One of the things that Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Greg Olson wanted to accomplish in his second year as the Bucs' playcaller was to increase the number of big plays on the ground and through the air. A look back at all of the team's runs over 10 yards and passes over 20 yards shows reveals that it was a mission accomplished in Tampa Bay.
In 2009, the Bucs totaled only 42 long runs, which are classified as being 10 yards or more. Thirty-two of those runs were from 10-19 yards, while nine runs were 20 yards or longer. However, Tampa Bay had just one run over 30 yards in 2009, which was a 35-yarder by Cadillac Williams on opening day against Dallas, and the team had just two touchdown runs of 10 yards or more.
Last year with rookie LeGarrette Blount emerging as the leading halfback after the first third of the season had passed, the Bucs produced 61 runs of 10 yards or more – an increase of 19 over 2009. Forty-six were runs of 10 yards or more, an increase of 14 over the previous year, and 15 were over 20 yards or more. But the biggest gain came from the amount of runs of 30 yards or more where Tampa Bay generated seven runs of 30 yards or more compared to one from 2009.
Blount had runs of 53 and 48 yards against Seattle, 48 yards at Arizona, and a 39-yard touchdown run against Detroit, while Williams had a 45-yard touchdown run against Carolina. Yet it was Earnest Graham’s 61-yard run on a fullback dive at Cincinnati proved to be the longest jaunt of the season.
Those big-play runs provided the Bucs with an additional 294 yards and two touchdowns that the team did not have in 2009.
In the passing game in 2009, Tampa Bay’s offense only generated 39 long pass plays, which are defined as being 20 yards or more. The Bucs, which used three different starting quarterbacks in Byron Leftwich, Josh Johnson and Josh Freeman, had 25 passes between 20-29 yards, 10 passes between 30-39 yards, four passes between 40-49 yards and zero passes that covered 50 yards or more.
But with nine games as a starter and a full offseason under his belt, Freeman showed immense signs of progress in 2010 as the passing game took off and he became a big-play quarterback with his strong right arm. Tampa Bay only produced 10 more long pass plays (49) in 2010 than it did the previous season, but like the running game, the difference came in the number of deep plays.
The Bucs had 32 pass plays between 20-29 yards and seven passes between 30-39 yards, which were close to the results in 2009. But Freeman completed six passes between 40-49, an improvement over four from the previous year, in addition to four passes over 50 yards.
With a 53-yard reception at Arizona and catches of 43 and 64 yards at Washington, rookie receiver Arrelious Benn proved to be the deep-ball threat on the Bucs roster last year. Rookie wideout Mike Williams had a 58-yard touchdown catch at Atlanta, and fellow rookie Dezmon Briscoe had a 54-yard reception at New Orleans. Veteran tight end Kellen Winslow had a 41-yard touchdown catch at Washington.
The Bucs didn’t have any pass plays over 50 yards in 2009, but the four completions over 50 yards gave Tampa Bay an additional 229 yards and a touchdown that they didn’t have last year.
Keep in mind that these big plays were largely generated by Freeman, a second-year quarterback, and a handful of rookies in Blount, Benn, Williams and Briscoe. It’s hard not to believe that Tampa Bay will continue to see an increase in the number of big plays its offense generates next year with a year’s worth of experience to build on.