We’ll just skip past the intro part and get straight to the meat of the subject.
Evan, Jon, and Chris each sat down and picked a play from Tom Brady’s time with the Patriots that they would like to see adopted in Tampa Bay. They will describe why they picked said play and how they’d like to see it run with the Bucs’ personnel.
Do you have a specific play in mind? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
Chris: Now this play isn’t something that is incredibly something to get excited about. My overall reason for choosing this play is the predictability that the Bucs offense had on 3rd and short plays. If we saw Peyton Barber lineup in the backfield, we knew some run right up the middle was coming, if we saw Jameis in the gun we knew a pass was coming. It wasn’t hard to tell what was coming and I think that led to the dive from third to 13th in third down conversion rate.
While 13th in the league isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the ability to pick up third downs is something that not only sustains drives, but ultimately wins games. Seven of the 12 playoff teams last season had a higher third down efficiency and I don’t think this can be explained away by saying this is just purely correlational.
While a Bruce Arians offense likes to chuck it downfield at any and every opportunity, the “no risk it, no biscuit” mentality can lead to problems in third down efficiency if the chosen play consists of four deep routes and one underneath route. On the other hand, the “no risk it, no biscuit) mentality didn’t always show up, and the play called was overly conservative.
The way I look at it, the Bucs found themselves right in the middle of two ideas that didn’t always seem to pan out, and with Brady in the backfield, we won’t see too many third downs being converted with his legs. Where does this leave us? Well, with the long-time Patriot Tom Brady coming to Tampa Bay, maybe he can shed some light on how to make third downs a strength, as opposed to a toss up.
Alright, let’s dive into the play I picked out:
So the first thing I like about this play is that it features some shorter routes that can result in easier first down throws that travel five yards instead of 15. The second, is that this play has some built in options that can win against man or zone.
The first option, which is what we see happening above, is the wheel route run by the running back, James White. Brady motions him in the backfield, sees man, and probably immediately knows he’s going this way.
The bunch trips formation at the bottom of the screen is more of a decoy here than anything else and the routes free up the wheel route. The inside receiver chips the man covering the back and then runs a deep cross to keep the deep safety honest long enough to ensure the wheel route stays open. In the context of this play, the safety is pretty much in a hopeless spot to begin with, but the deep crossing route is still useful.
The receiver at the top of the bunch formation runs straight up the field to take out the deep cover men so they can’t just come up and make an easy tackle or break up the pass. The outside receiver looks like he’s attempting to run a shallow cross to occupy the man covering the back. If the team from Washington was in zone here, this would leave him with an opening in the middle of the field if matched up on a linebacker.
The lone receiver on the opposite side of the bunch also runs a crossing route, which in zone can lead to some openings and can lead to an easy first down. Brady has the benefit of the motion by immediately knowing if the defense is in man or zone pre-snap, allowing him to adjust his process and read progression.
With a guy like Brady in the backfield, plays like this will truly make the Bucs difficult to stop on 3rd and short/medium. Imagine this with Chris Godwin as the backside receiver running the cross, that’s easy money if he gets matched up with a linebacker.
If the play does result in something like the above, Ronald Jones II has shown that he has the ability to get upfield once he catches the pass. In the past, the biggest issue was just catching it, but with the off-season work he has been putting in, this should improve. As for the guys in the decoy, it’s not necessarily super important who you put there, but Mike Evans will definitely be an upgrade to one of them.
Finally, if you get a guy like Scotty Miller running one of these shallow crossing routes, he will definitely win with speed, especially when considering no one is really going to be game planning around him. All in all, I just really can’t see a play like this, with the Bucs offense, failing very often.
Evan: When it comes to in-game strategy, first down is the most advantageous down. Opposing defenses are usually left guessing as to whether you’re going to run or pass. Most of the time, they have to rely on tendencies and film study in order to get a grasp of what an offense likes to do on first down.
The following play is perfect for taking a deep shot on first down, which is what the Pats do. Per Sports Info Solutions, the Patriots ran the ball the fifth-most on first down in 2019 (255 attempts), so there’s already a tendency for the Dolphins to be wary of. The Pats also come out in a 2x2 set, which usually reads as a running play for defenses, so the Dolphins decide to go to a single-high coverage —which looks like Cover 6— so they can put a safety (No. 21 Eric Rowe) in the box in case the Patriots try to run the ball.
Since the Pats are in a 2x2 set, Brady knows that the deep safety (No. 36 Adrian Colbert) will be eyeing the releases of the inside receivers (No. 2s) and will protect the deep middle from seam routes and post routes. Brady also knows that LaCosse is running a short route, so all of Colbert’s attention will be focused on the other side of the field, where the action is.
The presnap motion from Julian Edleman is supposed to cause confusion, but the Dolphins’ boundary defensive backs pick up their assignments. It’s Colbert who gets taken for a turn. Edelman does a great job of getting vertical and making it look like he’s about to take off down the seam —which would then make him Colbert’s responsibility— and holds Colbert just long enough to completely take him out of the play. Brady also does a good job of not giving away where he’s going with the ball.
Granted, Colbert isn’t responsible for the corner’s deep third of the field, but you see where Brady has to put the ball. If Colbert isn’t held up by Edleman’s route, then there’s a good chance he is able to have a greater effect on the play. The main gist of this play is to overload the single-high safety and force him to make a quick decision.
Phillip Dorsett does a great job of selling the double move and subsequently beats the outside corner. Brady sees this and pulls the trigger. But the ideal aspect of this play is that there are options for Brady. It’s not just a Four Verts-type design.
Mohamed Sanu is able to get a couple of steps on his guy and there are two short options in running back Rex Burkhead and tight end Matt LaCosse, so it’s not like Brady is pigeonholed in any shape or form.
I would love to see Chris Godwin take the place of Dorsett, Scotty Miller take the place of Edelman, Mike Evans take the place of Sanu, Ronald Jones II take the place of Burkhead, and then Rob Gronkowski take the place of LaCosse. It feels like Godwin’s route-running and Miller’s speed would be key to overloading the safety on the perimeter side of the field. Then, you’d have Evans on the other side for a 50/50 ball if need be.
It’s not very complicated, but it’s effective when executed. Those are usually the best types of plays in the NFL.
The Bucs were an effective team when throwing on first down in 2019, so it would be wise for them to build on that in 2020. Plays such as this will certainly put them on the right track toward doing so.
Jon: I have been calling for more play-action in the Bucs’ offense for years now. At its core play-action is simply using some kind of run action as a tool to fool defenders, generally linebackers. The run action also helps the offensive line block. One great recent example of teams heavily utilizing play-action to help prop up their QB is Jared Goff in LA. The benefits are obvious and numerous — play-action opens up wider passing lanes by pulling defenders out of position, which in turn increases efficiency in both completion percentage and yardage, as well as reducing sacks and the risk of interceptions. It’s a quarterback’s best friend, and you don’t actually need a good running game to use it.
We unfortunately never saw Buccaneer coaches utilize it as often as they should have with Jameis Winston, who was the sixth-best play-action QB in 2019 with only two of his whopping 30 interceptions coming off of PA despite being second in PA yards per attempt. Stunningly, the Bucs only ran play-action the second-fewest in the league in 2018 and third-fewest in 2019 despite leading the league in offensive drives.
With a 43-year-old Tom Brady now under center I think that all changes in a big way. One play in particular I think we will see is some variation of, if not an outright copy, is Triple Right Close Trap Pass Right Y Mag F Bullet, which Brady describes below:
Not that this concept was new at the time, but in this particular play the Patriots copied from Peyton Manning’s Colts the idea is to execute a Trap run as a play-action fake. The key to it working is that in Trap a guard pulls, which further sells the run fake as defenders are taught to key on OL moving, before the QB pulls the ball and throws it to the vacated area behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Brady did this over and over again to...Rob Gronkowski, who is also now a Buccaneer. As Brady notes, the run action essentially doubles as the pass protection.
Two TE formations (12 personnel) with Gronk and OJ Howard on this play would be nearly unstoppable as defenses would have to trot out heavier personnel to deal with the threat of the run while both are plus matchups against those same defenders in coverage, and you can run one or both of them out into the “Y Mag” route or some variation. It just makes too much sense to not use, especially with an older more hit-averse quarterback. You can find a further breakdown of this particular play here, but be on the lookout this season for it or something like it.