Word of Muth: Tampa Bay's Good Day

Word of Muth: Tampa Bay's Good Day
Word of Muth: Tampa Bay's Good Day
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

Tampa Bay was without its top two running backs last Sunday against the 49ers. Both Doug Martin and Charles Sims were out, and the Bucs were going to have rely on Jacquizz Rodgers and Peyton Barber to get the ground game going. Despite going deep on the running back depth chart, the Bucs' ground game dominated. Taking away a quarterback kneel, Tampa Bay ran the ball 40 times for 250 yards.

It was a dominant performance. And it was dominant from the first drive of the game. The Bucs opened the game with four straight runs. They gained 5, 11, 12, and 6 yards. Dirk Koetter and his staff knew they could run the ball against San Francisco and didn't waste any time establishing their game plan.

You don't run for 250 yards in the NFL without good blocking across the board up front. But obviously, some guys stood out more than others. We'll get to those guys later, but first I want to highlight how well the entire unit worked together to create lanes for Rodgers and Barber.

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

This is the second play of the game. It's an inside zone and the 49ers are throwing a pretty common 3-4 run blitz at it. The nose tackle (Quinton Dial, 92) is slanting the backside A gap, and the two linebackers (Nick Bellore, 50, and Gerald Hodges, 51) are running a cross blitz (we used to call this the Bozo Cross at Stanford -- that's not really pertinent, but I always liked that name). Tampa Bay's interior three guys do a great job of passing it off and getting a hat on a hat.

I don't know if center Joe Hawley (68) saw something before the snap to call a three-man combo between himself and both guards, or if they just fall into it after the snap, but this is textbook interior line play. Right guard Ali Marpet (74) does a great job of not only stopping the first blitzer's penetration, but doing it without turning his shoulders -- he stays square with the line of scrimmage. That allows him to climb and seal the looping linebacker (Bellore) over the top.

Hawley is also really good here. He sees the playside linebacker (Hodges) creeping late in the count and gets on his horse to get shoulder to shoulder with Marpet right off the snap. Then he does a nice job of fighting to get his helmet playside. He gets thrown late, but he does his job. The left guard (Kevin Pamphile, 64) isn't as good as the other guys -- he's a little behind the block -- but he's good enough.

One thing that's effective on this play, but that I don't love, is the block by right tackle Demar Dotson (69). When you commit to throwing the defensive end outside like that, you kill any hope for a bounce by the running back. On top of that, Dotson doesn't really widen the end before going to shot put him. He just does it right off the snap, which can constrict the hole. It didn't matter here, but I could see that going badly on inside zone.

Getting back to Marpet, he was the guy that really stood out to me. He was rock-solid in pass pro and was the Bucs' best run blocker all game. He looked like a future star this past Sunday.

[ad placeholder 3]

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

This is a counter play, and Marpet's kickout block makes the play go. Marpet does a nice job of staying fairly low as he pulls, and then does a great job of popping his hips at contact. Look at how his back arches up at contact. That's him popping his hips and playing with all that power in his lower half. He doesn't kill the guy, but he widens the defender out of the gap by 2 yards and creates the hole.

This play might have gone for huge yards if left tackle Donovan Smith (76) had done a better job. He does a nice job of banging the down guy onto the guard, but whiffs on the linebacker, Hodge). Hodges misses the tackle, but Rodgers has to deal with him and can't put a move on the safety as a result. If Smith had sealed Hodges, Rodgers would have been on the safety with speed and a ton of space. This could have been a touchdown.

Despite that miscue, and knowing the number of blown blocks he had last year, I'm enjoying watching Smith play. He uses his hands well for a young tackle and has a couple of different pass sets that all have been effective at times. I think he has a chance to be a player.

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

This was on a third-and-long, and I love how aggressive Smith is with his set. Normally guys set very passively on third-and-long and just try to hang on. Here, Smith sets very aggressively (almost like it's play-action) and gets into the rusher before the defender knows what hit him.

I also love that even though he's attacking the rusher, Smith is still playing with his hands, not his head. That's a solid punch, not a lunge. Smith is playing on balance the whole time, and really stonewalls the rusher.

I thought Smith's pass protection was good all day. He gave up a couple of pressures but no sacks. He also got called for a hold, but I wouldn't say that was really his fault. We can take a look at it here.

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

You can't grab the defensive end (Aaron Lynch, 59) when he starts to run away, but that's a little grab and it was probably caused more by surprise at the angle the end took than anything else. Before that tiny tug, it's textbook play-action pass blocking. Smith fires out to sell the run, engages the defender, then bench presses him off to keep a little distance. If Winston had not been forced out of the pocket, this would be clinic tape from Smith.

The reason Winston was forced out has to kill the coaching staff. They bring in a sixth offensive lineman at tight end, Gosder Cherilus (78), and he gets beat like a drum. The fact that Cherilus is getting initial outside help from a tight end and still gets beat that cleanly makes the situation even worse. This play is so bad that Ryan Grigson might sign Cherilus to another $35 million deal.

I thought the Bucs were pretty good in pass protection for most of the game, though. The two sacks they gave up were a combination of good coverage and Winston scrambling to scramble. Obviously they weren't perfect, but for the most part they held up. I thought Dotson at right tackle was probably the worst of the five.

[ad placeholder 4]

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

This was the worst play of the game for the Tampa Bay offense, and the end result was a pick. Dotson is trying to take the same set that Smith took earlier, but is too aggressive with his feet and too hesitant with his hands. He closes the distance quickly, but doesn't throw a punch, so when the defensive end (Ahmad Brooks, 55) dives inside Dotson can't slow him down at all. The nickelback (Jimmie Ward, 25) wasn't screaming blitz pre-snap, but he was in a dangerous enough alignment that Dotson has to at least consider him coming, which would mean his guy would make an inside move. Dotson does not look like a guy who is worried about an inside move.

Before we go, I did want to point out Smith on this play as well. Look at him hunch the looping defensive tackle (DeForest Buckner, 99) right to the turf. He feels the rusher has too much weight forward and just swipes both hands right down. That's A-plus handwork from the second-year player.


4 comments, Last at 31 Oct 2016, 5:53am

#1 by MilkmanDanimal // Oct 28, 2016 - 12:40pm

Ali Marpet was incredibly solid as a rookie out of a D3 school in the run game basically from day one, and was at least reasonably decent in pass protection; Bucs fans, at least, have been expecting him to turn into a star basically from a couple games into his career. He's been consistently very good, and it's nice to see him get some recognition. This is also some of the first notably positive mention Donovan Smith has gotten; he seems to get himself badly out of position a couple times a game, and it's pretty rare to hear proverbial mad props of any sort from him.

Demar Dotson was the Bucs' best offensive lineman for a few years, and he definitely hasn't been the same since coming back from injury last year. Really anchored that side of the line for a while, hopefully he bounces back. But, sheesh, those are some ugly gifs of him whiffing over and over.

Gosder Cherlius is a corpse. Kevin Pamphile so far looks like a guy who's going to be decent, and is going to have enough versatility to stick around because he can play multiple positions. Still think LG is the weak spot in general; the Bucs signed J.R. Sweezy for a chunk of money, and he's been hurt since camp. He's supposed to be the LG, but can't get on the field.

Points: 0

#2 by Tundrapaddy // Oct 28, 2016 - 4:45pm

Thanks once again, Ben.

I wonder how much of this display was due to San Francisco's empty roster, given all of their recent talent leakage.

Still - something to consider as Oakland brings its 'Oy vey' defensive formation to town.

Points: 0

#3 by ChicagoRaider // Oct 30, 2016 - 9:30am


Points: 0

#4 by RobotBoy // Oct 31, 2016 - 5:53am

As always, great insights on the nuts and bolts of line play. One small complaint - it's difficult to identify o-line players by jersey number as they're usually covered by their antagonists. A chart before the gif would work, as would identification of the opposite number by the D. Of course, I could figure it out myself but it takes four or five views and my boss is always on the prowl (she's two years old and a real ball buster).

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support Ben
Support Football Outsiders' independent media and Ben Muth. Use promo code WRITERS to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip Ben.