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Buccaneers - Giants Snap Counts: Defensive Fatigue Caused Fourth-Quarter Collapse

Sep 16, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib (25) breaks up pass intended for New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (88) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
Sep 16, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib (25) breaks up pass intended for New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (88) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

Going into the fourth quarter of yesterday's crushing loss to the New York Giants, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the driver's seat. They were leading 27-16, had played solid football throughout the game and looked like they would be able to hold on to a win. And then, the craziest fourth quarter I've seen in a long time happened. The Bucs gave up 25 points in the fourth quarter, 6 more than they'd given up all game. Eli Manning passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns in that one quarter, nearly half of his total of 510 yards on the game. So what changed from the first three quarters to the final quarter of the game? Was it luck, was it poor play, was it poor coaching and playcalling? I would say all of that has something to do with the late-game collapse, but one factor stands out above all others: fatigue.

The Buccaneers defense played 84 snaps in this game. Only two defenses in the entire NFL have played more snaps than that in a game so far this season. Those two defenses? Cleveland in week 1 and Jacksonville in week 2. It should be no surprise that both of those teams lost their games. A tired defense is a recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, the Bucs have no depth across their defensive line, forcing them to keep their starters in for long periods of time. That led to Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and Michael Bennett each playing 79 snaps. Only one defensive lineman in the entire NFL has played more snaps than that in one game, as Jacksonville's Jeremy Mincey put up 82 snaps in this week's loss to the Houston Texans.

I've seen some people rag on the defensive line, but most of the defensive line problems were snapcount-related. If you go back through the game, you'll find plenty of plays where the defensive line disrupted the opposing passing game, especially early on in the game. By the fourth quarter, though, the defensive linemen were gassed - and understandably, they didn't come close to the passer. But that wasn't a result of poor play: it was a result of fatigue. Prior to the fourth quarter, the Bucs were routinely forcing Manning to throw it before he wanted to, leading to poor throws and three interceptions. Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett were especially impressive, while Adrian Clayborn got a few plays in as well.

So why were the Bucs fatigued, and what can they do about those huge snap counts? Rotations would help, but the problem there is that the Bucs backup defensive linemen were horrible. In fact, every time the backups were in the game Tampa Bay would give up a big run or pass play. It was quite impressive. In the end, the reason the Bucs racked up such ridiculous snap counts was three-fold:

  1. The offense wasn't sustaining long drives. Not once did they produce a drive of over 7 plays, and 7 drives consisted of 3 plays or fewer. This happened both because of quick touchdowns, and because of three-and-outs.
  2. The defense couldn't get quick stops, leading to a lot of lengthy New York drives. They had four drives of 8 or more plays and gained 31 first downs, against the Bucs' 14 first downs.
  3. Heavy rotations were impossible because of a lack of depth on defense.
Sustaining drives on offense will go a long way toward alleviating this problem, but when you face a quality offense like the New York Giants' this kind of problem is going to pop up. Ultimately, the Bucs will need to build depth to be able to sustain their level of play into the fourth quarter.

Some other snap count notes:

  • Legarrette Blount was in for one play - and that one play was a pass.
  • Arrelious Benn played just three snaps on offense, and as far as I could tell those three came on the final drive of the game.
  • Dallas Clark took 75% of the snaps, while Luke Stocker was in on just 53%. In addition, fullback Erik Lorig played just 16 snaps (30%). Where the Bucs went with heavy, run-oriented personnel packages last week, they went with pass-heavy sets this week.
  • Aqib Talib missed two snaps in the fourth quarter. Both of those snaps resulted in long pass plays.
  • Leonard Johnson got a whopping 22 snaps on defense, presumably as a dime cornerback. In part because of Eric Wright's injury. He was on the field more than Ahmad Black - and somehow, the Giants didn't throw to him.
You can find the full snap count list after the break.

Name & Pos. Offense Defense Special Teams
C Nicks G 53 100% 6 16%
D Dotson T 53 100% 6 16%
D Penn T 53 100% 6 16%
J Zuttah C 53 100% 6 16%
T Larsen G 53 100% 6 16%
J Freeman QB 53 100%
V Jackson WR 49 92%
M Williams WR 46 87%
D Martin RB 45 85% 1 3%
D Clark TE 40 75%
L Stocker TE 28 53% 15 39%
E Lorig FB 16 30% 29 76%
P Parker WR 16 30% 6 16%
S Stroughter WR 12 23% 2 5%
D Ware RB 8 15% 15 39%
A Benn WR 3 6% 17 45%
D Noble TE 1 2% 6 16%
L Blount RB 1 2%
M Barron SS 84 100% 10 26%
A Talib CB 82 98% 8 21%
R Barber FS 81 96% 8 21%
A Clayborn DE 79 94% 8 21%
G McCoy DT 79 94% 8 21%
M Bennett DE 79 94% 8 21%
L David LB 77 92% 10 26%
M Foster LB 62 74% 14 37%
E Wright CB 58 69% 6 16%
B McDonald CB 57 68% 5 13%
R Miller DT 56 67% 8 21%
Q Black LB 35 42% 23 61%
D Watson LB 22 26% 25 66%
L Johnson CB 22 26% 14 37%
A Black FS 19 23% 19 50%
G Gibson DT 12 14%
D Te'o-Nesheim DE 10 12% 8 21%
A Hayward LB 5 6% 25 66%
C Irvin DT 5 6%
C Grimm SS 24 63%
M Koenen P 19 50%
K Tandy FS 16 42%
A Economos LS 12 32%
M Lewis CB 7 18%
C Barth K 6 16%
J Meredith T 6 16%