While the Bucs didn’t play a perfect game by any means, they were able to pick up big plays when they were given the chance, and they came out on top as a result.
The Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert did very well against this defense, picking up a lot of deep passing yards and putting together a number of explosive plays. This coming week, things should be a bit different.
One thing that will not be different, however, is the inexperience that the opposing quarterback has in his respective offense. Nick Foles is by no means a young gun, but this is his first year in this system and he only has one and a half games under his belt.
For the third week in a row, the Bucs will be facing a quarterback that did not start the season for their opponent. Luckily for the Bucs, they’ve faced Nick Foles a number of times and have beat him in back to back years.
Let’s take a look at what they can do to beat Nick for a third season in a row.
Take advantage of play action
I feel like I keep using play action as a way for the Bucs to take advantage of an opponent. Well, it’s for good reason. The Buccaneers may not use play action as much as I think they should, but they are still quite successful with it.
This past week, the Bucs were able to pick up two of their five touchdowns off of play action, also adding a number of explosive plays.
Against the Bears, I am not sure if the Bucs will have the same success using play action as they did against the Chargers, however, the Bears do leave some room for play action to be successful.
Through watching the film, I saw a lot of huge plays picked up through play action. One reason for this, is their tendency to use Cover 1 or Cover 3. In reality, both of these coverage schemes can be taken advantage of with play action, and here’s an example:
On this particular play, it looks like the Bears are in Cover 3 or Cover 6. I’m leaning a bit more towards 6 as it looks like the coverage on the strong side of the field is quarters, while the weakside coverage looks to be in halfs. No matter what, there are still three deep defenders so this example can apply to either.
Play action can work well against this type of coverage scheme, especially against the Bears. Notice when the fake handoff occurs, the linebackers come up about three yards, which leaves a wide open gap between them and the deep coverage.
If the Falcons slot receiver were to have cut in at about 15 yards (where I have the bubble), he had the potential for a touchdown, and here’s why. The receiver in the slot looks to be running a skinny post, so when he crosses into the weakside safety’s zone, the safety sprints towards him to cover any deep pass coming his way.
Since the safety is sprinting towards the skinny post, the receiver is at an advantage here. If he cuts fakes a post and instead stops and cuts in, the safety’s back is to him and with a well timed pass, he can outrun the pursuing safety and get into the end zone.
Unfortunately on this play, all of that is hypothetical and the Falcons instead pick up about two yards.
Against Cover 1, play action simply works because you’re able to get a linebacker or safety lined up one on one with a tight end, with the added benefit of making them hesitate while they read the run fake.
Capitalize on explosive plays
The Bears defense of late is not the stifling defense from 2018 that put fear into the heart’s of anyone who stood against them. Yet, they are by no means bottom of the barrel.
The Bears defense is currently 7th in the NFL in points per game against, holding their opponents to about 20 points a game. Against the run, they’re ranked 16th, allowing 115 rushing yards per game. Against the pass, they’re ranked 9th, allowing just 230 yards through the air per game.
Despite their rankings in these categories, they rank much lower in explosive plays given up. They’re 31st in the league in allowing explosive runs (runs of 10+ yards), giving up 17 such plays through four games. In the passing game, they rank 18th in explosive passes given up (passes of more than 15 yards), giving up 13 such plays.
In terms of the running game, the propensity for this defense to give up big runs is highly advantageous for not only the run game itself, but also for play action, which we discussed earlier.
While they rank better in explosive pass plays given up, they haven’t necessarily faced the offensive talent that the Bucs have to offer, even without Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard.
Against the Lions, the Bears gave up five passes of 20 (which is higher than the explosive play minimum) yards or more, all to different receivers. Against the Giants, Falcons, and Colts, they allowed an additional eight passes of 20+ yards.
No matter the coverage they’re running, they still find ways to give up these big plays, especially down the middle of the field. Passes of 15 or more yards downfield are being completed 67% of the time, and while there isn’t a gigantic sample size, there are still enough to make this significant.*
Here’s a deep pass that actually ends up going deep left:
The Bears appear to be in Cover 1 robber here after disguising this as Cover 2 pre-snap. Once the play starts, Eddie Jackson rotates downward to pick up anything coming at the sticks or underneath. At the same time that this happens, the corner at the top of the screen gets beat and since the Bears are in Cover 1, the deep safety can’t get there in time.
I am not sure if the corner thought that Jackson was going to take his receiver up the field or if he just got flat out beat, but in either case this led to a big play.
In Cover 1, whether it be standard or robber, a lot of big plays can be allowed if there are at least two routes that can occupy the deep safety’s attention. It just so happens that the Bucs have a vertical offense that often sends multiple guys deep per play.
If the Bears decide to mix in more Cover 3, the Bucs did a great job of getting past the Chargers’ primary Cover 3 scheme last week and picked up a myriad of big plays throughout the game.
Even with the addition of Brady and the higher rate of short passes, this is still a Bruce Arians offense. If Evans is able to go Thursday, I expect either he, or Scotty Miller (both questionable) to pick up a few huge gains through the air.
Contain Allen Robinson
Each week I’ve tried to highlight one special player that essentially drives the opposition’s offense. This week, it’s Allen Robinson.
Robinson may not end up on a lot of Pro Bowl teams or top five lists, but he is still one of the best receivers the NFL has to offer. While he has only cracked 1,000 yards twice in his 6 year career, he has also had Blake Bortles and Mitchell Trubisky throwing him the ball.
Make no mistake, this guy is extremely talented, and has definitely put it on display through four games this year. Through four games in 2020, Robinson has pulled in 25 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns.
Since Nick Foles has entered the picture, he’s been getting even more production. In his last five quarters, Robinson has racked up 155 yards and the two touchdowns he has on the season.
Foles isn’t shy about using him either. A lot of the explosive plays that Robinson puts together aren’t about separation or a perfect throw, they’ve primarily been just absolutely fantastic plays by him.
Relating to separation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Robinson is 16th worst with in the NFL, including tight ends, only averaging 2.2 yards of separation per target (min 13 targets). So even if the coverage is close, the guy can still make a big play.
Here’s an example of this against the Colts from Week 4:
In the play above, Robinson is at the bottom of the screen running a simple go route. What’s so crazy about this play is that the corner is in absolutely perfect coverage and has an opportunity to pick this ball off.
In comes Robinson to snatch the ball right out the air. He gets himself in great position to catch it by coming back to the ball, manuveuring himself in front of the corner, and then he just jumps up and comes down with it.
His jump ball skills are superb, maybe not Mike Evans level, but he’s definitely good at high pointing a ball and coming down with it in tight coverage.
If I were Todd Bowles, I would have Carlton Davis III shadow him the entire game since he plays with the tightest coverage and also has pretty good ball skills. After shutting down Michael Thomas in Week 1 and Keenan Allen in Week 3 (when he was covering him), he’s definitely shown that he has what it takes to take on a team’s number one receiving threat.
Get the offense into third down situations
While this is definitely not something that is necessarily easy to do, if the Bucs are able to stop the Bears on first and second down consistently, they should be stopped cold.
The Bears offense is not designed to put up huge numbers or throw the ball deep downfield. It is predicated on short-intermediate routes and holding onto the ball.
The Bears are 26th in yards per play average, sitting just around 5.2 yards per play. Against the Colts, Nick Foles completed 20 of his 26 completions less than 10 yards downfield, despite them being down the majority of the game.
Once a team with a decent defense gets the lead on them, they are not very good at opening up their offense to score a lot of points. This was evident against the Colts, who held them to three points until late in the fourth quarter.
This is where the point about third downs come in. When a team is attempting to sustain a drive, the number one thing that keeps it going is third down conversions. This is especially true when an offense is designed to pick up 5-6 yards at a time. If the first two plays aren’t able to pick up this yardage, the third down play needs to get them the distance.
For the Bears, they just aren’t able to pick up this distance. They currently have the second worst third down percentage, while also having the third most third down attempts. They are currently picking up a staggeringly low 33.9% of their third downs, only second to The Washington Football Team.
I am not sure if it’s the play calling, the offense itself, or the personnel, but this team just cannot pick up third downs. Even with Nick Foles, they haven’t been able to get it done in this department.
Nick’s third down completion percentage hasn’t been very good, which again, may be caused by a number of factors. He is currently 39th in the NFL in third and five plus situations, completing only 31% of these passes* On top of this, he has also thrown his only two interceptions under these circumstances.*
So no matter what, if the Bucs are to get themselves in a good position to win this game, they have to be able to get off the field on third down. With the defense they have now, this shouldn’t be too difficult either, seeing as they are able to get off the field on third down 40% of the time, putting them 10th best in the league in this area.
Based on what I’ve seen, this game won’t be too high scoring on either end. The Bears do have a solid defense, and a less than solid offense after all. However, I think that if Tampa Bay is able to put up points and build a lead, their defense is good enough to win them the game.
I wouldn’t write the Bears off though. They are 3-1, even if their strength of schedule through four games hasn’t been tops in the league. If they’re able to stop Brady and control the ball, I would begin to worry.
If the Bucs use a heavy amount of play action and are able to take advantage of scheme gaps to get some big plays, they should be able to score enough points to win. On the opposite end, they primarily need to worry about stopping Allen Robinson, the largest threat the Bears currently have. If they’re able to do that, the third downs will come, and the Bucs will take their chances with the second worst third down team in the league.
What are some thoughts you have about this game? Who do you think is going to come out on top? Let us know in the comments below!
* Per Sharpfootballstats.com