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
Table of Contents
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.
The New Additions
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: firstname.lastname@example.org