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Previewing Tampa Bay’s Offense Under Bruce Arians

Hold on to your butts

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Tampa Bay’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat under Arians.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Once Bruce Arians was hired as the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, most were intrigued to know what he would do with the league’s third-ranked offense coming in to the 2019 season.

Outside of the offensive line, there is no question that the Bucs have enough talent on offense to repeat this year as a top-3 unit. Tampa Bay was a threat to score just about every time it touched the ball in 2018, even with Dirk Koetter at the helm.

With Arians, the sky is the limit, but what will the offense actually look like?

I went back and found some film from the 2015 season when the Arizona Cardinals finished with a 13-3 record and made it all the way to the NFC Championship game. The offense wast the top-ranked offense that year, averaging 408 yard per game and 30 points per game with Arians as head coach.

I chose the Cardinals’ Week 10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Arizona went on the road and beat the second-ranked defense in the league, 39-32. Carson Palmer threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns while Chris Johnson and co. ran for over 100 yards.

It was arguably the team’s best offensive output of the year, considering the opponent. It also provides plenty of examples as to what Arians may bring to Tampa Bay in 2019.

I was also able to recruit our own film expert, Jon Marchant to help give some detailed insight into what’s happening on the field.

1. 12 Personnel

Arians may not be known for showcasing the tight end position, but he knows how to use 12 personnel groupings to throw off defenses and create mismatches.

In this play, the Cardinals come out in 12 personnel with two tight ends on Richard Sherman’s side of the field and two receivers in tight splits on Cary Williams’ side of the field.

Evan: What I already love about this play is the fact Arians knows that one half of the field strictly belongs to Sherman, so why not put your receivers on the other side away from him? Having a receiving threat at tight end like Jermaine Gresham also helps keep the defense honest on that side of the field, but Sherman is basically out of the equation before the ball is snapped.

Gresham’s presence forces Bobby Wagner to pause for just a second, but the key here is Chris Johnson. Once Johnson comes into the flat, it forces Bruce Irvin into a hi/lo read. Irvin chooses Johnson, but even if he chose Fitzgerald it would’ve resulted in a big gain.

Carson Palmer makes the read and is able to deliver the ball before Earl Thomas can make his break and the end result is a 12-yard completion.

It’s also noteworthy that Arians gave Palmer options at all three levels. If you’re going to play one side of the field, it’s best to stretch that side out as much as possible. Traffic causes turnovers and space creates scoring, that is an element of basic knowledge in the NFL.

Jon: I love how Arians combines two different route concepts in the “Dagger” and “Smash” concepts here. Part of the dagger is John Brown’s fly route out of the slot that’s what creates the room for Fitzgerald in the middle of the field as he runs his dig route. Johnson’s presence in the flat is what creates the smash concept.

Irvin has to either take Johnson or Fitzgerald, but it’s a lose-lose situation for both Irvin and the Seahawks.

It’s a quicker design than what we saw with Koetter, too. Instead of a 15-yard dig and a 7-step drop, it’s just a 10-yard dig and 5-step drop. This will obviously work in Jameis Winston’s favor, especially if the lapses in pass protection continue.

Just another example of the difference in philosophies that we will see this season.

2. No Risk It, No Biscuit

This time, Arians decides to go after Sherman, taking advantage of the amount of available space on that side of the field. He has three receivers lined up on that side of the field, but balances out the formation by leaving Fitzgerald, his best receiver, on the other side.

Evan: Where to start with this play?

First off, this was a 3rd & 14 at the Seattle 27. I don’t know what the analytics say, but I’m sure the chances of converting the third down weren’t much greater than scoring a touchdown from that far out.

And if they were the opposite of my line of thinking, then Arians has even bigger balls than already imagined. (do what you will with that line)

Far too long we saw Koetter bail out in these types of situations and settle for a field goal or run some nonsense-type play that never had shot to work from the start.

Here, Arians’ attention to detail is what sticks out to me. Not only does he realize that the right side of the field is where he can create the spacing he needs, but he knows he has Kam Chancellor on that side. While Chancellor is good in coverage, he has nowhere near the range his fellow teammate Thomas has.

Brown’s deep post gets Sherman to bite just enough and holds Chancellor long enough for Floyd to race past Sherman and make the play.

Floyd’s route is perfectly in tune with Palmer’s drop and like Jon mentioned earlier - it’s another five-step drop. Palmer also does a good job of holding the safety with his eyes early on, which I’m sure Arians had a part in as well.

Jon: Cover 2, like the Seahawks are playing here (or maybe Cover 4/Quarters), is a common defense in the red zone. Arians, like other coaches, and if your quarterback can do it, will have a zone-beater concept to one side and a man-beater to another. He pairs the trips zone concept to the field side with the most room and puts a backside Dig route and a checkdown to the boundary side. The two deep outs to the field side help pull the safeties down, but Floyd’s fly route hits that hole in the corner.

A quarterback in Arians’ (and Leftwich’s) offense must be aggressive and confident to attack in this manner. We all know he has one in Jameis Winston, so the formula is there, it’s just about the execution.

3. An Opportunistic Rushing Attack

This one starts off in 11 personnel with three receivers split to the strong side of the formation. It’s a 3rd & 4 at Seattle’s 48. Arizona leads 32-29 with just 2:07 remaining in the game.

Evan: At this juncture in the game, this is a huge call. Unless you’ve never watched football before, it’s pretty obvious what’s at stake in this situation.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, it’s a very manageable down and distance. A first down all but wins the game - Seattle had one timeout left and the 2:00 warning.

Arians knows he’s up against a very aggressive defense and this becomes clear when Seattle stacks the line with six defenders on the line of scrimmage.

The left side of the offensive line allows the defenders to get upfield enough for them to overpursue and miss the bead on Andre Ellington. By the time they - mainly Frank Clark - realize what’s going on, Ellington is already at full speed and they’re out of the play.

I love this design because as a Seahawk defender, you’re likely thinking there’s no way the Cardinals run to the left here. Not only is it the weakside of the formation, but little-known Brittan Golden is on the outside.

No offense to Golden, but you’d almost have to be crazy to think any play is going to go in his direction at this point and time.

Nevertheless, it did go his away and all Ellington had to do was get past Chancellor and it was off to the races.

Jon: What even is this play call...a counter sweep? It also plays like an option even though Palmer is no threat to keep. But it works, and shows how creative Arians can be. Ultimately, for all of its depth and wrinkles, football is - if I can oversimplify it - essentially a game of numbers. Attack where your opponent is weakest.

While this is just a small snippet, it provides some insight as to what Arians will likely do in 2019.

The key here is the offensive line. According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals’ 2015 squad finished as the third-best run blocking and fourth-best pass blocking unit that season.

Obviously, the Bucs have some work to do in that department, but there is certainly talent amongst the trio of Ryan Jensen, Donovan Smith, and Ali Marpet. If Arians can get the front five to play better in 2019, then there is no doubt Tampa Bay could lead the NFL in total offense next season.

Hopefully this leads to more wins, too.