The Buccaneers’ offense has come under fire from fans in recent weeks because playcalling seems to easily predicted and too easily defended. Mike Sullivan and his crew have been shouted at from the seats and Raymond James Stadium and from couches and bar stools in houses and sports bars around Buc Nation.
But with the change to Mike Glennon not creating drastically improved play at the quarterback position, the backbone of the “Mike Sullivan” offense is compromised. The inability to stretch the defense with deep throws means opponents can stack the box and key in on Doug Martin and the running game. The Eagles did just that, and showed us why Glennon’s improvement as a deep-pass thrower will be what decides the fate of the Tampa Bay offense for the rest of this season.
Let’s take a look at the tape. (Click on images to make them bigger. All images obtained from NFL Game Rewind.)
This was the Buccaneers’ second play from scrimmage against the Eagles, and Tampa Bay lined up in a formation which screams to the defense “We’re going to run the football!”
The Eagles responded by stacking the box against the run, and trusting that their corners could handle the Bucs’ receivers.
The general blocking scheme for the play is heading to the right, with Spencer Larsen the lead blocker to the outside responsible for setting the edge for Doug Martin to run inside of.
Here’s what happens just a few moments after the snap.
Larsen has set his edge, and the linemen on the left side of the formation have done a good enough job slowing down the backside pursuit, circled in yellow. But the blockers circled in red have been dominated at the point of attack, and they’re already in the intended running lane.
And even though Doug Martin fought and clawed for every yard he could, there were too many Eagles in the area to work any magic and create a play.
Let’s take a look at the same play from the other perspective to see how it was supposed to work, and how the Buccaneers could have still succeeded on this play despite the Eagles’ run-stacked defensive playcall.
As you can see, Larsen and Dotson have linebackers to block, and if the play works as intended, this is a home run ball of a running play. The deep safety would be the only man between Doug Martin and the end zone if Zuttah and Joseph did their jobs.
But they didn’t.
As you can see, the running lane (in yellow) is there. Martin even could have benefited from a great block from his receiver on the outside, on the left of the image. Instead, he’s being forced outside of the blocking scheme because of the defenders who have rushed past his interior linemen.
And even though he’s able to wiggle away from the initial tackler, it’s taken him outside of Spencer Larsen’s leverage (His feet, circled in red, are positioned to keep Barwin outside the numbers and allow Martin to run behind him). This allows Connor Barwin to come free and clean up the tackle.
So why are the Eagles up in the box, with no respect for Glennon and the passing game? First, they had just jammed Vincent Jackson on the play prior and thrown off the timing between the rookie corner and the Pro Bowl receiver.
Second, they watched the film from the Arizona game and know they have nothing to worry about down the field with Glennon under center. Glennon would prove them right in the second half.
The Eagles have a very similar defensive formation for this play, with only one safety truly playing the deep portion of the field. He’s shaded toward Vincent Jackson’s side of the field, but he doesn’t factor into the play, as we’ll see here.
Jackson has closed the gap on his defender and is now running step-for-step with him with plenty of room between the sideline and his hands for Glennon to drop in a pass. And because the safety isn’t coming over, and is instead still patrolling the middle of the field, Glennon just has to give Jackson a chance to win a one-on-one.
Jackson is good at winning one-on-ones. Just give him a chance!
As you can see here, the safety has begun to chase down the play after Glennon lets go of his pass. But it’s too late, it’s a receiver versus corner matchup down the sideline. Jackson has actually overtaken his defender, and any throw into the green box would be a probable completion.
As you can see, there’s a pretty big sweet spot here for Jackson to receive a pass for a big gain. He’s got great position, and is able to get the same slight leverage on his defender as Riley Cooper did for the Eagles on his long touchdown catch.
This is a tough throw, don’t get me wrong. But this is also one of those throws that goes into the “He can make all the throws” designation scouts give quarterbacks out of college. Glennon was supposed to be that guy.
Jackson even could have caught a back-shoulder throw here, because he had room between himself and the sideline. But instead, this is what happens.
Let’s give Glennon another chance. Not every quarterback is going to make every throw, and since he’s already missed a handful he’ll get the next one, right?
As Tiquan Underwood gets down the field, he’s already left the corner lined up over him in the dust, and is one-on-one with the safety with a quarter of the field to his outside. There’s room to work here, no tight sideline throw needed.
Glennon has a halo of protection around him, as the offensive line keeps him as clean as possible for this deep throw. He’s winding up to unleash this deep pass, knowing all he has to do is beat the safety and he’s got a big gain. Underwood has already left the corner behind.
“You see, what had happened was…”
Let’s take a look at that from the other point of view.
Glennon still has the halo of protection as he steps up to throw, and he can see the safety and knows where he is in relation to Underwood. As we saw above, he’s further downfield than Tiquan, and he’s closer to the hashmarks than the receiver as well.
But instead of getting the ball outside of the numbers for Tiquan to track it down, or instead of putting it right over the top of the two players and hoping for a pass interference or a great play from his receiver, Glennon drops the ball well inside both players, falling harmlessly to the turf.
Underwood knows the ball is coming in behind the defender, and tries to cut in to get it. But since the defender had good position to the inside, there’s no hope of cutting all the way across to re-adjust to this pass.
So what’s the silver lining? What’s the hope for the offense once things become more balanced?
Later in the game, the Buccaneers faced a first and 20. Because of the increased down and distance, the Eagles backed off and presented the Buccaneers with a standard front seven. This worked perfectly for Tampa Bay.
Proof of the easier-to-deal-with front seven.
Here’s how the play was set up. Just like the play at the beginning of the game, there are players blocking in either direction to create a huge running lane.
Notice that there’s an angled blocking mark for Demar Dotson. That’s because his job is to drive his man outside. And he does so to great effect.Look at how far Dotson pushed his man! He’s now as far outside as the man being blocked by Tom Crabtree, That allows Davin Joseph to get to the second level, and there are multiple paths for Doug Martin to take.
Without an extra man in the box to account for, the Buccaneers have options when it comes to running the football. There’s more space to set up running lanes and create gaps for Doug Martin, who is still completely capable of breaking a big run despite his pedestrian stats this season.
So once Glennon earns enough respect to get the extra defender out of the box, and once the playcalling opens up to allow for more runs from different personnel groupings to keep the defense honest, we’ll see more plays like the one above.
There’s a chess match to the offense/defense relationship, and the Buccaneers have been losing because they lack their most powerful piece: a respected deep passing attack.