Have Tampa Bay Buccaneers Let Tom Brady Down?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 16 - It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves. I know it's hacky but that's the only way to describe the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 34-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Tom Brady and company stormed out to a 17-point lead before turnovers led to a complete reversal of fortune in the second half. The Bucs have dropped two straight and now sit at 6-8. They're still leading the awful NFC South, but they're running out of time to come together if they want to make a serious run in the postseason.

I will say that the Bucs offensive line played alright on the whole. When things were going well in the first half, they did a great job in pass protection and gave Brady plenty of room and time to operate. The rushing stats don't look great, but they blocked for more yards than their backs gained in my opinion. Tampa Bay's backs haven't done much to make their offensive line look good this year. Nevertheless, let's focus on some of the pass protection highlights.

This is good stuff from the offensive line on what ended up being a very long developing route. Let's start with the right side of the line since that's the side that has to deal with the stunt. Right tackle Josh Wells probably oversets here at the snap; he gets too wide too quick and is in a bad spot for an inside stunt. But he recovers nicely and is able to close down with defensive end (Sam Hubbard, 94) until he runs into right guard Shaq Mason. Once Wells feels Mason overtake the defensive end, he gets outside and gets enough of the looper (Josh Tupou, 68) for Brady to slide around and make a throw down the field.

The reason Brady can slide so easily is that left guard Nick Leverett and left tackle Donovan Smith do a great job with their men. Both guys give a little play-action sell and get into their defenders quickly. Then they just stay latched and slide their feet with the rushers. Really good pass protection across the entire offensive line.

Before we get into the offensive line here, I want to rant about a Twitter pet peeve of mine: people posting clips of quarterbacks faking the ball to no one like it's the dumbest thing an offense can do. All that's happening is the universal rule that the protection comes before the play fake. So on a play like this, Leonard Fournette is supposed to take a fake but is also responsible for anyone blitzing off either edge. Once he sees a linebacker walk up to the line of scrimmage, he correctly discerns that he might not have time to get over there to make a decent block if he has to make a fake first. So he abandons the fake and just goes and blocks his guy. Perfect, exactly what he should do.

And look at the linebackers. They bite on a play fake to no one. Why? Because NFL linebackers are rarely reading the running backs, they're reading the offensive line or tight ends. So a play-action sell from the offensive line is all they'll see anyways. If a back goes the opposite way, it hurts the sell like 5%. So please, do not ever post a GIF of a quarterback play-faking to no one thinking you caught some massive blunder.

Speaking of the sell, this is a max-protect play-action pass, and the sell from Shaq Mason (69) and Josh Wells (72) is tremendous. That looks a lot like Duo or Power if you're just looking at the first two steps of those guys. At left guard, Nick Leverett (60) had a really nice game, but here he looks confused and should be helping his center or tackle—that blitzer isn't his concern. Still, this is more strong pass protection that leads to a big play.

This is where things started to get rocky. I will point out Cincinnati lineman D.J. Reader (98) is holding the hell out of Leverett as he tries to get back outside and pick up the looping linebacker. Of course, the coaching point for that is usually "you're getting paid too, don't let him hold you."

Even with the hold though, I don't think Tampa Bay's offensive line is that bad here. Any time the looper (Logan Wilson, 55) is the man that gets the pressure on a three-man stunt, you're doing alright and at least giving the quarterback a chance. Donovan Smith's man (Joseph Ossai, 58) spooks Brady a bit here, but Smith actually does a pretty good job of washing him down past the snap point and into the ground without getting too close to the quarterback. If he's not getting held, I think Leverett gets outside to at least get a piece of the linebacker too. A sack/fumble never looks great for an offensive line, but this isn't terrible pass pro.

Here, Shaq Mason (69) has to be better. He looks like he's in pretty good shape for the most part, but he starts turning his hips perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. He just isn't strong enough with his outside half, and that gives the defensive tackle a lane to the quarterback. At some point you have to fight to stay square even if it means giving a little ground. He's not awful and he stays engaged so Brady can at least step up around him.

Of course, Mason not being good enough forces Brady into Robert Hainsey's (70) block, and that leads to the pick. Again, this is a play where the pass protection isn't horrible, but it's bad enough to lead to turnovers from a quarterback that is struggling when dealing with pressure this season.

Tampa Bay is fortunate to next take on an absolutely free-falling Cardinals team on Christmas Day. You have to figure that will be a win and hopefully get them on track.


2 comments, Last at 24 Dec 2022, 3:08pm

#1 by theslothook // Dec 24, 2022 - 1:10pm

If only there was a Ben Muth equivalent for defensive coverage play because to me, that was what swung this game in the second half (well the turnovers mostly, but the coverage indirectly)

Points: 2

#2 by BigRichie // Dec 24, 2022 - 3:08pm

On the last gif, looks to me like Shaq, knowing the center is going to go left, takes an inside set against a tackle shaded a bit toward the center. This then lets the tackle gain penetration via an immediate and hard outside rush.

Should Shaq have given a bit more ground on his set then, so as to improve his angle? (which then sets him up poorly via a bull rush) I'm just wondering if this is a bit of an unavoidable guessing game then. Choose vulnerability to either a bull rush or an outside rush.

Points: 0

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