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.

Sikkema’s Stat(s) of the Week

Though unsuccessful in the end, 2017 was an exciting year for the Buccaneers – one of the most highly anticipated and excitement-filled offseasons in a long time. There were major free agency splashes, big-time draft selections, a fired up training camp crowd that was featured on Hard Knocks and a lot more. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate to many wins this year as the team regressed from the previous 9-7 season with a 5-11 finish.

So what went wrong? How did we go form hype to horror in the span of just 17 weeks?

With the year all wrapped up, I wanted to take a look at a few stats. Some of them will have to do with the team’s shortcomings, other will just identify tendencies that we might either continue to see in 2018 under the same coach staff (for now) or hope and pray go away for the next six months – maybe both.

The first is what the Bucs did in the red zone. Or didn’t do. Overall, the Buccaneers ranked 24th in the NFL in red zone efficiency (which are touchdowns only) at 49.06 percent. The top team in the league, Philadelphia, finished the year at 65.45 percent while the bottom team in the league, Denver, finished at 39.58 percent. Simply put, the Buccaneers have to finish better in the red zone. They have the receiving corps. that much more resembles the likes of the Eagles, the Patriots and the Jaguars – Top 5 teams in red zone efficiency – more than they do the Colts, Cardinals and the Broncos – teams near the bottom.

Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter – Photo by: Getty Images

The Buccaneers threw the fourth most passes in the NFL this season with 637 attempts. However, quarterback Jameis Winston threw the 25th most passes in the red zone with just 44 attempts. If you throw in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 28 red zone attempts this season and just add them to Winston’s, the Bucs would have had the ninth most red zone passing attempts. That falls in line with how they attacked most of the rest of the field, but where they convert elsewhere, they couldn’t within the 20-yard line.

Red zone work often has to do with spacing. It’s hard to be a play designer in the NFL. We, myself included, criticize things plenty from our couches and computers, but the fact of the matter is the game gets more difficult on offense with the less space you have to work with, and that makes for a tough job. As the ball gets closer to the end zone, that space become less and less. That’s why you see the best play callers in the NFL are often also aligned with the offenses that convert the most when the space to work with is tight – red zone and third down. The Buccaneers actually had the fourth highest conversion percentage on third down this season at 43.37 percent. The three teams above them were Atlanta, Minnesota and Pittsburgh – all teams bound for the playoffs.

Does that mean the Bucs aren’t far off? Perhaps there’s some truth to that. Numbers suggest that even the percentage that work for the Buccaneers this year wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Last season the Bucs were 20th in the league in red zone efficiency at 51.85 percent, the year before that they were 22nd at 52.94, and in Koetter’s final year in Atlanta, he was sixth at 61.36. So it seems the number doesn’t matter as much by itself as it does compared to an ever-fluid league. Koetter has been above 50 percent, at times, but hasn’t cracked the Top 20 red zone offense, but the one time he did it paid off big time with the Falcons.

So maybe the Bucs weren’t that close. More often than not Koetter’s offenses have been in the bottom half of the league in terms of red zone efficiency, but to be fair, that’s across three stops and the years he figured it out the team did well. So maybe the Bucs can be that close. Koetter’s numbers say he’s due for a big red zone year in 2018. But are you someone who bets when the color is hot or do you bet that it’s bound to switch?

For my final stat overview I wanted to bring up something I referenced earlier in the year and that is the Bucs rushing attack on third-and-short – or lack thereof.

The Bucs had the third lowest amount of rushing plays on third down with distances less than four yards in the NFL. Now, if you remember, they had one of the highest third down conversion rates, so you might ask why I bring this up. The reason is because I believe that running the ball on third-and-short can be helping in other situation as well. If the Bucs are in third-and-short, there’s a good chance they’re going four-wide with running back Charles Sims in the game. On the surface, I have no problem with that. But, I believe that this team’s identity lies in it being a play-action football teams.

If you don’t run the ball on third down, you’re not going to be that; no team is going to believe you in play action. Being more willing to run the ball on third-and-short in general may theoretically allow the Buccaneers to be more deceptive in the red zone with their bigger package formation that involve tight ends Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard. We’ve seen both of those player be used as red zone weapons throughout the year, but with them, Mike Evans and a balanced rushing attack – or, at least, a threat of balance – I think that red zone efficiency number could go up organically. That could also lead to certain receiver routes getting more open as well throughout the game.

Those are the two big offensive stats that I wanted to examine this week to just bring to the forefront. As the offseason rolls on and we get to talk more about the “what if,” I’ll take some time to show examples of other teams who are performing well in those areas and who Koetter and his staff might be able to take some tips from going into 2018.

Now, on the next page, we’re going to have a little fun.

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  1. Trevor good stuff all year. I appreciated the content as it gave a different view than what was spewed out there by most. The Godwin catch, Spence’s sack, Evans TD catch against Atl, and Peyton Barber’s emergence were my favorite things about this. David and McCoy always bring it and showed leadership this season imo.

    I would like to see PR and you do free agent breakdowns, players who fit and how they fit the Bucs, etc. Not just lists but breakdowns on why they would fit.

    I will take in all draft content possible so bring it ALL!

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    • Will definitely be getting into some free agency breakdowns and trackers and all that.

      And thanks!

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  2. Trevor, I hope you Focus as much as possible on the defensive ends, safety, cornerbacks; these are our biggest needs I believe for rounds 1, 2, 3. We get a pass rush and it’s going to put less pressure on the offense if they make a mistake.
    Just my opinion Trevor, I would like to see as much information about pass-rushers from big and small schools. Also lots of strategy discussions with our first, second, and third round picks.
    You’ve done a great job rookie. Congratulations!

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  3. I have really enjoyed reading all of the Cover 3 columns. Very insightful and educational and entertaining. As we get into the offseason and preparing for the NFL Draft, I would like to get a little more insight into the scouting department: what they do, where they go, how they evaluate players at different positions, how they interact with the general manager and the coaching staff, and so on. All those preparations that go into the team formulating their draft board. The Bucs have some good, young talent on the roster, but there are clearly some pieces missing. How is the personnel side of the organization going to address those needs on the roster?

    Your choice for your favorite play of the season is mine, as well. In fact, the entire possession is my favorite of the season. 95 yards, no timeouts, game on the line. First three passes fall incomplete. 4th and 10 from their own 5 yard line. The Bucs convert on a 12-yard pass to Cameron Brate. They continue to drive down the field, and then, the 39-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Godwin with just 9 seconds left. The TD pass and the entire drive, just absolutely spectacular. That pass, and that drive, was as big-time and clutch as it gets. Let’s hope that this serves as a sign of things to come in 2018!

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  4. Great cover threes all year Trevor. You have been a valuable asset to this website and your work continues to impress every week. That Jameis pass to end the season was a big one. This team needed something good like that to happen to them for a change. Gutsy throw as the play was designed to the right, but I’m glad Jameis wasn’t going to leave the game up to a kicker again, we’ve seen how that game plays out.
    Should be an interesting off season and there are going to be some major changes coming for the team on the field. Koetter has got to do a better job of using Jackson in the slot. Put evens out at the one, Godwin at the two, I mean how can you keep that guy off of the field, and Jackson in the slot. I know they’re paying the man way to much to be a slot guy but it would work. AS for Desean, I’ve said for a while now that we should trade him and get what we can for him.
    I mean everyone wants to complain about how ineffective he was, you have to realize his stats this year, are almost identical to last year.
    Washington 2016 15 games 100 targets 56 catches 1005 yards and 4 TD’s
    Tampa 2017 13 games 90 targets 50 catches 687 yards 3 tds
    Those numbers are near identical and he played 2 less games. The only reason people complain is because every ball drawn up to Desean is a 50 yard go route.
    He’s not worth the 7.5 million I believe he is getting next year. Godwin could easily best those numbers and do it without having to worry about the Diva side of things.I think Desean has been a good locker room guy this year so I can give him credit fpr that , but you can also see trouble brewing there if he doesn’t get his. Just my two cents. Now If Jameis can get rid of the bone headed TO’s we could have some big things coming.
    As for the red zone efficiency, teams that are successful in the red zone can run the ball in the red zone. The bucs don’t run the ball in the red zone often. And when they did they had success. I just hate the no back 4 wide set when it’s like 4’th and 3 to go .
    Gonna be another long off season so it’s time for the usual draft prep.

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  5. Trevor,

    Great job rook! I believe SR and MC made a great choice by bringing you in, the technical detail and youth you have brought to your columns have been a great change of pace. The passion you have for covering our Bucs is palpable, and I am very appreciative of your columns and community engagement. I look forward to your pieces during the off-season, my only request being FEED ME MORE ALL-22, I love your ALL-22 breakdowns…any side of the ball, any focus, I just enjoy the Xs and Os.

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    • I hear you loud and clear! I’ll throw as much All-22 in as I can this offseason. Might be able to get my hands on some college All-22 for draft profiles, too…

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  6. Whats up Trev?! love reading your stuff and i agree with a lot of it. One play i would have added was that Mike Evans 42 yard touchdown on Monday night when we played Atlanta.

    Can’t wait for some PR mock drafts!

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  7. Great work this year man…how sad is it that there was no Mike Evans play worthy of making that list this year? We had a memorable play from virtually every other receiving threat…I would add Adam Humphries jump ball to the list if I could add one…and that is how I would like to see Evans play more. The fact that we get more physicality and aggressiveness from a 5’11 190lb undrafted free agent than we get from a 6’5 230lb top ten pick is a damn shame.

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  8. January 5. NFL quarterback rankings came out and Winston was 17th. That makes him about average and that’s where he is at this time and I agree with it. Now if we can just get our pass rush as average and our running backs as average and our safeties and cornerbacks as average we’ll be in decent shape to make a run for a playoffs in 2018.

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  9. Great stuff TS, I also agree that the Cover 3 has been a great addition to PR, as well as your style for covering the team and responding to comments. It’s a refreshing contrast.

    To answer your question, I know this is the Pewter Report but I want to see more of a breakdown of what the teams in our division are doing and what the best teams in the league are doing. The reason for that goes along with the expression “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. I think too many Bucs fans have a skewed view of this team from a talent and management standpoint and a comparison to what other teams are doing from a voice that they trust like yours could be beneficial. Here are some examples:

    -What positions are the best teams targeting early and late and what level of success are they having targeting those positions in those places?
    -What schools, measurables, time spent in school (red shirt sophomores, juniors, seniors) and production/stats metrics are the these teams following?

    Free Agency:
    -What are the best teams spending versus what they are getting from their players from a production standpoint (playoffs, starting time, Pro Bowls,etc.)
    -What teams do the best free agents come from? Are there teams that we should never get players from because they are on the market for a reason and the better teams have already figured this out?

    -What are the best teams or teams in our division running on offense by the percentages? For example on offense are they in a spread formation from the shotgun 65% of the time? Power I formation or two TE 70% of the time?
    –What are the best teams or teams in our division running on defense by the percentages? Are they in a 4-3 or 3-4 in early downs? Are they in a dime, nickel or 3 safety formation on third and long?

    Those are just some examples but I would like the Bucs nation to better understand our enemies so they can be open to new players, schemes and managers that match what the successful teams in the NFL are doing. Thanks!

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