Watch Out, NFL—Brady and the Bucs are Back
NFL Week 11 - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers passing offense has been this year's sleeping giant. Injuries to both their offensive line and receiving corps gutted the offense of any chance to strengthen their rapport for most of the first half of the season. They never got the time to gel together or find what works and what doesn't because many of the players they had to put on the field were never part of the Day 1 plan to begin with. That has finally changed, however. Sunday's game against Seattle, with a much healthier roster, felt like the initial stirs of an awakening.
Tampa Bay's offense was a force against the Seahawks. By DVOA, the Bucs had their second-best game as an offense and their best as a passing offense. They only scored 21 points, but a mind-numbingly stupid interception on a Wildcat pass from Leonard Fournette to Tom Brady more or less took points off the board, and it's fair to assume they won't make that mistake again. The Bucs offense was otherwise moving the ball up and down the field at Allianz Arena.
A few factors went into the Bucs' passing surge, starting with the plays where they did not throw the ball. The Bucs running game finally looked competent against the Seahawks, a miracle compared to the league-worst running game they had until this point. It was their second-best game as a rushing offense by DVOA, in equal parts because the offensive line is healthier and because Rachaad White has quietly taken over the starting running back job from the plodding Fournette. The rushing production itself was nothing game-breaking, but it did finally lend itself to the Bucs having a complete offense and helped slow down Seattle's pass rush, a much-needed relief for an interior offensive line that is still shaky week to week.
Perhaps more importantly, the Bucs' big three receivers finally got to play consecutive weeks together for the first time all season. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones had all played in three games together before, but Weeks 9 and 10 marked the first time they had played together for consecutive weeks, an important factor as far as chemistry goes when playing for a quarterback as trust- and timing-driven as Brady.
The extra reps together, as well as all the added bonuses from the run game, led to a reinvigorated and aggressive Brady. Per Sports Info Solutions, Brady's average depth of target was 8.5 yards on Sunday. That was the third-highest mark of his season and his highest since Week 2. For reference, Brady entered Week 10 with a 6.8-yard average depth of target, 29th out of 35 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. It was refreshing to see Brady comfortable and confident enough to hang in the pocket and make throws down the field again.
Evans got the first taste of the Bucs' downfield revival. To the top of the screen, Evans starts aligned outside of Jones in a 2x1 set. Brady motions Evans into an offset stack just behind and inside of Jones. The motion into stack forces the Seahawks' cornerbacks to that side to rewire who covers whom, leading rookie nickelback Coby Bryant to cover Evans. Bryant has been a quality rookie, but speed is not his strength. He doesn't have the burners to go step-for-step with a guy like Evans, a long-strider with plenty of horsepower. Evans gets the step on Bryant and Brady finds little issue jamming the throw in there.
The Bucs also found great success from their under-center play-action game. Per Sports Info Solutions, all seven of the Bucs' play-action passes were from under center on Sunday, their second-most of the season. Only their loss to the Panthers featured more under-center play-action attempts, and they were pitiful at them in that game, completing just four of their nine attempts for 46 yards. By contrast, Brady completed six of seven passes for 74 yards against the Seahawks.
The Bucs come out with a tight bunch to the left and Evans isolated way out wide to the right side, the wide side of the field. Through alignment, the Bucs are trying to create as much space in the middle of the field as possible for Godwin, part of the bunch set, to work a middle read on a 989 concept. The two outside threats streak down the sideline, while the middle player, Godwin, either runs through the middle versus two-high or bends his route versus one-high. The Seahawks show one-high in this clip, prompting Godwin to bend over the top of the linebackers and find the soft spot. Brady, sharp as ever, finds Godwin smackdab between two underneath zone defenders as soon as his back foot hits the top of his drop, moving the Bucs almost 20 yards at once.
The Bucs finally got something out of Jones for the first time since Week 1, too. Not so much as a vertical threat, but as a nuisance underneath. Jones isn't as much of a threat as a separator or contested-catch magician as he was in his prime, but get him the ball, or make the defense think you're getting him the ball, and there will be problems for his opponents.
In the play above, the Bucs come out in trips while backed into a third-and-10. Jones is alone to the left side in a tight split while Evans, Breshad Perriman, and Godwin are in the trips set to the other side. All three players in the trips set get vertical immediately and clear out the underneath area, leaving room for Jones to roam free. Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks (56) should fall off to answer Jones, but he panics trying to not let Evans get to the middle of the field for free and runs himself out of the zone. Jones took the space and hustled into the end zone nearly uncontested for Tampa Bay's first score of the day.
Not long before, the Bucs feigned a quick throw Jones' way for a bait-and-switch maneuver on the Seahawks defense. To the bottom of the screen, Jones is in a trips set alongside Evans and Godwin. Jones steps back to the quarterback for what looks like a quick receiver screen, but both Evans and Godwin veer away from their blocks and book it up the field. The fake to Jones gives Brady a clear window to see Evans down the sideline, and he finds the receiver for an easy first down. Considering how much of the Bucs' passing game to this point in the season relied on quick passes and screens, it's not hard to see why the Seahawks jumped on the tendency, especially with the threat of someone as talented as Jones getting the ball.
Getting serious production out of Evans, Godwin, and Jones all at once is something the Bucs haven't been able to do for two months. A large part of that is nothing more than injury woes, but getting them all back in the lineup together for an extended period of time, giving both Byron Lefwich and Brady time to settle on what works, looks like it may be a godsend for the Bucs offense. That feels like a "no duh" scenario, and it kind of is, but it was still a little uneasy projecting the revival to happen until we saw it. Now we are starting to see it.
One game against a fine Seahawks defense isn't enough for the rest of the league to be sounding the alarm just yet, but there will be more to come. Evans, Godwin, Jones, and Brady are too talented a quartet to go through the rest of the season quietly.
7 comments, Last at 17 Nov 2022, 7:29pm
#4 by JudoPrince03 // Nov 16, 2022 - 12:33pm
From the film clips and simple observation of the team this year, it looks like the Buccs are pretty dependent on a combination of great pass protection and regular coverage busts from the opposition. Not sure if that's sustainable for a deep playoff run.
#6 by ClavisRa // Nov 17, 2022 - 6:59am
This is a far better performance than the stats even show. Seattle played good defense all game. Brady was making tight window throws with pin point accuracy. And yes there were a lot of clean pockets, but Brady also gunned some throws from a collapsed pocket after avoiding the rush. But even when the pocket was collapsing he trusted his OL to hold the line and didn't hurry the throw. Godwin played his best game of the season, maybe a sign his knee is closer to normal finally. The running game was still abysmal on first downs, but excellent on second and long and most crucially, consistently successful on third and short, which has been missing all season and killing drives. When they play this way, this offense challenges defenses in a way no other offense in the NFL can match. Teams like KC and Miami win largely with scheme, which is why those offenses can completely disappear when a good defense locks in. But the Bucs can beat you even when you're calling the perfect defense, which showed up a lot vs. Seattle. Finally.