The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are building an offense around their play-action game. And it’s working. That’s the only conclusion I can draw from Football Outsiders’ data on offenses and play-action: only five teams ran more play-action than the Bucs did, and the Bucs were the second-best play-action offense around.
At first glance that might be surprising: the Bucs didn’t actually have a good running game, after all, so why would defenses bite on play-action?
The answer to that is fairly simple and something that keeps coming up, but everyone refuses to believe: there is no real correlation between play-action success and running game quality. You don’t need to “establish the running game” (whatever that means) to get defenders to bite, you just need to show them convincing keys that signal a run.
Usually that means a play-action game that doesn’t just feature the offensive line dropping into pass protection sets, but actually simulating run. Which is exactly what the Bucs do, and one reason why they’re so successful.
The other reason they’re so successful is that they have Jameis Winston: a quarterback who’s played in a pro-style system for years, who knows how to quickly key on open receiver after turning his back to the defense in play-action.
Moreover, the Bucs have some added weapons for that play-action defense. Get safeties to bite, and DeSean Jackson will hurt them deep. And with O.J. Howard they have a versatile tight end who can get them a deep threat in personnel sets that look very run-heavy.
This year should be fun.