Mike Williams grabs a 47-yard touchdown catch against the Cardinals - a touchdown catch made possible by Legarrette Blount.
Remember last season, when the Bucs were supposed to be a downhill running team, throwing deep off play-action? When the sexy new zone-blocking scheme was supposed to combine with a talented young offensive line and a 1-2 punch of a healthy Cadillac Williams and a newly acquird Derrick Ward to dominate teams on the ground? When a competition between 4 quarterbacks was supposed to let the best player come to the surface, who would then throw to incredibly talented Antonio Bryant, great receiving tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and no-longer-in-the-dog-house Michael Clayton?
Yeah, that didn't work out so well. After firing Offensive Coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski mere weeks before the season started, the Bucs produced one of the worst offenses in the league. The Bucs couldn't do diddly-poo offensively, they couldn't run the ball, they didn't try to run the ball, they couldn't complete a pass: they sucked. They went through 3 different QBs, had an incredibly poor offensive line and threw more interceptions than they had offensive touchdowns. Last year was a disastrous offensive performance that in no way, shape or form resembled the downhill running, play-action offense that we were promised.
But on Sunday that changed. For the first time in over a year the Bucs looked like they finally had the offense they had promised.
It all started with Legarrette Blount. He'd shown he could run the ball against the Rams the week before, but the Bucs really asked him to carry the load this week. And with 22 carries for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns he certainly did. Blount is a powerful runner between the tackles who has a little shiftiness in him, but is fundamentally a power back who will get the tough yards inside. With Cadillac Williams in the game, opponents can ignore the run to some degree and focus on defending the pass. With Legarrette Blount, this is no longer possible as he's capable of gaining consistent yards on the ground.
But Blount brings another dimension the offense has been missing: effective play action passes. Before the game against the Cardinals, the Bucs often tried to spread the field to present Freeman with options and defeat a defense that way. But against the Cardinals the two biggest plays for the Bucs - a 47-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams and a 53-yard pass down to the 1-yard-line to Arrelious Benn - happened with everyone aligned inside the numbers and when they had run-heavy personnel in the game. Let's take a look at the two plays:
2-8-ARZ 47 (9:07) J.Freeman pass deep middle to M.Williams for 47 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Bucs have 3 tight ends, one wide receiver and one running back in the game. John Gilmore is on the right side of the line, Ryan Purvis is behind the left side of the line as an H-Back, Kellen Winslow is to the right in the slot, and Mike Williams is to the left in the slot. Everyone is aligned close to the core of the formation here, keeping the defense close together. Having two tight ends aligned close to the formation allows them to help out in pass protection as well. On this play the defense is obviously anticipating run, with 8 players in the box. The defenders are initially fooled by play action, which helps give Freeman a clean pocket to throw to Mike Williams, who is running a post-route deep down the field. More importantly, the play action fools the deep safety, allowing Mike Williams to get behind him for the touchdown. This was the kind of thing we had been missing all year: the ability to get an explosive passing play out of a running formation.
1-10-TB 46 (6:16) J.Freeman pass deep left to A.Benn to ARZ 1 for 53 yards (K.Rhodes).
Something similar happens on Benn's 53-yard reception. This time there are two tight ends, two receivers and one running back in the game, but the formation is very similar. Benn and Williams are both inside the numbers on the right and left respectively, while Kellen Winslow and John Gilmore are on the right side of the offensive line. This time, the Cardinals don't bring up an 8th man into the box, though they do have 10 defenders within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Again Freeman hooks up deep with a receiver running a post route, and again they get an explosive passing play out of a run-heavy formation. This time the deep safety wasn't actually fooled by play action, but Benn collides with him which gives the receiver just the step he needs to catch the ball unimpeded.
Against the Cardinals the Buccaneers found ways to create big plays from run-heavy formations. Now it remains to be seen if they'll be able to do the same thing against tougher competition, but the combination of Blount's tough inside running and Freeman's big arm has the potential to create a lot of these plays. An interesting note is that this kind of offense is exactly what made and makes Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan succesful NFL quarterbacks. Freeman has certainly shown he can win games without a running game too, but this style of offense will make it a lot easier for him.