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Playcalling recap from the Bucs/Falcons game

Coming off of a close loss at Atlanta yesterday, a lot has been made of the play calling, particularly the run/pass ratio.  It's been no secret that Olsen has favored the pass to the run by an almost two to one margin this year.  Given that the Bucs have been playing from behind most games, that would make sense if you buy into conventional wisdom that you throw more when you're behind in a game.

Yesterday's game brought a new twist.  We had the lead or were tied for a good portion of the game.  So how did this affect the play calling?  Let's look at the number of runs and passes called based on certain scenarios.

I went through the play by play on to look at called runs versus called passes. This means any sack, or Freeman scramble is classified as a pass, as that was the call in the huddle.  Any designed runs were counted as runs.  Plays that were nullified due to penalties were not counted, but plays where the penalty occurred after the play were counted.   

First, let's look at the the called passes vs runs by quarter in the game against the Falcons.

Quarter 1 2 3 4
Pass 5 9 11 7
Run 7 3 5 9

Those numbers look fairly balanced, but here's what I see.  We opened up the game with a somewhat run heavy (for us) attack.  We moved the ball well, and it opened up the play action pass and the ability for Freeman to have a few more seconds in the pocket.  As the game progressed, we abandoned the run for a pass heavy offense (20 to 8 in the 2nd and 3rd quarter).  We took away the threat of the play action pass, took our running backs out of the game and became a stagnant offense.  The 4th quarter so us go a bit run heavy, particularly on the last drive.  We were very predictable in our attack, which lead to the Atlanta defense, not a stalwart by any stretch, to shut us down as the game went on.   When we went pass heavy (3rd quarter), we failed to move the ball.

Next I wanted to take a look at how we called plays based on the score.  I again went through the play by play to see what types of plays were called based on if we had the lead, were tied, or were behind.  What I'd also like to qualify, is that we were never behind by more than 10 points.  This game was not out of reach for either team at any point.

Lead Tie Behind
Pass 13 10 9
Run 13 8 3

This is open to all kinds of interpretation.  I understand the logic in throwing so much when we are/were behind, but it was 10 points.  Olsen (and Gruden) have a history of abandoning the run to soon and just taking to the air.  With a 10 point deficit (at it's highest point), we were 3 to 1 in favor of the pass.  The balanced attack vanished. 

With the score tied or the Bucs int he lead, we almost got to a 50/50 split.  I have no problem with passing on first down, or using quick flares, passes to the flats or screens as running plays.  But we've become somewhat predictable. 

Here's a look at our play calling based on down, and then based on distance.  I broke distance into 10+ yards, 4-9 yards to go, and 3 yards or less.  First, based on downs.

Down 1st 2nd 3rd
Pass 10 9 11
Run 14 10 1

The first thing I see is the lack of a run game on 3rd down.  At this point, I'd settle for a screen on 3rd down just to give the defense something to think about.  The Bucs seem pretty balanced on other downs, but the consistent passing from 3rd downs surely won't help a young quarterback.  As a point worth noting, the Bucs were 25% on 3rd downs on Sunday.  Not good.

Yards To Go 10 or more 4-9 3 or less
Pass 14 11 5
Run 15 8 2

The big disparity here is, with 3 yards or less to go, we throw almost three times for every run.  I find this pretty hard to believe.  No threat of running the ball, the defense can just play pass all day long.  The runs on 10 or more yards is a bit misleading.  By using the numbers above, you can see that 14 of the 15 runs with 10 or more yards to gain are on first down.  With 2nd or 3rd and long, no threat of a draw (or a screen). 

The play calling seems to lack imagination and any real planning.  The Bucs seem to be a pretty easy team to figure out offensively, particularly once we are behind in a game.  If these are trends that we are picking up on, I'd be willing to bet that the guys who are paid to do this, the opposing defensive coordinators and coaches have figured this out as well. 

At some point this week, I'd also like to look at two play calls that seem to be generating a lot of heat.  The fake punt and the long field goal attempt at the end of the game.

I'm not for ousting Olsen, but I do think some changes need to be made.  We blasted Jim Bates for his failure to adapt to our personnel and running a scheme that was an ill fit to our team, the same should be done for Olsen.  We are working against our strengths and running the same offense we've run for the past 6 years.  The commitment to the run game and vertical threat that we heard about all preseason (and that Jags was in part fired for not installing) is non-existent.  Lets adapt to what we have, not force a scheme that doesn't fit just to do it.

I'd like to say we are taking a step in the right direction, and we are as a team.  The defense certainly looked better yesterday, but the offense, though it has some bright spots, can't seem to get out of it's own way sometimes.

Edit:  I went back and looked at all 11 games thus far and looked at the pass/run numbers on first and third down.  I broke it down by quarterbacks, but you can add the numbers up to see where we stand over all.  The charts show number of called pass plays and run plays on 1st down and on 3rd down.


1st 3rd
Pass 44 36
Run 28 3



1st 3rd
Pass 55 54
Run 43 6


1st 3rd
Pass 59 49
Run 48 7

Yep.  We've passed the ball 139 times on 3rd down and run it 16 times.  You do the math.