudManVA
MudManVA
3 years ago

Players left. Timing of the change is hard to scrutinize.

Still amazing to everyone that Smith was that bad. Maybe NFL teams knew smith and no tape on Duffners D. Adjustments coming? We’ll see

Go Bucs

surferdudes
3 years ago

Although H.C.’s get to pick their staffs, Licht needs to take responsibility for letting Smith remain D.C. so long, and still sticking with Warhop. He has the power to hire, and fire, had he said after last season we need a better D.C. even if he thought it was Duffner he should’ve pulled the trigger. What was Koetter going to do quit in protest if his bud was fired? Koetter has been way to slow making decisions that need to be made. The guy has been scrambling all year. They stuck with Martin to long, should of given D Jax… Read more »

BucRy
BucRy
3 years ago

Ahhh, Trevor always comes through with a great article.

Bucsfan1983
Bucsfan1983
3 years ago

This is a playoff team, if Mike Smith was fired in January 2017. No doubt.

BucRy
BucRy
3 years ago

Part of the reason why I still think Koetter should be gone is because he truly thought Mike Smith wasn’t a problem for the defense..I remember him defending him earlier this year saying that firing him wouldn’t do anything..guess koetter was wrong again huh? I’m still on the fence with Koetter..the team seems love him, sometimes the team shows great potential under him and other times not…trouble with play calling, stupid challenge flag error, or any other boneheaded mistakes he makes..I’m just not sold on koetter.

Bucfannomatter
Bucfannomatter
3 years ago

“The Killer Tomatoes!!!”

tnew
tnew
3 years ago

I wanted Koetter out after last season.. and I still do because of decisions like this. Leaving Mike Smith in during the bye week was inexcusable. I realise ATL was next but it has been long enough to go with the familiarity excuse. No plays from the 20, that attempt vs ATL still bothers me two challenges without being able to the mishandling of the Winston suspension (he wasn’t the first coach to do this, but he put his own spin on it) taking over play calling vs Washington (this should’ve been enough) Sticking with Fitzception hoping foir Fitzmagic for… Read more »

Buc-n-Philly Fan
Buc-n-Philly Fan
Reply to  tnew
3 years ago

I really think you are on to something with the ” Coordinators showed up after Koetter quit”. I whole hardedly agree with that and had not really recognized that perspective.

Well thought out!

BucRy
BucRy
Reply to  tnew
3 years ago

I mentioned koetter’s defeated look on his face too a few weeks back, good point you bring up.

fl0nase
fl0nase
Reply to  tnew
3 years ago

I agree with tnew’s comments above and specifically what the inaction early in the season has cost the Bucs. There’s no running game and nothing thus far to really effectively evaluate talent for next year based on how poorly the whole unit has played. We have to make a decision on Donovan Smith this offseason and without a real sense of what player he is with effective coaching. Warhop needs to be fired no matter what happens in the offseason. I’m willing to give the staff another shot if they win 3 of the remaining 4 games. Which is a… Read more »

drdneast
drdneast
3 years ago

surferdudes, are there two of you or do you have multiple personalities. Sometimes you write some very insightful viewpoints and then you offer up a real Debbie Downer like today. MudManVa, you hit it dead on with that comment about Smith after his first year. tnew, where do you get this bizarre idea that Kotter quit the team. I have a strong feeling you have been listening to WDAE and the knockleheads on there. Are you aware they have just about as much experience and insight when dealing with the NFL as the hot dog vendor down the street. The… Read more »

MCBRICKEL
MCBRICKEL
3 years ago

Coach K is no different than a 2nd year player as head coach of an NFL team. Fans expect, or should I say pay for perfection, which is rarely obtainable in any endeavor. Periodic setbacks are part of the game, but as long as there is continual improvement in his game management and the team does not quit on him he would seem to be growing into the position. Winston must continue his improved decision making, ball security and maturity, as he was the foundation for the selection of Coach K. He alone holds the key to Coach K’s future… Read more »

4girls
4girls
3 years ago

Great article, as always, Trevor. It’s HIGHLY unlikely the Bucs get to 9-7 (obviously). New Orleans is super good and has had a mini-bye week after a devastating loss vs Dallas. They will be pissed about week 1. We have to play at Dallas and Baltimore against very tough defenses and a highly mobile Ravens QB and Zeke and Amari Cooper in Dallas. Atlanta won’t be easy either. BUT, if the Bucs are in each game. If they are close; IF they improve their play (especially defensively) on the road, I think Koetter and Licht come back. Obviously, Duffner stays… Read more »

Ron Potter
Ron Potter
3 years ago

Good reading, Trevor. Looking forward to the Saints game and a matchup against their offense. There’s definitely more hope in this defense coached by Duffner!

surferdudes
3 years ago

Drd, the 49ers are a bad team. They just got their brains beat in again by Seattle. If you want to give the Bucs props for that win go ahead. The Panthers lost four in a row coming in, and with four turnovers only lost by a score. Now we find out Cam has a bum shoulder much like what we saw out of Winston last year when he was hurt. I’m not being a downer, I’m being a realist. I don’t believe they beat N.O., Balt, or Dallas, and it wouldn’t shock me if they lost to Atl, although… Read more »

cobraboy
cobraboy
3 years ago

Scheming was certainly different against the Kitties.

After getting gashed in the first quarter by McCaffrey, Duffner had one or two spies almost every play, one on McCaffrey and the other on Olsen or Newton.

That made Newton hold the ball longer than he wanted allowing pressure to get to him.

I haven’t seen that since Brooks spied on Vick.

drdneast
drdneast
3 years ago

well surferdude, I tend to agree with you if they finish with 5 or 6 wins but I don’t speculate on such things till the end of the season. I don’t know if they come out with a win against the Saints this week but if they do, that certainly changes a lot of things. I believe the key to beating the Saints is the way the hated Cowboys did. Apply lots of pressure up the middlet, don’t let him step up into the pocket and get him off his spot and make him move. I love Drew Brees when… Read more »

seat26
seat26
3 years ago

Great Article. Totally agree. Duffner needs to stay on. Todd Monken too. That last one might be difficult. He is going to get some calls after this Season. Bucs may have to offer him a sweet deal. Both of them.

SenileSenior
SenileSenior
3 years ago

I really like Koetter as a coach and as a human being. I do not know the man intimately of course. Like all of you I make a judgment based on what I see and what I think I know in general. I have been going round and round, back and forth with my own opinion of whether Koetter should be given another year. Today , December 4th, I listened the Commish on his podcast. He said some things that have made me finally come to a decisive conclusion. They were in regards to the overall patterns of the recent… Read more »

scubog
scubog
3 years ago

Trevor is spot on with his observation that the Defense was playing “differently”. From my perch, the youngsters were out there having fun and playing with a bit of swagger. A trait that has been somewhat lacking since the Colts game in 2003. How Dirk Koetter and Duffner have achieved this with the collection of basically wannabees playing the back seven is incredible and deserves our applause. Surely the Glazers recognize this too. As someone said, the Offense has been near the top of the league, even with the turnovers, and a Defense that, at least the first half of… Read more »

matador
matador
3 years ago

If coach K keeps his job it will because of two things – Winston not reverting to his old form AND the desire to keep Duf running the D. I’d be fine with that but Licht still absolutely must go. If you don’t believe that take the time to pull up each of his drafts, look who he selected and look at the areas he neglected. I’m open to a fact-based review of our draft history proving me wrong. FA has also been a problem but that’s always an area where it’s hard to really hit more than 1-2x a… Read more »

mbob
mbob
3 years ago

It’s great that they are winning. I get it. But I wonder if it was the “fantastic defense” or just how poorly Cam played. Overthrows, forcing the ball into coverage, missing check downs. Go back and watch the first video and there clearly are two guys open underneath and Cam forced the ball to his target. On another note, they now have a kicker that so far understands the ball goes between the yellow posts. And I actually watched Jamies take a sack against CAR and though, wow what a great sack. Instead of just heaving it downfield, he actually… Read more »

Bucfannomatter
Bucfannomatter
3 years ago

Ok….let’s get real. Just on the principle that Koetter did not fire Smith on the whistle of week 16 last year, is grounds for dismissal. Period. Endgame. We had to endure another wasted season, because why? Loyalty? F him. He’s a terrible coach, and we can keep spinning our wheels if that’s what you all want. Same conversation next year at this time. 4-7. 3-8. no matter. He is NOT good. CLEAN HOUSE, please. GM… everything. Start over. This is going nowhere. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never. Get rid of them all. Winston as well. Start again. Look into the… Read more »

Bucfannomatter
Bucfannomatter
3 years ago

Our defense was LAST in the LEAGUE last year. In just about… EVERYTHING. Well… no surprise…we were still there, up until about 2 weeks ago. Fire this whole bunch of nitwits, and let’s MOVE ON. Just sayin. They suck. No willing or wishing, is going to make the last three years go away. None. Terrible coach. Terrible GM. That’s it. Twist and turn all the stories you want. This organization is a complete shame. BLOW IT UP, and START OVER. It is what it is right now, but please… stop the pattern of stupidity. As Einstein said in his definition… Read more »