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Game Film: Missed opportunities, route running and pass blocking

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An NFL offense in some ways is similar to a machine: there are many parts that need to work together for successful plays to happen. On run plays, the quarterback needs to execute the handoff, the running back needs to run hard and find the hole, while his blockers need to,well, block. If one of those things doesn't happen, a negative play is the result. The same goes on passing plays: pass-blockers need to block, the quarterback needs to throw an accurate ball, the receivers need to execute their routes. If one of those things, doesn't happen

And on interesting play past Sunday, one of those things didn't happen. Specifically, Kregg Lumpkin failed to execute a key block turning a possible touchdown pass into a sack and robbing the Bucs of their best chance to win the game. Not that it was a big chance, but at least it was something. 

This play illustrates a problem with Kregg Lumpkin: he's not a great pass blocker, and he's not a great pass receiver either - he does not do a good job finding the hole for extra yardage consistently. That's a little baffling for a player who is on the roster solely to be a third-down back, and who has been in the league for four years now - enough time to learn the skills necessary to thrive as a third-down back. 

That doesn't mean Lumpkin always blows his blocks in pass protection. He has had some great blocks too - but too often he whiffs or fails to stay in to protect Freeman, and that's a real problem. 

Hit the jump to see exactly what happened, and how the Bucs could have had a chance to win the game, even with just a minute left. 

Now that we've seen the play, we can talk about it in depth. First, note the game situation. It's 2nd&10 with just 1:19 left in the game as the Bucs are down 9 points. They need a touchdown, an onside kick and a field goal to win the game. That's nearly impossible - but anything can happen in the NFL. 

The pre-snap formation is easy enough. The Bucs line up with three wide receiver, one tight end and one running back. Kregg Lumpkin is the RB in the backfield looking to pass block or leak out as a dumpoff option, while Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn are the outside receiver. Benn's presence would have been a surprise just five weeks ago, but he has been getting a lot of work in three-receiver sets the past couple of games. Sammie Stroughter is in the slot, which is a little surprising as Preston Parker is clearly the first option as a slot receiver. 

The key thing to see pre-snap, though, is Green Bay's movement up front. They have two defensive linemen with their hands on the ground and everyone else mulling around and changing position to confuse the Tampa Bay protection. Freeman does a good job resetting and adjusting his protection, though, and the Bucs pick up every rusher with no real mismatches. 

While the Packers present seven potential rushers, the Packers rush five trying to overload the right side of the offensive line. The Bucs have little problems picking up the rush from a responsibilities point of view, but two players blow their blocks: center Jeff Faine and running back Kregg Lumpkin. Faine just gets pushed back, but that at least doesn't really affect Freeman. Lumpkin blowing his block, though, that's the killer: it allows Woodson to get to Freeman and bring him down. 

But Freeman himself deserves some criticism too. He does a good job sliding away from pressure and keeping his eyes downfield, but if he had broken the pocket and scrambled to the left he could have avoided Charles Woodson. The Green Bay cornerback was on the ground grasping at Freeman's legs, and if Freeman had moved just one yard he could have gotten the ball off. In fact, he could maybe have gotten rid of the ball a little earlier, although that's a lot easier said than done.

What's interesting about this play is that Freeman singled it out in his post-game press conference. "On the play where I got sacked Mike [Williams] ran a great route and really, I thought we had a touchdown. But right as I'm getting ready to throw it a guy grabs my leg and that was a shame."

And watching that play again, that's really clear. Mike Williams is on the left side of the field, and if you watch the play again you can see him leaving his defender in the dust. In fact, that's a beautiful route by Williams who runs a very smooth and fast route, while still fooling the defender. Watch him widen his route to the outside, then turn his hips to the inside - which is what draws in the cornerback - and then run straight by the corner. 

Although I can't see the safeties I can make an educated guess as to the type of coverage the Packers are playing: man coverage with a single high safety. There are five pass rushers leaving six playes in coverage. I can see three during the play, all appear to be playing man coverage, and one appears to be spying on Freeman. That suggests man coverage on the four eligible receivers, one spy and one safety - who should be playing center field. 

That's supported by the reaction of the cornerback after being beat by Mike Williams: he immediately panics and starts running after Williams at full speed, which he wouldn't do if this was a variant of zone coverage. It's unlikely that a safety could have come over in time to break up the pass, and if Williams could have made him miss or even gotten behind him this would have been a touchdown. The Bucs would need to recover an onside kick, but if they did they would have about a minute to drive thirty yards and kick a field goal to win the game. Unlikely, but possible. 


This play showed off a couple of interesting things about the Bucs, which is why I singled it out. It shows that Arrelious Benn is earning more playing time as a wide receiver. It shows that Kregg Lumpkin is lacking as a pass-blocker, which is a real problem for a third-down back. It also shows that Josh Freeman could do with a little more scrambling. And finally, it shows that Mike Williams still has his skills.