We've switched to a new design for our All-22 reviews, using galleries of images to walk you through a play. Let me know what you think of them! Hopefully this keeps the articles a little easier to read.
Good blitz design
Last year, we complained about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' blitzes. They were largely ineffective, failed to create free rushers, and left gaping holes in coverage with arguably the worst secondary in the league trying to cover on blitzes. That's changed this year: seven of the team's twelve sacks have been produced by linebackers and defensive backs, with Lavonte David leading Tampa Bay in sacks.
The Bucs have taken a big step forward in blitz design this year, and I'm sure the presence of better coverage players has helped quite a bit. We don't have to look hard for a successful blitz: on the Patriots' first third down against the Bucs, Tampa Bay sent a successful blitz. Let's break it down.
- The Patriots need just two yards On third and two the Buccaneers are going to drop into a three-deep, four under look from what looks like a two-deep alignment before the snap.
- Pressure stops Brady Every zone coverage has holes, and there are two holes where Brady could find his open receiver. To the bottom of the screen the Patriots have stressed Johnthan Banks, who is trying to stay underneath one receiver and over the top of another. The Bucs' zone blitz has created an overload, however, and Brady can't set up to throw.
- The fake fake blitz The two defensive ends are going to drop into shallow zones, while the Buccaneers rush four against six blockers. That sounds like a recipe for no pressure, but the design is going to get two rushers in Brady's face.
- Double A-gap blitz With the double A-gap blitz, the center picks his poison and blocks Lavonte David while the back has to pick up Mark Barron. Barron on a linebacker is a pretty decent matchup for the Bucs, but no one else has a shot at pressuring the quarterback like this. So Lavonte David drops back into coverage, as if he was faking the blitz.
- The center loses David With David out of the picture, the center looks elsewhere to see if someone needs help. David isn't out of the picture, though, and now has a free rush lane without having to beat an offensive lineman. To make matters better, Mark Barron has now beaten the running back as well.
- Overload blitz This is how a well-designed works: it leaves two linemen blocking air, creating a free rusher while still just rushing four defenders. Coverage remains sound and the Bucs get to Brady for the easy sack.
The fake fake blitz is a new wrinkle I hadn't seen before, and it managed to get David to the quarterback untouched. But the coverage holds up its end of the bargain as well, and the combination of a well-designed blitz and good coverage is how the Bucs get to Brady. That combination was nowhere to be found last year.
Mark Barron the dime backer
Mark Barron has a new role: he's the Buccaneers' dime linebacker. He's also one of their two starting safeties, but the dime backer role is much more interesting. Barron is posted in the box next to Lavonte David, and he takes over Mason Foster's responsibilities in the run game. Meanwhile, his presence in the box allows the Bucs to use him in a lot of creative ways -- and a lot more effective ways than posting him deep.
- Mark Barron as dime backer In dime packages, Mark Barron plays in the box as a sort of linebacker with Ahmad Black and Dashon Goldson often playing deep. Barron's skills vs both the run and pass allow him to be effective in this role.
- The Patriots need 3 yards The Buccaneers are playing what looks like a three-deep, three-under defense with Dashon Goldson picking up the most vertical threat to the three-receiver side. The Patriots are trying to stretch the coverage to create an open man. Note that I may be wrong on what the Bucs are doing in coverage, as you'll see in the next screenshot.
- Barron on Bolden Mark Barron is the key here -- the ball is going to Brandon Bolden with Barron in coverage. Also note how every player is matched up with a player -- this signals that either they're playing a matchup zone, where the receivers pick up and stick to whoever comes into their zone, or that it's a form of man coverage with some odd drops and David playing an underneath zone in the middle. This is why it's hard to discern exactly what's happening in coverage. The fact that most of the receivers weren't picked up until they were well beyond the first down marker, and the fact that David and Barron passed off their initial players lead me to believe it's a matchup zone.
- Barron makes the play Despite being quite a distance away, Barron uses his burst and length to break up the sure first down pass.
- Pressure gets to Brady While it doesn't look like much, if Brady holds onto this ball for half a second longer, Bowers or McCoy would get to Brady. Those two have been the only consistent pass rushers for the Bucs, with McCoy playing much better than Bowers.
Incidentally, note how Da'Quan Bowers beats his man. That's not why I put that GIF up there, but it's a nice coincidence. Bowers has definitely been a disappointment this year, but he still flashes some of his physical ability -- and he has a lot of physical ability.
But Barron is more interesting here. He makes a terrific play on the ball there, but this isn't the first time he's one that. He knocked down two third-down passes to Jimmy Graham against the Saints, too. I'd love to see him line up in coverage more, but as we saw above he's an excellent blitzer, too.
Sometimes, you know someone messed up the coverage but you can't for the life of you tell who was at fault. For that you'd need to know the play call, and the coaches generally don't just hand those out. On a crucial third-and-four, the Buccaneers had just such a coverage breakdown -- and I still can't figure out who's at fault.
- Can you see the hole? The Buccaneers are running a funky kind of coverage. The two inside receivers appear to be covered in man coverage, while the two outside coverage drop into shallow zones and the two safeties drop deep. Notice the problem? There's no one covering the middle of the field.
- Who messed up? I can guarantee you that this coverage was not designed to leave the shallow middle of the field so wide open on third-and-five. Most likely one of the players rushing the passer made a mistake.
- Anyone responsible? It's impossible to tell from the footage who should have dropped into coverage -- that could have been any of the five rushers.
- Bowers wins A bit of a coincidence, but Bowers does beat his man, here. If someone had been in that shallow zone, he could have affected the outcome of this play.
That's a pretty weird coverage concept, but the concept's not at fault here -- unless it honestly calls for no one to cover the middle of the field, in which case the concept is horrendously flawed. That's unlikely, though. Instead, it looks like someone just forgot to drop that area.
The Buccaneers called a lot of similar coverages and frequently had defensive linemen dropping into shallow coverage, sometimes asking them to do a little too much. On this play, though, no such thing. Notice Bowers beating his man again, by the way. I swear it's just a coincidence that I picked those two plays.
For the first time in well over a year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run defense seemed to falter. They allowed the New England Patriots to rush for a whopping 156 yards on a still somewhat modest 4.7 yards per attempt, though that's skewed by Tom Brady's kneels at the end of the game.
The main culprit was one 46-yard run by Brandon Bolden, however. Without that run, the Bucs keep the Patriots to 110 yards at 3.3 yards per carry -- a very acceptable number. Bolden's run was a classic outside zone run (Roll Bama Roll has a good breakdown here), the play that made Terrell Davis famous and was made famous by him. The Bucs have been very good against those runs the past few years, but it only takes one mistake to blow this play wide open.
- Does Dashon Goldson fill the wrong hole? From this angle it looks like Dashon Goldson takes the wrong angle to allow Brandon Bolden to get into the open field.
- One mistake can lead to a big play
- All holes appear covered As the outside zone tries to stretch out the defense, everyone does a good job staying in his hole without being pushed to the sideline, which leaves no room for Bolden.
- A hole appears Half a second later, however, a hole appears. Has Mason Foster overpursued too far to the sideline, or is Dashon Goldson wrongly trying to fill the hole on the edge? That's a difficult question to answer.
- Outside zone This is how outside zone works. What looked like a bottled up play just a second ago is now a massive hole for Bolden. The defense has been pushed to the sideline and backside pursuit is just a fraction of a second late. Bolden is gone because someone got stretched out too far -- but who?
Note that in the GIF below I'm blaming the run on Dashon Goldson, and that's not entirely fair. He could be at fault, it depends on what his gap should have been, but on further review it seems more likely that Mason Foster or someone else was responsible for the breakout run.
Goldson's approach does look a little comical, though, doesn't it? I repeat, though: I don't want to blame Goldson here -- I don't even know whether that's his fault. The point is that plays like these happen when defenses don't play with strict gap discipline, and that's something the Bucs have been very good at since Greg Schiano came to town -- with the exception of this play.