Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Nov 2016

Any Given Sunday: Bucs Over Seahawks

by Rivers McCown

Two weeks ago we covered Seattle's upset of the Patriots. Last week, we covered Tampa Bay uglying it up against the Chiefs. Sunday, those teams faced each other, and underdog Tampa rode to the top again.

It's interesting just how this game blew up on the Seahawks. With Michael Bennett and Earl Thomas (among others) out, I had seen plenty of innuendo about this turning into a shootout. According to Oddsshark, 65 percent of bets came in on the over of 45. And after the first few minutes, it looked like that might be the case. Seattle's defense gave up two quick touchdown drives. And then, Seattle's defense held... and the problem became that only one offense showed up on the field in this game.

Yes, friends, just as we covered Kansas City's Andy Reid clock foibles last week, we can go back to a familiar problem trope for the Seahawks this week: a bad offensive line.

With center Justin Britt out, the Seahawks were a complete and utter sieve up front, back to early-season form. Russell Wilson took six sacks, and Tampa was credited with 11 total quarterback hits.

And while Wilson was under pressure, it has to be said that even beyond the pressure, Wilson looked uncomfortable and out of sorts when he actually did get throws off. He was picked off twice, including a game-sealer by Bradley McDougald, and had five other passes defensed. This might have been his worst game as a professional. About the only thing Seattle's offense could do in this one was let Wilson scramble down the field.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

But perhaps an undertold story here is that Tampa's defense isn't quite as bad as it was early in the season. Second-round pick Noah Spence has been steadily increasing his playing time, and with 5.5 sacks on the season he's probably second behind Joey Bosa in any logical ranking of rookie pass-rusher impact. While that impact has been slow in arriving, it has been desperately needed for years. The Bucs haven't had an edge-rusher worthy of acclaim sinceā€¦ well, since before Bennett hopped to the Seahawks. Tampa isn't going to morph into a dominant front four in front of our eyes down the stretch here, but now they've got enough of a rush to pull this kind of game out.

Tampa came into this game dead last in pressure rate, per Sports Info Solutions, pressuring passers just 11 percent of the time. They got pressure on Wilson on 34 percent of his dropbacks in this game.

And I'm not so sure we should count Tampa out of a playoff spot in a down year where nobody in the NFC beyond Dallas and Seattle has settled much through 12 weeks. Pass pressure and run offense improving in recent weeks have made the Bucs much less of a pushover than they may have seemed as of the last time they had a national television game.

By the VOA


DVOA OFF DEF ST TOT
SEA -45.2% 7.5% 3.5% -49.2%
TB 18.5% -53.0% -3.8% 67.8%
VOA OFF DEF ST TOT
SEA -47.1% 4.6% 3.5% -48.2%
TB 3.5% -50.1% -3.8% 49.9%

Mmm ... ass kicking.

A Tale of Two Receivers

Through Week 11, every regular fixture (20 or more passes) currently in the Seattle receiving corps had an above-average DVOA. Every player, that is, except for Jermaine Kearse.

I think it's awesome that Seattle has put together this UDFA program where draft status doesn't matter, and where the best player wins. I'm just not sure if Kearse is the player they think he is. Even beyond the fact that Kearse has five (5!) offensive pass interference flags this year, he has been brutal. This is compounded by the fact that the Seahawks seem to think he's a red zone threat.

If you look at Seattle's targets in the red zone through Week 11, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham both had 10. Jermaine Kearse had nine. Baldwin has caught eight of those balls. Graham has caught five, with a penchant for the spectacular that he showed off against the Bills.

Kearse has caught none of his targets. He did create a pass interference in the end zone against the Falcons, but his DVOA on red zone looks is -81.3%. Against the Bucs, Russell Wilson was 13-of-15 for 101 yards when targeting Baldwin or Graham. Kearse caught one of five passes.

Kearse brings positives to the table in that he's fast and big and a decent blocker when he's not committing OPI. But I don't know that any offense needs this big a dose of Jermaine Kearse in it.

Mike Evans, on the other hand...

You're not going to see many players go against Richard Sherman and come away with that kind of split. The Tampa offense was largely shut down after the first quarter as Jameis Winston went through one of his low-accuracy days, but it's worth pointing out just how insane Evans' season is.

Through Week 11, Evans had been targeted 121 times, and in Week 12, he added 11 more. Antonio Brown was the only other receiver to even be targeted 110 times through Week 11. For the sake of comparison: in Evans rookie year, he played 15 games and had just 123 targets.

Evans has had to carry this kind of workload because, frankly, Tampa's front office seems absolutely clueless and befuddled by the concept of depth at receiver. Vincent Jackson was old and bad before he was put on IR. This left the Bucs running with Adam Humphries, a camp tryout success story, as their No. 2 receiver. Cecil Shorts and Russell Shepard have come off the scrap heap in recent weeks, but this is a bad situation.

So, like any receiver forced to accept this much volume with an inaccurate quarterback, Evans has suffered from an efficiency standpoint. He has the lowest DVOA of any top-15 DYAR receiver. But given just how much volume has been forced on to his plate by the offense, this is a rather remarkable season.

Hopefully someday soon, the Bucs will recognize how good he could be if they had more than one NFL wide receiver on the team.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 29 Nov 2016

8 comments, Last at 30 Nov 2016, 7:13pm by Joe Pancake

Comments

1
by burbman :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 6:46pm

Was Evans actually one on one against Sherman that many times in the game? Looked to me like Seattle was playing a lot more zone coverage than usual, and a lot of his catches came as he passed from one zone to the next. The short touchdown was one example that comes to mind here, and it is listed as a catch against Sherman in the chart above. Taking nothing away from Evans here, he had a hell of a game, but more against the remains of the Legion of Boom than just Sherman as an individual.

2
by Pen :: Tue, 11/29/2016 - 7:47pm

I'm kinda glad I watched the Sounders FINALLY make it to the MLS championship and missed what looks like a real clunker of a Seahawk game. I had a feeling with Britt out at center that the offense would sputter, but not this.

3
by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 2:11pm

There was an obvious need for WRs in Tampa this offseason, and it was completely ignored. Vincent Jackson was the #2 at the start of last year, and was clearly slipping even before his injury knocked him out for the year. #3 was Louis Murphy, who blew his ACL and didn't recover. That left varied bits of camp fodder (admittedly, Adam Humphries and TE Cameron Brate have been productive, but still . . .), and, for some inexplicable reason, Cecil Shorts. There wasn't even the vaguest sniff towards Travis Benjamin, who would have really fit nicely into this offense, and there wasn't even a late-round fling on some developmental guy, but, hey, at least they drafted a FB for the second year in a row who didn't even make the roster. Plus, you know, a @#$!!! kicker.

Noah Spence was essentially the Hail Mary of pass rush hope for Bucs fans; he's the best shot at a solid pass rusher since, yes, Bennett left. He started the year basically having a speed rush, but appears to be learning a few things, and isn't a complete liability in run defense. With Ayers having been out a fair portion of the year and DE Jacques Smith blowing his ACL in the preseason, he's gotten a lot more time than expected, and it's starting to pay off.

Also, yes, Mike Evans is everywhere. He's been targeted at least 10 times in 9 of the 11 games this year, and he's really good at using his strength and body positioning to block out defenders to get the ball. I'd like there to be other options, but, wow, he's been fun to watch this year.

4
by tuluse :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 2:29pm

I really wonder how the Bucs would have looked this year with Lovie as the head coach. I feel confident he wouldn't have drafted a kicker that high, but possibly the offense wouldn't have developed as well.

6
by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 3:32pm

I don't think they'd look as good; Lovie seemed very predictable on defense, and Mike Smith has been a bit more flexible as far as I can tell. Mixing up coverages, bringing pressure sometimes, things like that. Lovie seemed to want to run his scheme with his players, but it's not like I've exactly charted out the differences.

I think it's safe to say Lovie wouldn't have drafted a kicker, nor would pretty much anyone else. I don't think anyone's going to be able to explain that one, it will never make sense.

5
by Joe Pancake :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 3:29pm

Giving Jermaine Kearse a $13 million, multiyear contract was a head-scratcher at the time and it looks even worse now. He's a bit of a fan favorite -- undrafted from University of Washington, caught the game-winning touchdown in both the 2013 and 2014 NFC Championship games -- but he's the fourth best option in the passing game at best (fifth when Prosise is healthy). Why the Seahawks didn't let him walk and use that money at a different position (perhaps O-line?), I don't understand.

Even now, I would rather see less of Kearse and more of Tanner McEvoy (when healthy).

7
by coltrane23 :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 6:41pm

I was never a huge Kearse fan, as I always felt like they could upgrade at the position. I really soured on him in that NFCCG against Green Bay because 2 of Wilson's picks bounced off his hands before he hauled in that game-winning TD. I was happy to see him be productive last year, but I was also OK with letting him walk in free agency.

I thought it was very telling that Kearse came back to the Seahawks for that contract--he couldn't find anything better on the open market. Now with the contract they gave Baldwin (which I don't question at all) it sure looks like they've over-committed $$$ at the WR position. If Kearse could at least play at the same level as last year, the contract wouldn't look so ridiculous, but he has really regressed this year. Unfortunately, I don't see anyone else on the roster who's ready to be the new #2 WR.

I think I read elsewhere that even if they cut Kearse next year, they really don't save much against the cap. So he could very well be back next season.

8
by Joe Pancake :: Wed, 11/30/2016 - 7:13pm

Yeah, looking at Sportrac, they save less $1 million if they cut Kearse next year, but they save $5 million if they cut him in 2018... so I'm guessing he's back next year.

Tyler Lockett last year looked like he had the potential to be a good #2, but this season got derailed by injuries. That's been the story of the Seahawks season on offense -- pretty much every major player has been injured at some point (except Baldwin and Kearse). I don't think R. Wilson, L. Willson, or Lockett are going to be 100% until next year -- same with Graham and Rawls (and they might not ever get back to their peak performance). I'm holding out hope for Prosise because his injury is upper body, which, in theory, shouldn't affect his explosiveness.