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Tampa Bay needs to pass the ball more on 3rd-and-short in 2020

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Fortunately, Tom Brady is now on board the pirate ship.

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers
The numbers are in and Byron Leftwich needs to pass the ball more on third down in 2020.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows about Tampa Bay’s offense.

Go deep. Make plays. No risk it no biscuit.

All of that signals an aggressive offense, but when it comes to football, aggressive can only be defined as such when a team applies itself in that regard.

Based off the numbers from 2019, the Bucs may have been aggressive in some aspects, but they weren’t aggressive enough when it came to throwing the ball on 3rd-and-short.

How do I know this? Well, continue reading and you’ll find out.


I decided to take a look at some of the Bucs’ advanced numbers on 3rd-and-3 or less from 2019 in order to gauge what they did and how they did (performance-wise) in this scenario.

Why did I choose 3rd-and-3 or less? Well, there’s a simple formula a lot of advanced metric-people use, and that’s what I decided to go with for this exercise.

I decided to use Sharp Football Stats’ per down success rate metric. This is how they describe such metric:

Success rate is calculated in this manner: A play is successful when it gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down.

Thanks to that metric, we are able to determine that the ideal situation for teams on third down is around a 3rd-and-3 type deal. Therefore, that will be our marking point.

Per Sports Info Solutions, the Bucs tied for the ninth-most rushing attempts on 3rd-and-3 or less in 2019. They finished 28th in yards per attempt (2.0 ypc), 25th in EPA per attempt (-0.16), and 31st in positive play percentage (46.4%).

They were also very stubborn about sticking to the run in these situations, too. The Bucs ran the ball the fourth-most against 8-man boxes, but what really stands out is how ineffective they were. Byron Leftwich’s ground game averaged (-0.47) EPA per attempt, which was 24th in the league. The positive play percentage ranked 26th in the league, as well.

It’s not like Leftwich didn’t try and get creative, either. The Bucs ran the ball out of 11 personnel the third-most in the league on 3rd-and-3 or less, but the he couldn’t get the results he desired. Tampa Bay tied for 19th with a mark of (-0.06) EPA per attempt.

On the other hand, the Bucs were much more successful when throwing the ball on 3rd-and-3 or less. They finished 16th in EPA per attempt (-0.03) and seventh in positive play percentage (67.6%) on the sixth-most dropbacks (38). A lot of the success came out of 11 personnel, where the Bucs finished with the ninth-best EPA per attempt (0.10) despite ranking 15th in dropbacks (22).

They even had a good amount of success running the ball against 8-man boxes out of 11 personnel, finishing with the ninth-highest EPA per attempt (0.02).

It makes sense to want to mix it up when it comes to playcalling, however, teams should play more to their strengths, especially when the down and distance is in their favor.

The wild card here is Tom Brady. What will the Bucs do with him under center?

The Patriots ran the ball the seventh-most on 3rd-and-3 or less, but instead finished ninth in EPA per attempt with a mark of (0.09) and a positive play percentage of 63.3%, which was good for 15th last year. They also ran into 8-man boxes seven times in 2019, which is just three less than the Bucs. So, there may not be too much of a difference.

But there’s one thing that’s certain: The Bucs either need to get drastically better at running on 3rd-and-short or they need to start chucking it more often.

After adding Brady and Rob Gronkowsk to go along with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, it makes all the sense in the world to go with the latter.