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O-Line Review: run game ruination

After remaking almost the entire offensive line to fit the switch to a zone-blocking run game, and despite what many consider to be one of the deeper running back groups in the league, the Buccaneer run game failed to do much of anything against the Panthers - and the offensive line's play should be a serious cause of concern.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucs' highly-anticipated running game - featuring an almost entirely new offensive line hand-picked for the team's new zone scheme, and built to show off the 'speed in space' of the Buccaneers deep running back unit - was finally unveiled to the world last Sunday... and, boy, what a dud that turned out to be.

Instead of the unstoppable ground assault many were hoping for when the new coaching regime took over at One Buc Place, it is apparent from this first game that the Buccaneer rushing offense still has a longways to go, not helped by the shoddy guard play that was a fixture of the preseason. What's worse, though, is that it wasn't even the weak guard positions that the poor play was restricted to - even the high-touted additions of Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith were incredibly weak in run blocking, Dietrich-Smith particularly. For those who look to stats to explain the game of football, the fact that Demar Dotson was the only Buccaneer offensive lineman to have a positive run-blocking grade with ProFootballFocus tells a lot. What tells even more, though, is the game film.

The first play we'll look at is a pretty standard inside zone, with pairs of blockers 'zoning' towards a pair of defenders (depending on defensive alignment, this typically sees a double team at the line of scrimmage on a down lineman, working up to the second level with one of the blockers peeling off to block a linebacker).



I've highlighted Garrett Gilkey and Evan Dietrich-Smith, who between them are responsible for Kawann Short and Luke Kuechly. Unlike the other 'pairs' of blockers, where the backside of the two blocks the down lineman and the playside blocker moving up to the second level, we have a 'fold block' here, with Gilkey downblocking on Short, and Dietrich-Smith 'folding' around Gilkey to get Kuechly.



Gilkey quickly shows why he's a backup, being swum by Short (and ending up on the floor); EDS, however, is still in position to block Kuechly. Brandon Myers, who's lined up at fullback, has a choice - either heading straight up field, or bouncing out to the outside, knowing that Doug Martin will follow which ever hole he hits. The decision is an easy one, as Anthony Collins is being tossed aside by Greg Hardy with relative ease.



Myers leads Martin off-tackle, but Hardy has gotten completely free from Collins, who has lost his balance here.



The result is that Hardy downs Martin for a gain of just two yards. Note, too, that Dietrich-Smith (in the beige circle) completely whiffs his block on Kuechly. Ideally, had Collins held his block, and had EDS managed to block Kuechly, then Myers would be looking to block either Melvin White (the Panthers #23) or Thomas DeCoud (#21), and this run could have gone a long way. Instead, the two most experienced additions to the OL in free agency are both soundly beaten, stuffing this run play.

Sadly, this was not the only example of Bucs failing to execute the inside zone, the base run of any zone-orientated offense. In fact, it was a play that routinely failed to get any yards, and more often than not this was down to players simply not winning their individual match ups.

Here's another inside zone play that resulted in just two yards.



Here we have two double teams at the LOS, Patrick Omameh and Dietrich-Smith on Colin Cole (who are also responsible for Kuechly), and Logan Mankins and Collins on Star Lotulelei (also responsible for corner Bene Benwikere).



As the two guards peel off their double teams to pick up second-level defenders, Martin has a choice of two cut-back lanes, the playside B gap and the backside A gap. Both of these, crucially, depend on Dietrich-Smith's block on Cole.



The playside running lane closes pretty quickly, with Omameh failing to block Kuechly and Myers (again out the fullback spot) being stonewalled one-handedly by Wes Horton, forcing Martin to cut back to the backside A gap.



Unfortunately, that one crucial assignment - Dietrich-Smith blocking Cole - is left unexecuted, as Cole is able to maintain leverage throughout the play on EDS, and grabs Martin on his way past, downing him for a 2-yard gain. If Dietrich-Smith had been able to drive Cole back even one or two yards, Martin would have had the opportunity to make something here; instead, between EDS' failure to execute the crucial block, combined with Omameh and Myers failing to make their blocks, there was no opportunity for this play to end any other way.

The failure to win one-on-one match ups was a recurring theme on Sunday, and one that could spell doom and gloom for the Bucs' run game this season. The following play came during the Bucs' longest drive of the game, at the start of the third quarter. This was the second of two back-to-back plays I've broken down; it came on 2nd & 10, and ended up with a loss of 3 yards.



This play looks like it was designed to be another inside zone play, but Lotulelei's quick burst off the ball meant that Martin really only had one running lane to aim for, which I've signified in beige. Of note, though, is that Kawann Short is able to very quickly cheat inside of Collins, giving him good leverage from the outset against the Buccaneer tackle, as seen by his helmet circled in red.



Martin tries to head up the inside running lane, but with Short's inside leverage on Collins, and with Gilkey completley missing a block on Kuechly, Martin cuts all the way back to try and bounce outside - right where Greg Hardy has tossed Austin Sefarian-Jenkins aside. Also pay attention to Omameh, who throughout the game hesitated when it came to blocking linebackers - something you see in more inexperienced players, where they momentarily freeze because they're not sure which way the linebacker is going to go.



Martin never makes it outside of the tackles, as he's quickly gobbled up by Hardy, Short and Kuechly. You will also see that Omameh's hesitation has left Thomas Davis entirely unblocked, while despite getting some good lateral movement and drive against Lotulelei, the defensive tackle has gotten the upper-hand in the end against EDS, throwing him to the floor. Essentially, Dotson was the only one of the six blockers on this play to actually win his match-up.

That's not to say there weren't times when the blockers did win their individual match-ups - they were just far too few between.



This play uses inside zone principles, but in 'reverse' - blocking to the backside, but keeping one blocker (Luke Stocker in this case) to kick out the edge defender, leaving a big hole from Martin. Dotson and Dietrich-Smith need to pick up Keuchly and A.J. Klein here...



...and do! Martin's been left with a big wide running lane, with just Roman Harper left un-blocked - but Mike Evans is coming in from the right-hand side of the screen to block him. This should be a big run, right?



Well - it should have been. Evans was on track to block Harper...



...but then turned back towards the sideline to block Antoine Cason. I can't say whether Evans' blocking assignment was Harper or Cason, so cannot say whether what he did was right or wrong; but it certainly looked as if he was headed for Harper yet backed out in the last minute, and it certainly was a shame that he didn't go for Harper. In the end, Harper brings down Martin in the hole, with the Hamster managing to pick up 4 yards - tied for his longest run of the game. Frustratingly, every in-line blocker managed to execute their assignment, which did lead to Martin's joint-longest run of the game, but the fact that this translated to just four yards really underscores how poor the run game was - and majority of that was on the blocking, and simply the failure of the Bucs players to execute.

There were other factors too, though. On some plays, Doug Martin showed questionable judgement in terms of which hole he tried to hit, and it certainly appeared from this game that his vision might not be at the same level as Bobby Rainey's. Here's a play from Rainey.



Now obviously, compared to many of the fronts Martin faced, the above play has a much less crowded box to run against; consequently, Rainey has three running lanes open to him, as marked out above.



The decision is made for Rainey, with Omameh failing to get playside leverage on Davis, and Gilkey appearing to likewise fail to get playside leverage on Lotulelei. However, Gilkey is able to drive Lotulelei laterally, and though he gets close to getting his hands on Rainey, the running back is able to bounce off Gilkey and into the backside-most running lane.



Collins gets up to the second level and blocks Kuechly, giving Rainey a second choice of lanes. As Kuechly is cheating backside (and Hardy is about to beat Myers), Rainey opts to cut back inside here.



Lotulelei manages to get a hand to Rainey's ankle, causing him to momentarily stumble, but Rainey begins to regain his balance. Unfortunately, Dotson has stopped trying to block Charles Johnson, who will bring down Rainey for a gain of six. That was the longest run of the game by a Buccaneer not named Jorvorskie Lane or Josh McCown, and could have gone for much further if Lotulelei hadn't gotten a hand to Rainey as he cut back inside, as he possesses the breakaway speed to have most likely outpaced Johnson here. Again, this was a play that saw enough Buccaneer blockers failing to win their match-up, but Rainey displayed the vision and the patience to be able to make a good gain despite this.

Outside of the running back, there was another factor that sometimes came into play - which was not defeat by failure to win one-on-one match-ups, but failure of playcalling.

This play is a mixture of failure by the blockers to execute, but also questionable in terms of playcalling.



This run play moves away from the zone runs that made up most of the Bucs' ground efforts, for a good ol' Power O. Gilkey is to pull across the formation and kick out Charles Johnson, while the playside OL downblock to wash the defenders downfield, leaving one defender for the fullback (Myers in this case) to block the remaining box defender.



From the off, Short gets a good burst on the snap and has essentially already beaten Dietrich-Smith. Still, with this play flowing to the outside, Martin should be able quick enough for Short not to be a factor. (That, by the way, is what they call foreshadowing)



There are three very clear issues here. Firstly, Omameh has failed to block Kuechly to the backside; secondly, and unsurprisingly, Myers (who started offset to the backside of the play) is not going to be in any kind of position to block A.J. Kline, who started much closer to Martin than Myers did - which was always going to be the case. Here's where I refer to this being a scheme rather than player failure - knowing that you have a TE in there instead of a true fullback, against possibly the best 4-3 linebacking corps in the NFL, and you dial up a play where you're expecting Myers to be able to get in position to block Klein? Not happening. Thirdly, and again a result of a mismatch of personnel to play design, Doug Martin is going to hit the hole before Myers gets there. And here's where the foreshadowing comes in.



Because Myers couldn't get to the hole in time, compounded by Omameh's absolute failure to block Kuechly, Martin has planted his foot to cut back inside - right into the waiting arms of Kawann Short. Guess he was a factor after all, huh?

Finally, another play which unquestionably was a failure of playcalling - or at least, a combination of playcalling and a lack of on-field adjustment.



I've circled the Panthers in yellow, and the Buccaneer blockers in orange, in mourning of our throwback uniforms (or because it shows up better than red on the screen caps). Count the circles - eight Panther defenders, seven Bucs blockers. You can probably see where this is going.



This play is a variation on the Power O, but with the playside rather than backside guard pulling to kick out the edge defender, in this case Antoine Cason. I've drawn up the basic blocking assignments, but there's one thing I want to draw your attention to, in the blue circle - Luke Kuechly, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, is completely unaccounted for. Now, there's always going to be one defender left unblocked in this case, but it's certainly a head-scratcher for it to be Kuechly - if anything, you'd expect Collins to go up to cut off Kuechly and Hardy to be left unblocked. It should also be mentioned that on this play, one of the key blocks needs to be cutting off the most dangerous backside second-level defender - here, that's Chase Blackburn, and it's Dietrich-Smith's responsibility to block him.



Unfortunately, Dwan Edwards, whether by accident or design, gets his hands on Dietrich-Smith, preventing him from being able to get to the second level in time to block Blackburn.



As a result, we are now in the situation where Antoine Cason, Roman Harper, Chase Blackburn (unblocked by EDS) and Luke Kuechly (unblocked by design) are all in position to get to Martin - with only Patrick Omameh and Jorvorski Lane to block the four of them.



Lane dives at Cason's legs, while Omameh attempts to block Blackburn, leaving Kuechly and Harper free. To play the 'what-if' game - if EDS seals of Blackburn, and if Collins blocks Kuechly rather than Hardy (which appears to be a failure of play design rather than of Collins), then that leaves Lane and Omameh to block Cason and Harper, and Doug Martin's now going a loooong way.



Of course, there's always the possibility that even in that scenario, a blocker whiffs on his assignment - as Omameh does here, with Blackburn getting the tackle after all, resulting in a gain of a single yard.

The more frustrating this is the all-22 angle, though.



For whatever reason, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are bunched together; with the obvious numbers advantage the Panthers had in the box, why didn't Josh McCown audible into a passing play? Vincent Jackson was being covered by Thomas Davis - that should have been an automatic match-up win! Say that Evans widens out a little - now something like a simple smash concept - one of the most common passing concepts in football - would have seen a high-low combo against a single corner that should have been easy yards.

As you can see, the Bucs offensive line was simply terrible in run blocking against the Panthers. It's not like I've cherry-picked the worst running plays either - Doug Martin averaged one yard a carry, and while Rainey managed three yards a tote. Of Martin's nine runs, six of them resulted in a positive gain - and I've broken down four of those six here, so these actually represent a majority of Martin's runs, plus Rainey's best run of the day. Since these play breakdowns represent the better rushing efforts on the day, it's clear that the prospect of a productive run-heavy offense with this offensive line is dwindling to the point of being extinguished.