We didn't have much of an idea of what to expect from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense in this game, especially so with Jeff Tedford sidelined during preparations. But there's one thing we really didn't expect: that the biggest play of the game would be a fullback run. Yet that's exactly what happened on the team's second offensive drive, when Jorvorskie Lane ripped off the biggest run of his career and the game.
The play starts with some deception: it's a fullback give, with a fake flip to Doug Martin running to the outside. The hope is that an unblocked defender will follow Martin to the side -- which is exactly what happens, as Roman Harper gets fooled all the way.
But there's more to it than that. The Bucs could have simply give the ball to Martin, and Lane would have been free to block Martin. Same result, ball in a different back's hands -- and that may have turned what was a 54-yard run into a touchdown. Martin's a little faster and more shifty than Lane, after all.
No, the difference was that the Bucs took advantage of an easily-exploited alignment in the Panthers defense, leaving defenders unblocked who could never get to the ball. Had they run this play with Martin running the ball and Jorvorskie Lane, this defensive front simply could not have stopped the play without at least defeating a blocker somewhere. But the fake did make those defenders hesitate a little, which helped the play develop.
The Bucs came out in a perfectly balanced set, which forces the Panthers to react similarly. And the presence of a fullback in the backfield allowed the Bucs to exploit that by inserting that blocker on either side of the line.
If blocked perfectly, the unblocked player on either side of the line (Thomas Davis on the right or Roman Harper on the left) will have to come all the way over to make the play. Either that, or the unblocked safety at the bottom of the screen has to come up quickly to make the play -- but he's usually going to be too late. In this case, the alignment of that safety to the offense's left side of the field probably led the Bucs to run to the right.
The give to Lane and the fake to Martin give the offensive line just a little more time to get to their blocks, by forcing the defense to hesitate. And that hesitation leads to the safety at the bottom reacting much too late as well. Meanwhile, Thomas Davis simply can't get over to the other side of the line to make that play -- that's not something any outside linebacker can consistently do, except Lavonte David.
Despite all the window dressing, this play really came down to one thing: every player winning his block. This is what good blocking can do for you. And plays like these show that the Bucs' line can make these kinds of holes when necessary, with a little help from a quality play call.