Bucs LB Lavonte David and S Keith Tandy - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
It’s been a lot of gloom and doom in Buccaneers news lately.
If we’re being honest, it probably started last year when Hurricane Irma was rolling into town and there was a full week of debate and frustration on what the NFL was going to do to try to keep people safe but also accommodate the schedule. Ultimately the NFL decided to push the Bucs’ Week 1 match up versus the Dolphins all the way to the bye week, which, again, was the source of a lot of frustration among fans because their team now had to play 16 straight weeks, which was seen as a disadvantage.
Then there was the Vikings game, then the Cardinals game, then the Saints game, then the Winston injury, plus all the free agent whiffs, plus the kicker woes, then the Winston Uber case, then all the Gruden stuff – man, 2017 was exhausting. Even as of recently, with the Bucs making as much positive noise as they had in the early parts of the offseason, the loudest roar came from negativity surrounding Winston’s suspension.
Needless to say, it’s been a long calendar year for us to get to this point. But, I’m here to tell – write to you – that there are things to look forward to, and there can be fun things to talk about. Yes, 2017 was a tough year for the Buccaneers, but that didn’t mean there weren’t steps in the right direction and foundation laid for 2018 to possibly be a huge bounce-back year.
With that in mind, and with the help of a Twitter thread that gave me this idea, this Cover 3 is going to be all about the underrated aspects of the Buccaneers headed in 2018 and not the over-hyped or overly-negative narratives that are numerous around them. In this Cover 3, we’re going to take a look at three of what I believe are the most underappreciated statistical averages or pieces of information from the Buccaneers in 2017, and then, on the next page, I’m going to list off the Top 3 most underrated players on the Bucs roster who could end up making the team and perhaps even be X-factors down the road.
But first, let’s stat with some under appreciated stats from this Buccaneers team in 2018.
Believe it or not, folks, your Tampa Bay Buccaneers were actually the No. 4 ranked team in the entire NFL when it came to converting on third downs.
This might come as a shock to you as you scramble to delete your “Oh, wow, look, Charles Sims out of the backfield on third down again” tweets, but it’s true – even I’ve complained about the lack of rushing attempts on third-and-short downs, so don’t worry.
The Bucs most notably had their struggles converting long drives into six points in 2017, and that tended to mask some of the good things they were doing to get the ball down there. One of those was with third down conversion. The Bucs ran a lot of multi-wide receiver looks when in situations of third down and distances shorter than five yards, and as much as we tend to remember only the bad, there was a lot of good.
This is also a key utilization of the 2-TE offense that we’ve talked about quite a bit since the team drafted O.J. Howard in the first round in 2017. Being able to convert on third down is one thing, but being able to do it passing the ball is even more advantageous because when you know you can pick up short yardage while passing, that, at times, can thin out the defense from covering deep and could eventually lead to a play where you convert, say, a third-and-3 situation into a 22-yard pass for a score, or something of that nature.
Another encouraging note is that this wasn’t just a one-year thing. If you’ll look to the far right of the chart, the Bucs had right around the same conversion percentage in 2016, as well. The Bucs ranked only sixth-best in the NFL in 2016, but the important part was the consistency of percentage, which shows some intuitiveness when formulating game plans for certain situations. The Bucs were one of only five teams that were in the Top 10 of third down conversions in 2017 and 2016. Even though I myself would love to see the Bucs utilize their run game and be more effective with the less riskier plays on third-and-short situations, what they’ve been calling has been working, so it can’t be too bad – if bad at all.
The next category I wanted to bring to light is the yards per pass category.
As you can see in the table above, Buccaneers staring quarterback Jameis Winston was in the Top 5 of that category, and before you talk about competition percentage, even though Winston’s numbers still need to improve there, he was the 12th best quarterback in the league with his percentage numbers from 2017.
The stat above needs context per throw and per situation, as the Bucs were down on the scoreboard for many of their games (hence why they were the No. 1 scoring offense in the fourth quarter in 2017), but Winston putting up those kinds of averages shows that he’s the type of quarterback for the job when it comes to head coach Dirk Koetter’s offense. Winston has plenty to work on in terms of precision of hitting the deepest of those passes, but for Winston to have that high of an average while not completing as many deep passes as you’d want him to also aids to the positive that that number should only increase, too.
In Koetter’s offense, you have to be able to push the ball. Most of the primary target throws on a play-to-play basis (on plays that are not screens) range from 8-15 yards of flight for the ball. Winston is right where he needs to be with every other big-name quarterback in the league, in this category, and for this Buccaneers offense, this is one that matters quite a bit. More stability from Winston will increase this number even more, and in this system there’s a chance we could see his name at the top on any given year.
C Ryan Jensen: Top 10 PFF Grade
I’m getting a little creative for the third statistical positive, but I feel as though it needed to be mentioned.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the new guys are going to play a big role in the potential success of the Buccaneers in 2018. Ryan Jensen will be a focal point of that. Jensen received a Top 10 grade from Pro Football Focus, as did the Bucs center from 2017 Ali Marpet. And that might be the most under-appreciate part of this offensive line transition: Marpet’s success every time they’ve moved him. Marpet will be shifting over to left guard, so if you can expect the same type of top-tier play from him, that an immediate upgrade to an interior offensive line that needed a boost badly.
DE Vinny Curry: More Edge Than Just Defensive Edge
Curry was in a rotation with the best defensive line in football from the pervious season, and so for him to come in at PFF’s No. 21 ranked defensive end (knowing there’s at least 64 starters in the league) is pretty impressive.
Curry is going to bring an edge to this team. We’ve been talking to those within the organization and they’ve told us that Curry specifically has made his presence felt by pushing the other players as much as he can, even in OTAs and mini-camps with no pads. Curry is one of the additions who is likely going to make an impact in ways that you can’t see on the surface or that you can’t measure itself, but it becomes something measurable as those around him pick up their play.
Curry’s underappreciated trait is the drive he’ll have after winning a Super Bowl the previous year, and we don’t say that as a cliché, we’ve heard that from those much closer to the outcome of this team, if you know what I mean.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul: An NFL Iron Man
When the announcement of the Jason Pierre-Paul trade came out, I’m sure most people (naturally) thought of the potential sacks he was going to bring to the worst defensive line in the NFL. Don’t get me wrong, that is still the expectation, but the under appreciated portion of Pierre-Paul is his stamina and his drive once that whistle blows.
Pierre-Paul played more than 1,000 snaps in 2017, which was fourth most of any defensive end. That is a crazy amount of snaps. He’s not going to have to rack up that many in a row for the Buccaneers, but it’s good to know that he’s not going to be tapping his helmet to come out after a few plays just because he’s gassed. He’s played in Florida before. He knows the heat, and he doesn’t like leaving the field. That should all go into that hunger for sacks that we did not see from this team in 2017.
On the next page we’re going to highlight the three players on this 90-man roster who I think are the most underrated, and who have a chance to break out in 2017 or in the near future.
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]
Thank you for a positive article for a change! I think we start 1-2 or even 2-1 and then beat the Bears…
Jack Cichy is my sleeper pick. He might not break into the starting lineup this year, but he’s the real deal. Jack is a very smart and talented player. I look for him to be a star on special teams this year.
Godwin Igwebuike is someone I’m rooting for. He’s a UDFA we signed after the draft and he seems like a perfect fit for us at SS.
Agree. I think he will be a force.
It makes me wonder why Igwebuike was not drafted.
He is talented, but has a low football IQ. Taylor Mays type of player that is athletic, but takes bad angles, and bad reads. He’s a project.
I don’t want to rain on the parade of the happy vibe here, but the 3rd down conversion rate for the 2017 season is EXTREMELY misleading. I broke this down on the forums and I don’t have the numbers handy, but we were TERRIBLE on 3rd down (a lot of that due to how poor Jameis was on 2nd down…something like a 72 Passer Rating) when it mattered in 2017.
For the 1st 11 games (when we were still playing meaningful games), we were bottom 3rd in the league in 3rd down conversion (somewhere around 23rd-27th depending on the week).
Further still, our 1st half 3rd down conversion rate in that span was godawful. The games where we were down 2 scores at the half featured sub 30% conversion rate in 4 of those 5 games (I think that’s the number). This led to us not being able to answer scores and sustain drives, which fed back into our defense being put back on the field constantly in 1st halfs.
We lost our 7th game in that 11th game (effectively taking us out of contention). We then went on an unearthly year on 3rd Down conversion for the final 5 games; 60+%.
Those final 5 games cosmetically altered our 3rd down conversion rate dramatically, disguising a team that was utterly terrible on 3rd down when it mattered (nearly 75% of the season) with a statistical veneer.
On top of which the Bucs have had a very good 3rd down conversion rate every year Koetter/Winston have been here and its not translated into points.
It’s likely strong for the same reason as 2017: the Bucs are behind in a lot of games and gain a lot of yards (and not many points) against soft defences.
The problem with teasing out the importance of 3rd down conversion to victory is when you couple it with either multiple Turnovers or a backbreaking one (eg Sack > Fumble > TD after you’re about to score) or a Special Teams gaffe (KO Return for TD or Punt Block for short field or TD).
Everything is important, but the signal on its association with victory is difficult to discern when you’re catastrophically bad elsewhere. If you don’t turn the ball over, it doesn’t matter if you go 2-12 on 3rd down and generate maybe 2 explosives…and vice versa!
Consistent complementary, situational football is what yields meaningful games in December.
Does Winston being hurt those first 11 games have anything to do with our god awful 3rd down rate the first half of the season? When Winston was healthy, he played good. and we had the best 3rd down completion percentage.
Winston got hurt in the Arizona game (so Bears, Vikes, Giants, Patriots, first period of Cards) and immediately came back in the Buffalo game and played probably the best game of his career.
I’m very familiar with a low grade AC joint injury. You can definitely play with it. I’m not particularly moved by the AC joint injury was causal for poor play argument.
Unlike 2016 where Jameis was fantastic on 2nd down (and therefore ahead of down and distance on 3rd), Jameis was EXTREMELY poor on 2nd (while being incredible on 1st down) in 2017; 77.9 Passer Rating. He also didn’t make plays with his feet like he did in 2016.
Jameis also struggled MIGHTILY in the 2nd quarter with a 66.8 passer rating. That was a generous bulk of the explanation behind that 1st half poor 3rd down conversion and being down early (because it was coupled with 2nd quarter turnovers).
You can say he struggled before the injury but Winston did go 2-2 before the injury and some could argue it should have been 3-1 if Folk didn’t miss 2 field goals and an extra point against New England. Besides the MInn game, he played very well before he got hurt.
I can say he struggled because he did.
The Chicago game was irrelevant to the offense and his play because the defense dominated so thoroughly that the game was never in question.
In the Minnesota game he was extremely, extremely poor.
In the Giants game he started off fantastic…then from midway through the 2nd quarter to midway through the 4th he was extremely poor, letting the Giants come back and actually take the lead due to the defense being on the field for basically 2 quarters straight due to lack of anything resembling a sustained drive.
In the New England game he was poor. The defense played very well, getting tons of stops and even forcing a turnover at midfield. Despite the terrible kicking, even good QBing (not elite) makes the kicking game irrelevant. Just like in the Vikings game and the Giants game, there were plenty of opportunities and very solid Pass Protection. The plays just weren’t made from the QB position. I’ve broken down the All 22 of those games in significant detail on the forums. Feel free to look up those threads.
In the Arizona game he had 3 possessions (before going out with injury).
Drive 1 – Ended early on a failed 3rd and 1 against Cover 3 where he didn’t pull the trigger on a rubbed Slant (that he was looking at) where good ball placement = 1st down. Then he wasn’t decisive in escaping the pocket and running for the 1st (which he could have done) after he didn’t pull the trigger there. This is the play where he fell hard on the AC joint after two guys pulled him down. He almost fumbled it (as he has done multiple times before while being indecisive and careless as he breaks the pocket right and tries to throw the ball despite what is happening around him). If he isn’t going to pull the trigger on that rubbed Slant on his left, he needs to break the pocket quickly and pick up those 2 short yards for a 1st down and slide. He casually broke the pocket right and tried to buy time to throw the ball downfield (likely to OJ who was coming back to the football (and open) on the right boundary.
Drive 2 – Showing no signs of problems throwing the football after the above, he played well; the drive ended early because the play around him was the problem.
Drive 3 – Three incompletions and he’s done for the day and we’re down huge because we haven’t answered anything by the Cards O and put our struggling D back on the field quickly and repeatedly. This, despite plays being there to be made.
a) the 2nd down play was a PA pass against C3Z and had Doug leak out in the left flat, wide open for 16+ yards as the LBs sprinted for depth after getting sucked up (the nearest defender was the MLB who was between the hashes and 16 yards down the field…meanwhile, Doug was at the LoS and outside of the left hash so he had boundary leverage as well)…yet he forced it to Mike in double coverage down the field…that simple dump off (which was the appropriate play and certainly the play if you have an AC joint that is bothering you!) would have been a catch-and-run for a ton of yards.
b) 3rd and 10 was Shogtun Empty against C1M and they’re bringing 5. He goes to Brate who doesn’t win on his Hitch and is double covered (the Safety is sitting inside and is helping and the DB covering Brate is in his lap and gets the PBU) rather than Hump right next to him (also on a Hitch, but 12 instead of 10) who (i) has toasted his man with about 2.5 yards of separation at the route stem and (ii) doesn’t have Safety help.
If he felt like he couldn’t throw the football due to pain/weakness (which there wasn’t evidence for that on this drive), he should have been straight with the trainers before that drive, because 3 completely facile drives in a row on the road (especially when your defense is struggling) is not the essence of complimentary football! Its a good way to get blown out (even though they were led back into the game in the 4th).
They couldn’t convert long drives into 6 points? Hell, they could’t convert long drives into 3 points!!
Nobody, that last comment is so ridiculous, it’s not even funny. Did you actually watch any of those games? Or did you just google the boxscore? Because the Vikings game, was over from the opening kickoff. The Vikings scored TD’s on 4 of their first 6 drives. And every one of those TD drives covered at least 66 yards. So none of them were short fields caused by a Winston TO. So their defense lost them that game, no matter what Jameis did. And you’re seriously gonna sit here and try and convince people that FG kicking had nothing to do with the NE loss? Really? The only way the Bucs lose that game, is if Folk has the worst kicking game in NFL history. And what does he do? He has the worst kicking game in NFL history. Saying FG kicking had nothing to do with that loss is laughable. There were memes made about Folk after that embarrassment of a game. Let’s not pretend that Jameis is the sole reason they lost their first 2 games, because anyone with half a brain knows he wasn’t. Take that hatred for JW and go elsewhere dude
Very entertaining Article Trevor; never laughed as hard as I did when you called Tandy a sleeper. Yes his sleeping habits are unusual; I definitely would rather put Tandy on The Cut List. Part of his problem he can’t stay healthy and he’s mostly a step to slow to make a difference.
The Bucs would be as happy as the fans if Igwe could beat out Tandy or Conte. Hope he gets a fair chance. I also think the Bucs would love for one of their young receivers to beat out Humphries this year. I could see Hump being traded or released. I’m rooting for any back who gets Sims cut. I’ll add a fourth. Can someone surprise us and earn the right tackle job replacing Dot this year also.
Great Article. I am really curious to see how Justin Watson does in Camp. Alex Cappa too. And Igwebuike interests me because I heard he was related to the once great Kicker the Bucs had.
Hard to miss the pessimism and overall distressed feelings among most Buccaneer fans. I’ve been reading all the comments since the suspension was announced. I didn’t want Winston but I have rooted for him because this is my team. Something went on that night . Exactly what we’ll never know, I suppose. Winston apparently has no memory of it and he appears to have exercised poor judgment in what he told his coaches and teammates, but even that we don’t know for certain. The thing that has surprised me is how little has been said about the legitimacy of the law under which he was sentenced and the judges who pronounced the sentence, the commissioner and the NFL League Office. Certainly, they have administered power, BUT HAVE THEY ADMINISTERED JUSTICE. I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO THAT, THOUGH I KNOW THERE IS AN IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE. But what is done is done. Those in power have decided a crime was committed (though there was no trial or hearing) and a punishment has been administered. Given that little more is likely to be said about what happened that night, all we have is a powerful administrative body issuing a punishment. Now it is up to the “criminal” (in quotes on purpose) to serve his time and rehabilitate himself. He can’t afford to talk himself into a sense of being treated unjustly. After all, he has accepted the sentence, though he could have challenged it. He has struggled to acknowledge his guilt, but whether you like his statement or not, it is an acknowledgement. Now he has only one choice–
to take control of his life story and gain a sense of direction for his life. This will be an awesome challenge given his jaded past, but sometimes a person has to hit bottom in order to find the good in himself and give his life a sense of direction and control. I understand that most fans are bitter, resentful, and angry. That is a normal response. But he does have a life ahead of him to live and in any justice system a person serves his time and ought to be given an opportunity to rise from the ashes. I’m not smart enough to make a bet on whether he will make it back. But like anyone who has served his time, I believe he should be given a chance.
Nice try trying to blow smoke up our butts Trevor. No sell this time though dude lol. This team is flat out garbage and will be until koetter and smith are gone. And probably winston too. I don’t even have enough respect or faith in their abilities to capitalize their names anymore.
“This team is flat our Garbage?” You do realize half the team was injured last year and our signal caller was out for 3 games. Yes, the Defense has been horrible. But there are a lot of quality players, and remember Koetter was the coach when we were 9-7 with a much crappier team. Give them a chance. It would appear that they have put enough pieces together on Defense to be effective. Jones will be a serious force on Offense assuming he stays healthy. I think Bucs have a chance to compete for the Division this year. And if they don’t we move on. But the Coaching Carousel has to end in Tampa or we will end up like Cleveland every year.
Charlie is another Mike.Seven and Naplesfan. They are not really fans and are only happy living in the negative. Unfortunately we have to live with these type of people. It would be better if they just bandwagoned on to another Team and stopped acting like fans of the Bucs.
Very strange list Trevor. But I agree with Seat26: the talent is overall better. And yes, I like Jones as well.
I certainly didnt watch Tandy on every play but I saw him out of position and burned on several occasions. That’s why he was riding the pine. I cant see him even cracking the lineup
Then hire a better coach, none of the post Jon Gruden coaches HAVE actually been worthy of being an NFL head coach and aren’t currently anywhere else now. The running game would be better without the addition of Jones if Koetter simply imploded a more physical training camp and committed to the run game more. Instead of treating this football team like a fragile pair of testicles.
Heck, our entire team is “underrated” if we go by the Top 100 choices.
Until they hit the field and play better than last year the whole team is overrated.
Kwon Alexander gets snubbed every year maybe if he stays healthy this year that will change. Other than that hard to say.
I do like Tandy he’s always been a ballhawk, but not sure he’s started material. Great back up.
As far as long shots making team I have no clue because we don’t know how healthy guys are like Cincy etc. maybe after trying camp we might have better idea. Too early to even venture a guess for me anyways.
Meant Not sure Tandy is Starter material…..
Thanks, Trev, for giving us some new perspectives to think about. These kinds of things make the off-season so much more enjoyable as we build toward when they can “play the games” again.
Koetter will have to rise to meet the challenge this year if he wants to remain a head coach in this league. Football remains a team sport. You have to play the hand that you are dealt each year.
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