Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by’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.

… But, as many of you would know if this isn’t your first time reading the Cover 3 column, sometimes I switch things up to make sure I’m getting you all the info you need. That’s what we’re doing this week as this Cover 3 will be a double All Twenty-Tuesday column, as we go in-depth on the performances of Bucs running back Doug Martin and rookie safety Justin Evans, who were both making their first starts of the season. I know Martin didn’t technically “start,” but we all know the real story.

All Twenty-Tuesday: Doug Martin

It was a long-awaited return for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ franchise running back.

After missing the final game of 2016, having to go through the 2017 training camp with limited reps, and on top of all that, missing an extra week of football due to the rescheduled bye week, Martin looked to be at his old self last Thursday night in Tampa Bay’s 19-14 loss to New England – in the best way.

Martin technically didn’t start the game because he wasn’t out there for the first snap. However, he finished the game leading the team in carries (13) and rushing yards (74). His 5.7 yards per carry average was well above the team’s previous average over the three games it played without him, and his 17-yard run was the second-longest run of the season by a Bucs running back.

Martin not only looked fresh, but you could just see that he brought something different to the running game; an edge or style that they didn’t have before all in one back.

Here’s what that looked like.

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First let’s talk about usage.

The play above is actually of running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who started the game. As you watch the play unfold, look at how much space he had over the middle as a receiving option, and yet, quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t see him; he was focused outside.

Back in 2015, when Martin last had a 1,000-yard season, not only was he second in the NFL in rushing, but he also caught the seventh-most passes for running backs with at least 200 carries. So, it’s safe to say that when trusted as the main back, Martin was not only given his looks in terms of carries, but for catches, too. In a more comfortable – and more calm Winston – scenario, Martin could have been the one to get the ball there, which would have been an easier throw.

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On the throw above we saw that same sort of scenario, this time with Martin, but we saw the rust once again, this time with a throw.

Winston was the quarterback when Martin last had his big year as a receiver and a runner, and though Winston has evolved in many ways as a passer, that doesn’t mean he was to totally move past some of the easy stuff. Having good chemistry to get the ball to a talented receiving back in space isn’t the same sort of negative check down narrative as it can be in other instances. Sometimes it’s the safe and right throw to get some yards and keep a series or a drive going in the right direction.

That’s one way I think Martin can still contribute in a little way that turns out to be a big way. But, that will only come with time as the lead back – and a better throw from Winston.

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Zone blocking is something the Bucs didn’t do a lot of with Jacquizz Rodgers as the lead back, and that’s because of the type of back he is. Rodgers makes his money on being a physical, north-south runner. I like backs like that. He’s a good player to have on the roster, but he’s certainly not as dynamic as a guy like Martin.

A zone blocking scheme often involves a bit of controlled chaos. Offensive linemen have an idea of who they’re going to block as they take their first step either right or left, as opposed to just straight forward for a push. However, you don’t really know which defender is going to be there until you move. This forces a ball carrier to have some quick reactions. When he does, you see plays like the one above.

Rodgers may be just as good at being physical and Charles Sims might be just as good at catching the ball, but no running back Tampa Bay has is as good at improvising as Martin is.

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The clip above is a good example of some improvising from Martin – and it’s not just that he’s improvising, it’s that he can do it all full speed.

When you have a running back that you trust to be able to make the right reads in chaos and hit space that might not be opened up yet, that’s when you can start to get creative with blocking. Take the play above, for example. The run itself is a simple run up the middle and all the tight end is doing is acting like a lead blocker. But, think about what would have happened if the Bucs were more straight forward with it.

Let’s say that tight end was line up as a fullback instead. The gap wouldn’t have changed, the lead blocking role wouldn’t have changed, but the defense would have been tipped off to where the ball was going and probably would have had more urgency to stuff the middle.

When you run zone blocking plays with success like the team did before, you keep the opposing front seven honest when defending the run – you make them a little hesitant. They don’t know whether the offensive line is going to hit them straight in the mouth or if they’re going to shift left or right. When you get that hesitation, then you can throw in moving parts, like having a lead blocker come inside up the middle from the tight end spot instead of as a fullback.

All of that starts with having a running back that knows how to improvise and be confident through chaos.

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The best example of all of that comes together in the Martin’s long touchdown that actually was a few inches short of crossing the goal line.

Observe the split-zone blocking concept (Gap Scheme) which sent half the offensive line moving one way and two lead blockers coming behind the line going the other way. Take note of the change of direction for Martin once he got to the outside. Notice how he didn’t lose speed or power as he made that final push to the end zone.

That’s a complete running back.

Martin is a damn good player when he’s healthy and focused. One game in and he appears to be both. The Buccaneers went away from him during the second half of that Patriots game, and I think they abandoned the run too early, especially with what his yards per carry average was. I think they know that, and I think you’ll see even more Martin mixed in over in Arizona.

Click to the next page to see a similar film breakdown on Evans’ first start of his career.

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  1. Trevor:

    Nice job on your analysis.

    I think there are a ton of positives moving forward with this team. A lot of fantastic young talent in Beckwith and Evans along with a QB that will eventually prove to be elite in my opinion.

    I do think a single high safety look is a lot more difficult for an opposing offense to attack.

    The biggest issue with it right now is VH3 is playing soft coverage because he is obviously afraid of getting beat deep.
    If the Bucs let him know he is going to have safety help on anything deep then hopefully he will get more aggressive in his coverage.

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    • Right, and that’s the thought process, too. Changing from an off, two-deep safety scheme to something more single-high isn’t as easy as just calling things differently. The corners have to be OK with playing close/press (being physical at the line) and the free safety really needs to know what he’s doing.

      I’m not sure the Bucs can do that right now with what they have, but moving more towards it is something I think that would benefit them.

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  2. I’m pro anything that gets Chris Conte off the field (short of injury).

    As for Martin, it was obvious he needs to be the feature back in the pre-season, and even more obvious against the Pats. He needs at least 20 carries per game and to be on the receiving end of a screen or two.

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    • I tend to agree here.

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  3. Nice job Trevor; it confirms for me the problem in the last game was coaching not player issues. I hope both offensive and defensive coordinators make some adjustments. Glad to see there’s a mix change on the PS; maybe we can use it for what it was originally planned for which was up and coming players with potential time to grow a little more in their skill set.
    Go Bucs.

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  4. This is one of my favorite columns at this point and your analysis always has me leaving feeling like I understand schemes & players who fit them better. Thanks Trevor.

    I think they should be able to do the single deep game so they have the flexibility in game planning opposing offenses. If you’re playing the Ravens, a team that’s built on play action with deep balls much like the Bucs, then cover 2 is perhaps appropriate as the bulk of your game plan. If it’s a horizontal pass game like the Pats then I think single high gives Tom some more to think about when you push Evans down to cover flat and out routes because he dangerous with his range.

    I’m totally pumped about Martin’s return. And we were rewarded for our patience. He’s a great back and even if he may not explode for those 30+ yard runs with the frequency of some other RBs, he’s almost never going to go down for a loss or no gain. He just keeps the ball moving. I like Rodgers though it feels to me like he’s lost a step from last season, but I’m with the folks above, Martin should have ~ 20 carries a game. I like Sims hands, but as far as I’m concerned he should never carry out of the backfield… Ever, and I don’t like his decision making as a runner.

    Evans looked good to me and I have greater appreciation after your breakdown. I’d rather have a player hungry to make a play than one focused on not making a mistake. That feels like the difference between Evans and Hargreaves right now. I’m not willing to say that Hargreaves is beyond salvage already, I’m hoping as he gets more comfortable and see’s patterns starting to repeat themselves his cushion grows smaller and he turns into a player hungry to make a play first and foremost.

    I’m excited to think of Evans and Ward on the field together.

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    • That’s awesome! I love hearing that first part. I’ve always enjoyed learning about the little details that make this game go, so teaching others what I’ve learned is fun for me.

      I definitely agree that different teams you play require somewhat different looks, and, as I started in a comment above, playing single high isn’t just something you can switch to with the snap of your fingers. That’s something that must be worked on and prepared for with which players are on the roster for different roles. What the Bucs do now is very fluid.

      I would say hungry for plays is a good way to describe how Justin Evans looked at his best when he was at Texas A&M. We saw flashes of that in his first start. If his confidence continues to grow, he’ll be a fun player to watch.

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  5. The fact that the Bucs let one F.A. safety walk, drafted Evans with their second pick, brought in Wilcox only to replace him with Ward shows they weren’t happy with what they had at safety. Evans flashed in his first start, so it will be interesting to see who starts Sunday if everyone is healthy. Conte, Ward, and Tandy aren’t the long term solutions, so I would let Evans get his feet soaked, not just wet. Sure he’ll make mistakes, but Conte had a bad holding call,and still whiffs on to many tackles IMO. I would’ve done the same at R.B. with Barber. Quizz isn’t the long term answer even as a back up, Sims is in a contract year, and hasn’t shown me anything other then he’s injury prone, and inconsistent. So why Barber has been in witness protection is a mystery to me. I guess Koetter doesn’t trust young players, but Beckwith showed that’s not always true. My two cents, start Evans.

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  6. Great performance by Justin Evans. Just one game, so let’s see how he does the rest of this season.

    It should be very obvious that Doug Martin needs to be used as the Bucs feature back and get way more than 13 carries a game … 20 carries a game seems about right, maybe a little more depending on game circumstances. Rodgers isn’t bad, but better that he be used to spell Martin from time to time rather than a more even split. Maybe 8-10 carries for him.

    And by all means, lets use the halfback pass much more than we have so far this year. Sure, we have great receivers,but making the backfield into a legitimate receiving threat will reduce double teams on our other receivers. Use OJ Howard on more pass plays two – it was a crime that his only target of the last game was a desperation pass to the end zone as time expired.

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    • I am trying to be patient, but just like your comment about Evans we are slowly seeing the new parts of the offense and defense come together and they are getting over all the injuries. Regardless they still need to win Sunday or playoff hopes are in trouble

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      • So you don’t think the Cowboys’ are making the playoffs? Because if the Bucs’ lose Sunday they will have the same records.

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        • First off, I didn’t say they wouldn’t make the playoffs I just said playoff chances are in trouble if they lose to Arizona.
          Second, I don’t think the Cowboy’s are winning the NFC East. I think Philly wins that. The problem with the Bucs is that both Atlanta and Carolina look like they are for real and New Orleans is better than expected. The NFC South looks like it will have a much better overall record than the NFC East. If so, the Bucs don’t have the luxury of losing a game against a weak opponent like Arizona

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  7. I truly do look forward to the Cover 3’s Trevor, it satisfies my football cravings between Monday and Thursday. I really enjoyed the Justin Evans breakdown and I honestly believe that if it “clicks” he has to be potential to be a stud. Physically, he has Earl Thomas ability but like you alluded to, it’s the upstairs department that will make or break him. On the play where Evans picked off the errant Tom Brady pass, it was VERY alarming to see Cooks beat Hargreaves so easily. Had Tom Brady simply stepped up in the pocket and avoided Ayers, he had Cooks screaming down the field on a deep post for a easy touchdown or huge gain. Evans had already committed to playing Hogan and stepped up out of position.

    Do you have any knowledge on whether CB’s have the freedom to play up on their man or back off? I know certain coverages dictates the space of the lining but are there specific scenarios where the coordinator allows the DB to free lance in this area?

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    • I believe i just read the answer to my questions on JoeBuc..

      “I don’t think [the soft coverage] by design in terms of what we’re asking our players to do. We give our guys a little bit of flexibility in terms of where they fell comfortable.There’s ranges in where we would like them to line up,”Smith said. ” We don’t say, ‘hey, we want you to be right here in this specific defense.’ We do give them, because based on their skill set; you know, Brent Grimes is going to play it different than Vernon Hargreaves.”

      -Mike Smith

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      • Yep. Smith said today that the players, for the most part, have the freedom. That doesn’t look good for Vern.

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  8. Love the analysis as always. I respect that you actually take the time to watch the coach’s film, not just the broadcast. I have been highly critical of the Justin Evans selection but I saw things that indicate that he is communicating better and playing more instinctive. I liked the INT but, that was just a bad throw by Brady, a good throw gets a big gain. He missed a couple of tackles but his angles were much better. All in all, he showed promise to more than warrant his second round selection. Now, I hope Smith can find a way to keep him out of the Strong role. I felt on one of the third downs Hogan got away with a push off that Evans had really good position on .

    Also, watching Beckwith, I would love to see a scenario that he, Kwon and LVD are on the field at the same time but Beckwith is the mike on running downs.

    Martin is a difference maker. Nothing more needs to be said. See it even more on the coach’s tape. Runs that Rodgers misses, Martin hits. Rodgers had a couple of times he could’ve made something happen but just took a poor choice on his cut. They were momentum killers because instead of gaining 3-4 they were no gains. I would like to see Sims phased out a bit. His lack of consistency is just a killer.

    In watching the coach’s film, one thing really jumped out that was surprising. OJ Howard had his worst game by far as a rookie. He looked tentative at the point of attack as a blocker. The block in the back was just dumb. His hold I didn’t see as a hold, but he got away with one on Martin’s run to the half yard line that was pretty obvious. This combined with his wrong route and Brate’s drops made for the worst game for this unit for the season.

    The mini Bye is coming at a good time for us. The issues should be fixed, its all fixable.

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    • Thanks man!

      To the O.J. point, I agree. Would have pointed that out if I was doing the Cover 3 at a different angle. But, Howard and Brate both had their worst games as Buccaneers on the same night. Not ideal, Cotton.

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      • Yeh, I was cuing on Martin so that I could comment on Cover 3 and it just jumped out. I was sure OJ was killing it in the run block. It speaks to how different Martin is. This is an exception I believe as it was so out of the ordinary versus the first 3 games. He had some other goofs that popped not relating to Martin as well. One play he stayed in to help block even tho the Pats dropped 8. Sweezy, Dot and he all were blocking one guy. Must recognize that and slide out, would’ve had a 15 yard cushion. Rookie pains, I’m sure we will have plenty with Evans too.

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  9. Bucs really need this offensive to start clicking. A lot of the teams we are about to face can score points. Go Bucs

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  10. Shumaker, you think the Panthers look tough because they beat the Patriots when their defense was atrocious and because they edged the Lions by three points.
    I like matt Stafford, but he has one of the worst records among starting NFL QB’s against winning teams.
    Atlanta still has a good team, but Matt Ryan doesn’t have as hot an arm as he did last year.
    In short, neither are the juggernauts you seem to think they are and both are beatable.

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  11. Trevor, these articles are tremendously informative. How did you learn so much about football schemes and concepts? Do you have any recommendations for books or other sources? I am very interested in learning more about the details of the game.

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