Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Troubles in Tampa

Word of Muth: Troubles in Tampa
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Chicago Bears 36-10 this past Sunday, and it probably should not have been that close. The biggest story coming out of the game was Jay Cutler's play, which ranged between poor and embarrassing depending on how you feel about it. The second biggest story was Jameis Winston running around forever before heaving one to Mike Evans for an awesome play that reminded everyone of Evans' college quarterback. Other than that I don't think the average fan heard or thought much about this game. (There was also something of a Chris Conte revenge storyline, but I don't think that's moving the needle.) So I was excited to dig a little deeper and see what exciting storylines John Q. Public might have missed. The answer was, unfortunately, not much, at least from Tampa Bay's offense.

Winston did play well, but I was surprised how poorly Tampa Bay's offensive line played. They got it handed to them by the Bears front seven pretty much all game. Ali Marpet was really good and Donovan Smith was pretty good, but the rest of the unit was below average or worse.

Of the other three, rookie guard Caleb Benenoch was probably the best in his NFL debut, but he wasn't exactly good (though he might look the worst since his man was the one that flushed Winston originally on his crazy scramble play). Center Evan Smith, replacing Joe Hawley who hasn't been particularly effective all year, was bad. His day started by whiffing on a linebacker on a third-and-short to force a punt, and didn't improve much from there. (He also missed the second half of the game with an injury.) But by far the worst up front was Demar Dotson.

Dotson really struggled in pass protection at right tackle all day and was nowhere near good enough in the run game to make up for his deficiencies there. He got called for two holds and a false start, and gave up multiple pressures. It was a tough performance that seemed to snowball on him, particularly in the first half.

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This is hold No. 1 on the day. For any young offensive linemen out there reading this, just know it's bad when you look like a cape on the defensive lineman, at any point in the play. I mean, this is almost a horse collar penalty.

I want you to notice the difference between Smith (76) at left tackle and Dotson (69) on the right side here. The big difference is their hands. Look at how much more extension and distance Smith is playing with. Smith isn't perfect, but because he uses his hands to widen the defender a bit he can run him to 10 yards or so behind the snap. Dotson doesn't really extend his hands at all, and his man is close to 7 or 8 yards behind the snap. Those 2.5 yards make all the difference in the world when it comes to pass protection.

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This is Dotson's second hold. It's not as bad as the first, and really not that bad as far as holds go, but this play is a good example of what I think Dotson's biggest problem is and that's stepping in the bucket. By that I mean he's stepping back and behind himself at the top of his set. That turns his shoulders too far upfield and opens up a lane to the quarterback. He has basically done a 180 and is facing the opposite end zone when he finally makes contact with the defensive end (Pernell McPhee, 92). Here's another play that illustrates what I'm talking about.

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Dotson is stepping in the bucket again here big time, and this time it forces Winston out of the pocket (although Smith at center gets beat quickly too, so maybe it was his man that forced the quarterback out). The thing that stuck out to me is how hesitant Dotson was to engage rushers at the top of his rush. Look at how long Dotson avoids throwing his punch. He has taken damn near six kick-slides and completely turned his shoulders before he even really tries to block the end (Willie Young, 97).

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That to me is a guy playing with zero confidence. It's like he's so scared of getting beat that he's holding off on committing to trying to make a block. Of course, that just assures he is going to get beat. This reluctance to be aggressive is a big reason why his footwork was so bad at the top of his set. He's trying to turn everything into a run block where he hopes he can just run the defensive end by. It's not a realistic way to expect to block guys in the NFL.

I also want to point out Donovan Smith again here at left tackle. I think he may be cutting a little too early in the play, but I like the meanness it shows. The thought behind this is that if you get some distance created between you and the pass-rusher late in the protection, feel free to throw a cut block and take some steam out of him for later. Here, he does it too early for my liking (if Winston didn't get flushed, Smith's man could have pressured him here) but I love that he's thinking about stuff like this to slow down defenders. Smith isn't the most consistent guy, but he does a couple of things every game that I really like. I have enjoyed watching him this year and I think he's got a chance to be good.

Before we go, I wanted to watch a well-blocked run play as a palate cleanser. So here's a simple 8-yard gain.

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Smith does a nice job of stonewalling the defensive end (Jonathan Bullard, 74) and sealing him off inside to set the edge where Tampa Bay wants it. And then Ali Marpet does what he does best, pull from the right guard spot and make a play go. Marpet has been the undisputed bright spot for this Tampa Bay offensive line all year. The second tight end also does a decent job of making contact in the hole and having the decency to let the back through before he gets knocked on his ass. This play isn't art or anything, but it's blocked well and a nice play to end on after pointing out a bunch of negatives in a 36-10 win.

That'll do it for this week. Just a heads up, I'm going to be off next week for Thanksgiving. So there won't be a column in this space.


7 comments, Last at 27 Sep 2017, 4:07am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Troubles in Tampa

I have to ask Ben. When o linemen use poor technique, is that just how they always play, is it due to fatigue/mental lapses, or is it for other reasons like trying to compensate for weaknesses elsewhere?

4 Re: Word of Muth: Troubles in Tampa

Not only is Benenoch a rookie, but this was the first game he was even active for. It's not that he didn't even play before last week; he wasn't even on the active roster.

Dotson was the Bucs' best offensive lineman for a number of years (before Marpet came along, and basically took that title from pretty much day one), and he's just fallen off a cliff this year. He missed most of last year with an injury, maybe he just knows whatever power he had is gone and is playing scared.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Troubles in Tampa

Ben, any comments on the Bears front 7? It seems to have gelled/picked up/got healthy from the beginning of the year, but it's hard to tell how much is improved play and how much is playing weak offensive lines.