We’ve extensively covered the few befuddling tendencies of Todd Bowles’ defense this season, but one we haven’t touched on yet is the propensity Bowles has for dropping his edge defenders into coverage this season. It hasn’t worked out well for the Bucs defense on multiple occasions, but Bowles still hasn’t deviated from the strategy.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett are tied for ninth amongst all edge defenders in coverage snaps, with 50 apiece. That rank goes up when you eliminate from the list situational edge rushers who are rush/coverage specialists. Amongst all edge defenders who have played over 400 snaps this season, the Bucs duo is tied for fourth-most coverage snaps, behind only Kyler Fackrell, Harold Landry and Brian Burns.

Seeing Pierre-Paul and Barrett in the same cluster of coverage edge defenders as Fackrell (a former off-ball linebacker) and the ultra-athletic Landry and Burns is head-scratching enough, but even more so when comparing it to the way Bowles deployed the outside linebackers just a year ago.

During the 2019 season, Barrett played all 16 games and dropped into coverage a total of 56 times. He’s already nearly eclipsed that this season, and the Bucs have only played nine game! The numbers are even more egregious for Pierre-Paul, who was in coverage just 11 times in the ten games he played last season. In his entire career, Pierre-Paul had never dropped more than 26 times in a single season. Now, at nearly 32 years old and having suffered multiple significant injuries, Bowles has him on pace for nearly 100 coverage reps this season.

On paper, the idea of playing two edge rushers who lack elite athleticism and coverage experience in space is just strange. But when study the game tapes and see how both players have been victimized in coverage, it makes the lack of adjustments by Bowles look even more puzzling.

Pierre-Paul’s coverage reps look so ugly that it’s almost humorous that he’s still being deployed this way. He clearly isn’t built to play in space, as he doesn’t have the lateral agility to change directions or speed to run down faster ball carriers. This is the easiest 11 yards Darius Slayton will ever get in the NFL.

Some will point to Pierre-Paul’s dropped interception against the Saints as a sign of his promise in coverage, but in my mind the play is further evidence of why he shouldn’t be dropping more than a couple times a season. Pierre-Paul is juked out so badly by Alvin Kamara’s release that he nearly falls down in coverage.

Drew Brees inexplicably throws the ball right to Pierre-Paul as he stands back up, but had this pass been accurate, Kamara has a good chance of scoring a touchdown. If Pierre-Paul can’t even cover in the flat, where can he cover?

The simple answer is nowhere. The Saints biggest offensive play of the game came when Pierre-Paul didn’t get enough depth in his zone while dropping off the edge. He looks like he’s moving on stilts.

Again, this isn’t meant to be a rip session on Pierre-Paul. Even at his healthiest, he’s never been the type of edge defender to drop into coverage and be effective. It’s a classic mis-use of a player’s skill set in a way that gives Pierre-Paul very little chance to be successful. On the season, Pierre-Paul has been targeted ten times for eight catches and 102 yards, surrendering about 13 yards per catch, per Pro Football Focus.

The numbers are similarly ugly for Barrett, who has surrendered catches on all nine of his targeted reps this season for 101 yards per Pro Football Focus. Barrett is a little better suited to drop into coverage than Pierre-Paul, but at a clip of 5.5 times a game? No thank you.

This was essentially the game-winning play for the Bears, on which Bowles trusted an edge defender to match up with a running back on a wheel route out of the backfield. The downfield pick by Allen Robinson didn’t help, but Barrett was already losing this footrace with David Montgomery.

I think Barrett actually plays this one pretty well since he has to be able to defend the flat and sink on anything vertical. But asking this of your edge defender in coverage? That’s a bit much. Barrett simply can’t drop fast enough once he sees Nick Foles trying to throw over his head.

The reason Bowles is doing this is because it gives him another wrinkle to throw at teams when it comes to creating pressure. Barrett and Pierre-Paul drop as part of blitz packages, and as a change-up pitch, I don’t mind that at all. The problem is the rate at which Bowles’ has gone to that well is putting both players in unenviable positions far too often this season.

Coaching isn’t just about having good ideas and scheme, it’s also about using your players to the best of their abilities, putting them in positions where they can win. With his deployment of the Bucs edge defenders this season, Bowles hasn’t done that. Both Barrett and Pierre-Paul are on pace to log nearly 100 snaps apiece in pass coverage in 2020. If that doesn’t change, the Bucs will continue to pay the price on defense.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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8 months ago

It is striking…the only thing worse than having Devin White try to cover TEs is having Barrett and JPP try do it. All three of those guys should never leave the line of scrimmage.

8 months ago

NEWSFLASH for Todd Bowles. Bucs LBs can’t cover. Like AT ALL. Dropping JPP in coverage on the regular is ridiculous. Stop with that nonsense.

8 months ago

you are spot on Jon! I’ve been screaming at the tv way too much due to this misuse of our edge rushers. They are exceptional as rushers and in a DE role, but having them convert to OLB and try to cover or stick with elite WR and RB’s is straight up not working. I hope Todd and defense take a hard look and rethink this concept. it’s hurting our defense and keeping them on the field too long.

8 months ago

Several times Sunday all 4 of our best pass rushers were in coverage at the same time! Shaq, JPP, White, David. Instead of chasing Brees, they were chasing air in pass coverage. That’s why we got shredded.

Reply to  surferdudes
8 months ago

Shaun Payton even said at halftime he was befuddled at our game plan of no pressure on Brees.

Reply to  76bucsfan46
8 months ago

So true 76Bucsfan. He also said he was surprised it looked like the Bucs were running a prevent defense with their zone concepts.
Good grief,
BA, Lefty and Bowles should get up in front of the team and admit the loss was on them because it was.

8 months ago

What’s surprising to this Buc’s fan is why BA hasn’t questioned this logic?

8 months ago

Great column Jon. I only take one exception to it and that was the wheel route where pass interference should have been called on the Bears for a pick but we aren’t getting those calls. I thought we were over the days of coaches trying to pound a square peg into a round hole but I guess not. Putting Barrett and JPP in those situations so often is like hitching up Secretariet to a plow. So now we have an OC who won’t change route concepts and only wants to go long even when the QB is under duress and… Read more »

8 months ago

Perfect, maybe Temple and Marshall coordinators get bumped up a little next year? Bye, Bye! Killed soul to watch that crap! Jon insight beautiful, love it, wish we didnt have to realize it! .

8 months ago

So in other words it is stupid for Bowles to continuously drop his best pass rushers into coverage which is limiting their effectiveness. Yea that sounds like your typical Bucs bullshit. Lets have our pass rushers play ass off ball linebackers instead of the pass rushing demons they are. Stupid shit like this is why the Bucs got a mud hole stomped into them by the goddamn Aints!!!!!!!!!!!

8 months ago

If the fans can see it not working, and the sports writers can break down the film and analyze how and why it isn’t working, then why the hell can’t the coaches see it?!? It’s insanity.