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Buccaneers vs. Falcons: Three takeaways from the play counts

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the 2016 regular season with a win against the Atlanta Falcons. Good fun. That win also taught us a few things about this year’s Bucs team.

Tampa Bay didn’t entirely overhaul their roster or coaching staff this offseason, and the offense is almost completely unaltered. They did, however, make significant changes to the defense, replacing almost the entire coaching staff and adding a few new players at key positions.

How will new coordinator Mike Smith run the defense? We got a bit of an answer last year: with a clear base, not nearly as many rotations as we expected, and slightly more blitzes and man coverage than Lovie Smith. Not a massive overhaul, but more like incremental changes.

That’s one thing we can see in the official play counts. Here are three other things we learned today.

The Bucs had a clear base offense

Overall, the Bucs rotated relatively little. They went with a three-receiver set consisting of Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Adam Humphries on the majority of the snaps, with those players lining up on 86%, 80% and 77% of plays, respectively.

Luke Stocker was the team’s main tight end, playing 58% of the time. Cameron Brate, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Brandon Myers all played on fewer than 40% of the offensive plays.

And a clear base defense

On defense, we saw similar splits. The secondary and linebacking corps played nearly 100% of the time, except for a few plays Chris Conte missed with some nicks. Alterraun Verner was the team’s slot cornerback, getting 42% playing time, but Jude Adjei-Barimah got some play, too: 20% of the time.

Even the defensive line was fairly steady. Gerald McCoy, Robert Ayers and Clinton McDonald each played over 80% of the time, with William Gholston and Noah Spence basically splitting the remaining snaps. That may have something to do with Jacquies Smith leaving the game with an injury after just one play. Akeem Spence got a few plays in, while Howard Jones lined up just twice on defense.

No dime defense, again

Judging by the play counts, the Bucs lined up in a base or nickel defense (five defensive backs) on all but two or three plays. That’s basically what the Bucs did last year, too, and is a little surprising. Most teams are moving toward more and more defensive-back heavy packages to counter increasingly efficient passing games.

On the other hand, the Bucs rarely had to counter sets with four or five receivers. The Falcons basically stuck with two- or three-receiver sets throughout the entire game, even when they needed to play catchup, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to line up with six defensive backs against a team that’s still playing tight ends and running backs on every snap.