Offensive Breakdown: Lions-Bucs

Ideally Earnest Graham doesn't finish with more carries than LeGarrette Blount.
Ideally Earnest Graham doesn't finish with more carries than LeGarrette Blount. /
Graham shouldn't finish with more carries than Blount.
Graham shouldn't finish with more carries than Blount. /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense was ultimately the bigger culprit in its 27-20 loss the Detroit Lions yesterday. While the defense struggled out the gate it eventually got a handle on the Lions offense and held them to just seven points in the second half (including scoreless in the 4th). The offense however, didn’t find rhythm until late in the game when it was too late. They started digging a hole for themselves early and never got out.

Early on nothing really seemed to work for the Bucs on either side of the ball, they were the beneficiaries of great field position because of a Sammie Stroughter kick return on their first drive and also capitalized on a fortuitous tip into the hands of Aqib Talib. But those two plays removed, the Bucs offense was hapless until the last drive of the second quarter when it tacked on a field goal.

There were a number of issues with the Bucs offensive performance that kept the team from moving the ball consistently. Things ranging from the play of the offensive line to the play selection came together and prevented the Bucs from exerting themselves offensively like they’re built to. In many ways it almost looked like this team lacked offensive identity for a few quarters until Josh Freeman went into his usual late game heroics, unfortunately yesterday the hole was already too deep.

The way the Bucs offense is supposed to work is via balance. The team has a back that averaged nearly five yards per carry last season and a very solid passing attack. Unfortunately neither works without balance, if a team can load up to stop one it really becomes an issue.

Now it’s easy to point to the fact that LeGarrette Blount had just five carries and say, “that’s your problem.” And superficially that’s true, but let’s look at exactly when the breakdown in thinking seems to have occurred.

With 52 seconds left in the 1st quarter the Bucs get the ball back after the Lions kicked a field goal to make it 10-6. This is the Buccaneers first offensive drive with the lead and after the defense was on the field for the last seven minutes it’s going to be important to sustain a bit of a drive to give them a chance to catch a breather.

The Bucs start the drive with an incomplete attempt from Josh Freeman to Mike Williams. No problem here, I don’t mind being aggressive with a pass on first down. The next play is a shotgun set with Earnest Graham taking the handoff on a draw for no gain. This is the breakdown. This is not the Buccaneers offensive identity. The Buccaneers can exert their will with a power running game, LeGarrette Blount is the guy you want to slam into the middle of that Lions defensive line. A draw to Earnest Graham isn’t fooling anyone and it’s far less likely to succeed.

This puts the Bucs in third and long, they don’t convert and after the commercial break the Bucs defense is right back out on the field. On the next Buccaneers drive they called five passing plays and one run, a five yard rush by Blount. The drive after that Blount ran twice, on first a second down, for four yards a pop before the Bucs failed to convert on 3rd and 2.

The point remains, the Bucs failure to commit to establishing their power run game was what swung the tempo and momentum in the Lions’ favor. The offense struggled to stay on the field which left the defense on the field for most of the first half. That was obviously detrimental as the D surrendered four first half scoring drives.

In a way it was almost as if the Bucs felt they couldn’t run the ball on the Lions defensive strength, their line. So they didn’t even try. Aside from getting stuffed on his first attempt, Blount was actually productive when given touches in the first half, but the play-calling favored the passing so heavily that he never got the chance to start imposing his will on the Lions defense. If LeGarrette Blount gets 25 carries instead of Josh Freeman throwing 43 times the Bucs stand a far better chance of winning that game.