Heinicke and Washington Go Beyond, Plus Ultra
NFL Week 10 - "Go beyond, Plus Ultra," is the rallying cry of the superhero All Might in the hit anime show My Hero Academia. It means to go past your normal limits when the going gets tougher, and defeating your opponent.
If you talk to any coach at any level of football, they'll all speak about the importance of third down. Often called the "money down" by defensive coordinators, coaches will save their best and most efficient plays for these crucial downs and moments. Teams will have to go "Plus Ultra" and convert on these money downs in order to win the football game.
The difference in third down efficiency was the crucial point in Washington's upset of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. The Football Team went way beyond their normal efficiency on this crucial down, becoming the football version of All Might on this down only. Washington converted 11 of 19 third downs, with a 95.9% DVOA and a 62% success rate on that down.
On offense, Washington was led by the Internet's favorite quarterback not named Mike White, Taylor Heinecke. Much like the main character of My Hero Academia Izuku Midorya, Heinecke is limited in what he can do, but turns into an absolute machine on third down. Washington asked him to do a lot at the line of scrimmage and on the throws he'd make on third down, throwing layered passes over the middle, out-breakers to the wide side of the field, and quick game with a buzzing safety coming down.
On his touchdown pass to DeAndre Carter, Washington uses a Bench passing concept, with Carter and Adam Humphries switch-releasing as Humphries runs an out and Carter runs a corner. They catch Tampa Bay in Cover-1, with the Bucs playing "LIB" coverage. They lock the point man in the bunch (Terry McLaurin), and the other two defensive backs "Banjo" the other two receivers: first guy outside goes to the outside corner, and the second guy is taken by the inside corner. This is a great scheme call against Cover-1, especially against "LIB" coverage because it forces the inside defensive back to play from inside out, making it tougher to play any out-breakers from that alignment.
What throws this entire play for a loop, however, is the Bucs blitzing both linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David. Both cross the center's face, and David ends up free. Heinecke has to make this throw with David closing in on him, and he layers the pass perfectly so Carter doesn't have to worry about the boundary. Heinecke also throws it away from Jamel Dean, who's in coverage. A great throw on a money down.
This trend of the Washington offense going absolutely berserk on third down continued on their (checks notes) 19-PLAY, 80-YARD drive that effectively put the game on ice. The most crucial of these third downs came in the red zone. Washington is in a 2x2 set with running back J.D. McKissic in the backfield. A wide receiver goes in motion, and the defensive back follows him, telling Heinecke it's going to be man across the board, and the middle of the field would be vacated for a brief moment so McLaurin can run his slant route. Tampa Bay sends six and somehow Vita Vea almost gets free. Jordan Whitehead is the free safety, and at the snap starts rotating over to McLaurin, because everyone knows that's where the ball is going. Heinecke zips the ball in, and McLaurin makes an amazing catch to move the chains. Go beyond, Plus Ultra.
Where the Game Swung
|4||11:04||3||3||T.Brady pass deep left complete to WAS 20. Catch made by M.Evans at WAS 20. Gain of 40 yards. M.Evans for 40 yards, TOUCHDOWN.||-15.1%|
|4||3:05||3||5||T.Heinicke pass short middle complete to TB 9. Catch made by T.McLaurin at TB 9. Gain of 6 yards. Tackled by J.Dean, J.Whitehead at TB 9.||+12.5%|
|1||3:29||1||10||T.Brady pass short middle INTERCEPTED at TB 50. Intercepted by B.McCain at TB 50. Tackled by C.Brate at TB 31. PENALTY on WAS-WAS, Taunting / Defense, 15 yards, accepted.||+11.1%|
|1||9:52||2||10||T.Brady pass short middle INTERCEPTED at TB 28. Intercepted by W.Jackson at TB 28. Tackled by R.Jensen at TB 28.||+11.0%|
The fact that Tampa Bay was still in this game despite two costly Tom Brady interceptions in the first quarter is a testament to how talented of a team they can be if they clean up some minor issues (we'll get into that later). However, the first Brady interception is absolutely hilarious and I want the world to see how Yakety Sax it is. Jaelon Darden might never get the ball thrown his way again because of a fluke play like this:
By The DVOA
An uncharacteristically bad performance by the Buccaneers offense, especially coming off of a bye week. Their offensive DVOA was the worst single-game performance they've had this year, by a massive margin. What could be more concerning though is their defense, which allowed its fourth week of positive defensive DVOA.
Washington posted an astronomically high offensive DVOA for their squad this week, beating their previous high by over 20 DVOA points. However, that is why I think this could be more of an outlier, rather than a trend. Their rushing defense is still very good however, posting another solid DVOA outing in their run defense metric.
Who Will Be Their Hero?
This was a very sloppy performance by Tampa Bay, jarring considering that they were coming off a bye and a week where the Saints and Falcons both lost. After their game Sunday, head coach Bruce Arians said that the Bucs were a "very dumb football team," citing the drops and penalties as crucial mistakes that the Buccaneers can't make.
If we're continuing to draw comparisons to My Hero Academia, the Bucs would be Katsuki Bakugo, the talented, explosive, yet hotheaded hero. One minute he's saving someone, and the next he's making a terrible boneheaded mistake. The Bucs committed six penalties in their loss to Washington, and in their previous game committed 11 penalties in a loss to the Saints. It's uncharacteristic how a team this talented and veteran-laden can make those mistakes. For them to make a serious run at another title, they have to stop shooting themselves in the foot. This game was very winnable for them, even after the two Brady interceptions.
I'd also be concerned about their health at this point in the year. Cornerback Richard Sherman is more than likely done after suffering a calf injury, thinning out a defensive back room that, while talented, has had issues with health throughout the season. In addition, Vita Vea banged up his knee in the Washington game, but should be alright to go. Vea is super important to their defensive line. He allows the Bucs to run their Bear fronts and keeps the linebackers clean while also providing pass rush juice from the interior. Their health is going to be massive moving forward.
I'm not sure how to look forward for Washington. Taylor Heinecke is currently 22nd in DYAR after his performance Sunday, but the team hasn't exactly been winning. I'm not sure if they have enough firepower on offense to keep up, especially if their defense can't hold up. Speaking of their defense, Chase Young is going to be out for the rest of the year after tearing his ACL Sunday. This, obviously, is a massive injury because Washington's pass rush drives that defense. If they're not getting home, then the secondary suffers more than it already does (lots and lots of coverage busts). Young is one of the primary engines behind that pass rush, and with Montez Sweat already on IR after a jaw injury, their edge heat is dwindling down to a flicker. They're going to need more Plus Ultra performances from Heinecke and company to even have a shot at the playoffs.