When these two teams first squared off this season back in September, it was a points free-for-all. The Bucs won 48-40, barely out-gaining the Saints in yards per play (ypp), 8.50 to 8.10. In fact, it has been the only game in the NFL this season where both teams averaged over 8 yards per play. This time, points were a little harder to come by. That’s not surprising in and of itself, but what was surprising was just how much difficulty both offenses had in moving the ball. The Saints only gained 4.8 yards per play, their 3rd-lowest rate of the season. Tampa Bay gained their fewest ypp on the entire season, just 4.3.
Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston largely played the same as he has since returning from being benched; perhaps an overabundance of caution, but largely playing crippling-mistake-free football. Between Winston’s touchdown pass to Brate to go up 14-3 and when the Saints scored 25 unanswered points to go up two scores 28-14 and put this game into garbage time, Winston went 3-12 for 34 yards, three sacks, and only one first down, per Football Outsiders. The Saints’ defense was absolutely suffocating.
But the offense also largely receives no help. The other, perhaps biggest culprit in this loss was Tampa Bay’s atrocious special teams. In this game the Bucs missed two field goals and had a punt blocked that sparked the Saints’ comeback. We shouldn’t be surprised, as Tampa Bay’s special teams have been a problem for years. When Dirk Koetter took over as head coach back in 2016, he chose to hire Nate Kaczor as special teams coach. Kaczor came from the Tennessee Titans, whose special teams had ranked just 28th in 2015. From 2016 through Week 14 of 2018 in Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers’ special teams have ranked 20th, 29th, and this season are currently 32nd, the worst in the NFL. Having two of your three phases of the game (defense and special teams) be among the worst in the NFL for several years is why Dirk Koetter and staff are likely to be fired at the end of the season. It’s one thing for them to be bad. It happens. It’s another to have them be bad and refuse to make changes so they continue to be bad.
This play from the Bucs’ second drive of the game epitomized half of this offense’s game in a nutshell. The Saints, as teams have done over and over since Week 3, run an end-tackle stunt right past RG Caleb Benenoch which creates immediate pressure on Winston. Flushed from the pocket to his left, Winston has no options. The Saints’ defensive backs were very sticky in coverage this game when in man coverage and rarely out of position in zone coverage. Part of this is without DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard, the Bucs lost a lot of athleticism and advantages in the matchup game. The other is the referees just aren’t going to call holding on every play. The result is a bunch of plays where no one separates. Most of the offense’s issues in this game were exactly that, and sometimes when they did get open, Winston wouldn’t throw it for fear of throwing an interception.
A few plays later, Winston throws this one away ten yards over Chris Godwin’s head. This was the other half of the offense’s day.
Immediate pressure, again given up by Benenoch, meant Winston didn’t have time to go through his progressions where he had open receivers in both flats. I’m pretty sure he knew Godwin was double-covered and just overthrew him on purpose to get rid of the ball before he got clobbered. Here’s what Football Outsiders said about Godwin’s game against the Saints:
Chris Godwin’s game against New Orleans on Sunday was the worst game for any wide receiver we have ever measured.
The basic numbers speak for themselves: Jameis Winston threw 11 passes to Godwin, and nine were incomplete. One resulted in a 9-yard DPI. Only one was actually caught -- and then immediately knocked to the turf by Marshon Lattimore. It was ruled a catch and fumble, and the Bucs fell on the ball to maintain possession. By our numbers, that’s actually worse for Godwin than an incompletion would have been, because he gave the Saints a chance at a turnover.
The Saints, and Eli Apple in particular, had Godwin smothered all day long. Five of his targets were broken up by defenders or resulted in interference, because Godwin could not get separation. Twice, he was completely bracketed by double-coverage downfield, and Winston threw the ball 10 yards over everyone’s head because he had to throw it somewhere. Once, Godwin and Apple tripped over each other’s feet and fell down -- because, again, Apple had airtight coverage on the receiver. On his last target, Godwin did have half a step on Apple on a dig route, but Winston failed to make a tough throw. Only twice did Godwin get wide open and legitimately not have a chance to catch a ball -- once when he was open on a comeback route, but Winston’s arm was hit as he threw, and the ball barely got halfway there; and once when defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins made a great playin coverage.
Godwin’s -84 DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement) broke Andre Roberts’ -78 DYAR game from 2010. Meaning Godwin was 84 yards worse than an average receiver could have been expected to perform given his targets. That may not seem like much of a difference, but as they write it’s the same distance between Roberts and the sixth-worst game ever. Godwin has been very good this season, so hopefully this is just a fluke game for him. He was 17th in DYAR coming into this game and fell all the way to 36th.
Here’s a hi-lo concept that converts a 3rd and 8.
Winston adjusted the routes pre-snap. The linebacker doesn’t get enough depth and Winston hits the hole in front of the safety. Adam Humphries does a good job hanging on. However, facing another 3rd and 8, Winston and Humphries aren’t on the same page.
As I’m sure you’ve heard me say before, this offense is a timing based one, where Winston throws to a spot on the field and not a receiver per se, while the receiver must reach his landmark at the correct time. It raises the difficulty but that’s often what is required when trying to manufacture chunk plays down the field. It’s a five step drop from shotgun, or what would be a seven step drop from under center; the timing is the same. Here, you can see Winston reaches the top of his drop and hitches once to give Humphries more time, then lets the ball go before Humphries makes his break and before the rush reaches him. However, at the top of the stem Humphries takes a juke step to the outside despite already stacking his defender. By the time he turns around, the ball is already sailing past him.
On the Saints’ ensuing possession, a huge loss on 2nd down helped the defense get off the field.
Carl Nassib is unblocked here, which is obviously a mistake by the offense. It was poorly blocked all around, and the receiver who is supposed to block Nassib end up running into the pulling lineman. But I also want to point out rookie Vita Vea here. He isn’t always quick off the snap but here he gets a good start, stays low, and blows the center Max Unger off the line of scrimmage (LOS). It’s hard to say for sure if Nassib had been blocked it might have taken Vea out of the play too, but it’s still a nice rep for the rookie. Being able to reset the LOS like that on wide plays is good stuff.
On their next possession:
As we’ve discussed before, this offense’s read progressions generally work touchdown to checkdown. So here we have the fly route by Evans, then the out underneath it, and then the three lower/shorter routes that work as a triangle to stretch the underneath coverage both vertically and horizontally. To be honest, Winston doesn’t really trust this offensive line either, with good reason. At first Evans looks covered with the corner at the time still over him and the deep safety lurking on the closer hashmark, so he moves to the out in the intermediate range. The out is smothered. Then, his eyes move down as he moves up in the pocket to buy time, eventually hitting tight end Antony Auclair for 12 yards and another first down. But, Evans did come back open late. It’s hard to fault Winston too much as rarely would a QB go backwards in their read progression, though it was there.
Here’s a good run...
...and shows why Ali Marpet is one of the best left guards in the league. It pulls Caleb Benenoch, who has struggled mightily this season. Benenoch pretty much whiffs but he does get just enough for Jacquizz Rodgers to break the tackle. Marpet climbs to the second level, finds the other linebacker, and then turns his hips toward the sideline and drives the defender out of the play, creating the lane.
The Bucs would get to the Saints’ 20-yard line, but poor pass protection by Benenoch and left tackle Donovan Smith would cause the drive to stall, and then Cairo Santos missed the 46-yard field goal.
No one open.
On the Saints’ next drive, linebacker Ardarius Taylor made a great read of Drew Brees, intercepting a screen pass and putting the offense in great field position. The Bucs get down into the red zone and...
I’m not sure I’ve ever see a throw like that.
Anyway, Winston connects with Cameron Brate from one yard out as the defense just loses sight of him, and Winston hyperextends his knee as Dotson is pushed back and falls down into it. Could have been very bad but Winston appeared to be okay.
In the second half, the Bucs couldn’t do anything. Carl Nassib and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for a strip sack fumble of Brees and JPP made the recovery. But on third down, Winston’s arm was hit as he tried to hit Godwin and the ball fell well short. Santos misses his second field goal, and the Bucs are up 14-3 instead of 20-3.
The Bucs’ next possession stalls too.
Here Winston runs the play fake and his key is the shot play on the fly down the sideline. His second read should be Humphries running the out, and he gets separation, but instead Winston chooses to throw across his body to Godwin? It wasn’t a great decision, but from the other angle behind the pocket the throw was pretty accurate and should have been caught, but was dropped. Peak Jameis.
And then we have the blocked punt.
Oh look, another stunt the Bucs can’t pick up. That’s only 10 weeks now. This was the turning point in the game. Here’s the thing about punting too. Mathematically, the decision to punt was a little iffy. It’s 4th and 3 at your 41-yard line, with 7:23 in the third quarter. According to Advanced Football Analytics, the Bucs probably should have gone for it:
This chart takes into account down and distance, plus historical expected conversion rates, and the expected points added, gained, or lost by going for it or punting. The call here is right on the line on whether to go for it or not. Regardless of whether you agree with going for it or punting, Dirk Koetter has consistently made the wrong decisions on 4th down in his tenure as head coach.
The Saints quickly scored, running a great play action fake where the fullback also faked the run block then ran out into the flat for an easy walk-in touchdown. Then Alvin Kamara converts the two-point conversion on a toss sweep.
This play looks a lot like the very first play we looked at today. Again Humphries separates on the intermediate out route, but Winston doesn’t throw it to him. I wonder if Winston was worried the underneath defender might break off and cut in front of the pass. Regardless, the pressure almost immediately collapses the pocket, and Winston eats the sack instead of attempting the throw. On second down, the play-call is for some reason a run, and then Winston is sacked again on the predictably 3rd and long play as the right side of the line collapses. No one was open, but once Winston escaped the pocket he should have thrown the ball out of bounds to avoid the loss in yardage.
Next drive, down 4 with 3rd and 8 on your own 11 (because of two penalties by Demar Dotson), Winston is high on his throw.
I don’t know about you, but someone definitely ran the wrong route. There’s no way both Godwin and Humphries were supposed to run routes like this. Because the pass is so high it might have been intended for Godwin. Hard to know for sure who was at fault.
The Saints got the ball back in great field position near midfield and drive in the dagger on a Mark Ingram 17-yard touchdown run. Safety Andrew Adams got dragged five yards by Ingram. It looked like the exact same split-zone play the Saints ran the drive before that went for 12 yards to set up 1st and goal. Brees punched that in on a QB sneak leap over the top of the pile. Just embarrassing for the defense as a whole, and a little bit of disrespectful playcalling by New Orleans head coach Sean Payton.
After this touchdown, the Saints played a lot of deep zone coverage to prevent the big play. The offense didn’t do much, the Saints tacked on another field goal to go up two touchdowns, and Winston threw an interception on a Hail Mary where Mike Evans fell down.
Overall the offense looked out of sync and frustrated, committing numerous self-inflicted wounds. The pass protection from the offensive line, aside from Marpet, has virtually disintegrated. This offense looks like a shell of its former self. And the readily identifiable issues aren’t getting corrected. The defense held out as long as they could, but any way you slice it giving up 17 points in the fourth quarter is bad. And, the special teams were again atrocious.