As if this season hasn’t already made it explicitly clear, the Bucs have a problem with turnovers and the red zone. Lately, both at the same time.
Before Jameis Winston’s game against the Bengals, the Bucs were top 10 in the NFL in points per red zone trip. After the Panthers game, they still ranked 13th. After playing Washington though, the Bucs now rank 26th in points per RZ trip, and 21st in touchdowns per red zone trip. The Bucs gained 500 yards of offense and came away with only 3 points. They tied the NFL record for most yards without a touchdown, going 0-5 in the red zone. They keep finding new and historical ways to lose. Oh, and Dirk Koetter inexplicably took back playcalling this week. For “reasons”. Okay.
This is what Football Outsiders had to say about Ryan Fitzpatrick’s week:
By passing DYAR, Fitzpatrick was literally the worst quarterback inside the red zone this week, and literally the best over the other 80 yards of the field. In the red zone, he went 0-for-5 with two sacks, a fumble, and an interception.
I could just end it here and you’d get the picture, but what’s the fun in that?
It feels like this year of the Koetter-era Bucs have become an exaggerated, cartoonish version of themselves. More yards, more big plays, more interceptions, more defensive coverage busts. More of everything, good and bad.
So, the Bucs open the game, drive right down the field as they often have for the past couple years, and then run into problems in the RZ.
This is pretty good design. But the problem with this offense, is it’s very vertical. That’s fine between the 20s, but the red zone is compressed space. Defenders often play more zone, so they can see the quarterback. It’s harder to pull zone coverage apart with less field to work with. So passing windows are smaller/tighter and close much faster. The Bucs basically run a smash concept with a hi-lo read, working almost like a flood concept with DeSean Jackson taking the safety away on the post and running back Shaun Wilson the read here on the corner/flag route. But this is good safety play, and a poor throw.
The problem here is I think they should have flipped this play. There simply isn’t enough room here to the boundary, (short side of the field) and the window here is pretty small to run with a smaller player like a running back. If it was run to the field side there would be room in front of Wilson and the sideline. But because this is run to the boundary, the underneath linebacker is in the passing lane forcing Fitzpatrick to put this higher than he might want to. Is the quarterback given the freedom to flip the play? I have no idea.
The Bucs’ running game has struggled all year, and they get very little push. Even if Koetter hadn’t announced it, I’d have been able to tell he was calling plays because of the sheer number of times the Bucs ran of first down; it was very reminiscent of prior years. It’s dumb, but that’s besides the point here. 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) is by far the NFL’s favorite grouping. The Rams use it more than anyone else, and they like to spread teams out to run. The 49ers are the opposite - they like to put out big heavy personnel like 12 or 13 (2 or 3 TEs), and throw out of it.
I say this because the Bucs’ running game doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to do. I’ve seen them throw out of heavy formations, and try to run out of heavy formations. I’ve seen them try to run out of spread formations. Nothing really works. But in this game against Washington, it was pretty clear the gameplan was more heavy formations.
This isn’t particularly new, but it’s worth taking a second to talk about:
It’s hard to understate the frequency of the difficulty of the throws in this offense. A 15-yard out is a hard throw to make, even more so from the far hash. Yet they (Winston and Fitzpatrick) are regularly asked to make these throws. There are offenses in the NFL that only rarely ever ask their quarterbacks to attempt throws outside the numbers, much less one like this. Just worth keeping in mind.
Here’s the famous play that never was:
Jensen blows his assignment and the defender flushes Fitzpatrick, who pretty clearly on review throws it forward. Fitz throws it on the 41 or so and Humphries catches it about two yards further downfield. Oh well.
The NFL is a matchup game:
And teams continue to take advantage of the Bucs playing Brent Grimes. Teams will continue to run this deep crosser. It used to be run on Vernon Hargreaves once a game. The Falcons have gashed Tampa Bay with it by using Julio Jones. The Bucs must get more athletic on the back end.
This is an interesting play:
This is like split-zone, where the TE/HB comes down the line of scrimmage to wall off the defensive end. But Gholston gets so wide and out of the play here trying to keep contain on the quarterback you can see the blocker decide he’s not a factor and instead makes a sharp left turn right into linebacker Ardarius Taylor. The double/combo block on Vita Vea, who is two-gapping here, was supposed to move him out of the play and one of OL would then climb to take out Taylor. Vea won’t ever get many stats, and he’s still super raw technique-wise, but instead of being put on skates and run out of the play on a 2v1 like most other linemen would he simply drops anchor to one knee and they can’t move him. So it’s the split-zone blocker that comes around to take Taylor. Taylor probably could or should have tried to stack the blocker and then shed to take the running back, but instead sticks his shoulder in the gap and the running back goes around. There’s no one to take him.
It was always an area ripe for regression, but Fitzpatrick’s deep ball hasn’t been there much lately. This is lucky it wasn’t intercepted.
This may look like an RPO with a run packaged with a slant to Chris Godwin:
But it’s not. A second-level RPO here would be reading the linebacker. Bites up on run, you pass. Stays home in coverage, you hand it off. The tell is Fitzpatrick’s head. He never even looks at the linebackers. This is just play-action; a run fake. It’s kind of a shame, to be honest, but it still works, pulling #53 up out of the passing lane. A word of caution - if they don’t dress it up better next time the linebacker won’t be fooled and will drop to pick it off.
The red zone trip with the Bucs’ only points on the day:
I hate the Bucs’ red zone stuff/beatingdeadhorse.gif haha. Still trying to space out and stretch defenses in compressed space. It doesn’t work. Use rub routes or something. Scheme someone open! The Bucs’ coaches just say they need to “execute”, but excuse me, I think that’s bullshit. This is low-percentage stuff to execute with little chance to score or get yards after catch. Be more creative.
On their first drive of the second half, they started at their own 4. That’s normally spells a punt for almost all drives, but Fitzpatrick gets them all the way down into the red zone. And then Ryan Jensen snaps it, badly. Then kicker Chandler Catanzaro misses the field goal. Please buy my new book, A Comedy of Errors: The 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It will never not be for sale.
This touchdown is on the defensive line. They have to do a better job.
They did a good job of keeping gap integrity to keep Alex Smith in the pocket. Smith even broke a cardinal rule, dropping his eyes to look at the rush. But seeing no one actually coming to get him, he settles back down. With a running QB the DL must keep contain while also squeezing the pocket closed. Instead of trying to get off your block, just run the OL backwards into the QB from all sides! Regardless, it takes them entirely too long to do anything. Same as last year, teams will double Gerald McCoy. The other guys must win their 1v1 matchups. Last year they couldn’t do it. And here they can’t. That’s profoundly disappointing given all the new players and resources they poured into the unit.
On the Bucs’ next possession, Fitzpatrick again does what you absolutely cannot do with this defense. He throws a pick and puts the Bucs’ terrible defense in poor field position at the 14-yard line.
Here Fitzpatrick just stares down O.J. Howard and the cornerback records his first career interception. The defense did a good job to hold Washington to another field goal, thanks in large part to a holding call on the Redskins.
Here’s something else worth pointing out.
I don’t know if Jacquizz Rodgers played a lot because of injuries or because Koetter was calling plays or what not, but while he’s solid at playing his role he’s not exactly the most dynamic player. I’m not trying to disparage him, but keep in mind he leaves a ton of yards on the field. He picked up about 15 yards after catching this, but he should have gone for at least 25+. Also, to be fair, this is where Ronald Jones could shine, but he has problems with catching, and also he’s been hurt. Still, Rodgers ends this drive by getting the ball punched out in the red zone and it bounces into the end zone. Washington recovers for a touchback.
Another deep shot:
It certainly feels at this point that Fitzpatrick has just lost it. This is bad and a straight 50/50 jump ball. Bucs were lucky it wasn’t intercepted. Jackson does a good job playing DB.
On their last real drive of the game, but down two scores, the Bucs should have had a touchdown here:
This is a variation of the Mills concept, but with an out instead of a dig over the middle paired with the post behind it. Jackson crosses the face of the safety on the post and is wide open. But Donovan Smith gets beat just enough and Fitzpatrick’s throw is off.
The Bucs fumbled like three times on this drive, but somehow they got into the red zone again. This also should have been a touchdown:
But Fitzpatrick doesn’t make the subtle movement to his right to keep a proper base. Instead he just arms this off balance, throwing around Ali Marpet in front of him. The result is a throw in the dirt, too low for Mike Evans.
On the next play, Donovan Smith gets beat again for the strip-sack and that’s that. Smith is an interesting case. He’s been much better this season, or at least far more consistent. Instead of a bottom 10 left tackle I’d say he’s been average, or thereabouts. I don’t know if he’s struggling with injury or just tired or what, but he looked like his old self a little too much. I noticed a couple plays earlier in the game where it looked like he just took the play off too. This is a contract year for him, and it’s disappointing to see play like this from him. Hopefully he can bounce back next week.