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How the Buccaneers (try) to run the ball

Spoiler alert: the Bucs offensive line is a problem.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Miami Dolphin Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This week's video is on rushing offenses. For the Bucs, this has been the weak-point for the offense. Lets see if we can identify why.

For starters, there are two main styles for running the ball: gap (power) blocking and zone blocking. While both are used by every team in the NFL, a lot of teams prefer one or the other. The Bucs are primarily a zone running team, but Koetter also does a good job at mixing in some fancier trap/toss/power variations during the game to varying success.

Zone blocking doesn't really "zone" anything. At the line, three linemen will make a call. These calls tell the other linemen who/how they are going to block the play. For a short explanation, linemen who have a defender heads-up or on an inside shade will block that defender. When single blocking on zone runs, the offensive lineman will attempt to drive the defender whereever he wants to go (back, inside, or outside). The key is that the offensive lineman stays in-front of the defender and moves the defender from his initial location.

Linemen who are uncovered will help the lineman towards the run to double-team (combo) a defensive lineman. Double teams or combo blocks are the lifeblood of zone blocking. They are typically very quick blocks where they push the defender backwards and then one of the two lineman will release to grab a linebacker or safety.

The running back has the important responsibility of finding a good seam to run through. Once again, most of our linemen are single blocking defensive lineman. They don't have the responsibility of making a certain gap wide open. They are just pushing defenders where-ever they want to go. It is up to the back to sift through the gaps to find the best one. Typically, the back starts by aiming at the play-side offensive tackle and then works backwards one gap at a time to find a hole.

These rules stay the same for inside zone and outside zone. The main difference between the two is the amount of lateral movement the offensive lineman use. On outside zone, the lineman try to deliberately get outside of their defenders. This often forces the defenders to step laterally with them and it causes the entire line of scrimmage to shift sideways.

So lets now look at some tape.

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In the first play, the Bucs run outside zone to their left. Here, you can clearly see how much movement there is on an outside zone play. Smith does a great job on the outside linebacker while you can also see Marpet's athleticism as he gets outside of the nose tackle. However, Sweezy does an awful job on the backside. He is not athletic enough to help Marpet or get second level to grab a linebacker. He also didn't do a very good job helping Dotson secure the backside defensive end. You can see he extends his arm barely enough for Dotston to get around and in front of the end. Sweezy could have been on the sideline and this run wouldn't have been affected.

In the second play, the Bucs run inside zone to their left. The defense lines up a defender in front of each offensive lineman so things are very simple: everyone block the guy in front of you. Remember, on single blocks the offensive lineman is just looking to drive the defender wherever he wants to go. If we watch the Sweezy (RG #73), his defender immediately slants to his left side so Sweezy is just going to drive him further that direction.

In the third play, we see the Bucs normal bad self. Quite simply there is no movement. If you slow it down, you can see Marpet and Sweezy have a short double team. Sweezy does a good job pulling off after a second and getting the linebacker but there is still no movement. Additionally, if you watch Smith on the backside he absolutely whiffs his block. These two issues sum up the Buc’s poor blocking. Backside lineman (often Smith) whiffing blocks and then front-side double teams are lazy and ineffective.

For comparison, I want to show two runs by the Cowboys offensive line. To make it hurt even more, one of these runs are against the Bucs.

In the first run, the Cowboys have two double teams on the inside. Watch how both double teams drive the Buccaneer's defensive lineman back 2 yards and then release to grab a linebacker. This is exactly how double teams should be.

In the second run, the Steelers do a pretty good job getting some penetration and scuffing up the middle of the line of scrimmage. However, the Cowboys have excellent blocking to the backside of the run to give Elliot an escape.

The Bucs have a plenty good running back in Doug Martin. He does a good job reading his gaps and defenders to find the right running lane. However, the line often never gives him a lane to find. The front-side double teams are lazy and ineffective and the backside offensive lineman are whiffing on their blocks giving him no cut-back options. Like the defensive line, the offense line needs some talent overhauls. The Bucs are going to have a very hard time holding onto leads when they can't run the ball because of the offensive line and can't sack the quarterback because of the defensive line. This team is always going to be better when playing from behind.