Two of the best offensive play calls executed to perfection this season have had the most unlikely receiver. Nate Byham was brought on to primarily be a blocking tight end, or so we thought.
Byham has been the recipient of analytically, two of the most perfectly executed offensive plays of the season. The first, which did not get talked about much, was against the Raiders.
On first-and-10 following Ahmad Black’s onside kick recovery, the Bucs lined up in an offset I-formation with fullback Erik Lorig on the left and blocking tight end Nate Byham on the line of scrimmage next to Donald Penn. After being given the signal by QB Josh Freeman, Byham started in motion and ended on the far right outside RT Demar Dotson.
After Ted Larsen snapped the ball, the offensive line shifted to the left with Lorig leading Doug Martin. Byham quickly blocked and released Oakland defensive end Lamarr Houston, who continued forward toward Josh Freeman.
Freeman faked a handoff to Martin, which drew the defense to the left side of the field where it is presumed the rookie running back is heading based on the blocking scheme, formation, and personnel.
Freeman then turned and threw the ball to Byham who was now about five yards beyond the line. Byham caught the ball and picks up another five yards or so and the first down.
At that point in the season, the above play was one of the most tricky call offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan had made this season - until last Sunday in Carolina.
In Tampa Bay’s first possession, the Bucs were down to the Panthers’ three-yard line and in a three tight end set with Byham lined up on the left outside Luke Stocker, Dallas Clark on the far right next to Dotson, and Lorig in an I-formation directly in front of Martin.
Byham starts in motion to the right and ends next to Clark, directly across from a Carolina cornerback who was playing up at the line of scrimmage. When the ball was snapped, Clark and Stocker each made a quick release from their respective assignments and cross each other, with Clark finishing wide left in the shallow end zone and Stocker the same to the right.
Lorig ran out to the right flats where a safety moved down to cover the fullback and Byham blocks DE Charles Johnson (who was originally blocked by Clark), then made his way straight into the end zone and broke left.
Freeman, in what could have been a disaster had it not gone the Bucs’ way, released the ball as he is hit and threaded a needle between three defenders into the hands of Byham who tiptoed inside the back line with complete possession before being knocked out of bounds.
Byham says that one of the reasons the plays worked is because he is primarily considered a blocking tight end.
“I understand my niche in the offense," Byham said, "That’s my forte – drive blocking people and pass protecting for Josh (Freeman) and kind of being a glorified O-linemen but at the same time being able to release and catch the ball. I know I’m not the fastest guy but if you’re just throwing me the ball, I catch it. I’ve been playing tight end forever so I know how to catch the ball.”
It also helps to have a quarterback who in his fourth year seems completely settled in the new offense and has played extremely well this year. Byham credited Freeman for the execution of the touchdown, the third-year tight end’s first in the NFL.
“It was a great throw,” Byham said. “It was great recognition. The whole game just showed how poised we can be under pressure. That stuff, you practice all the time and his rule is just know someone’s going to be up at the upright. If you get pressure throw high and up to the upright and I was there. So, it’s more of a spot throw. When he’s just saying, ‘I’m going to lay it up there and if he’s there he’ll get it and if not it will go out of bounds.’
“That’s what good quarterbacks do. You take what you do on the practice field and transition it into the game and that’s what we did and that’s what Josh has been doing every week and he’s getting a lot better at it.”
Byham, who was reunited with his position coach at Pitt Brian Angelichio when he signed with Tampa Bay, told PewterReport.com that one of the keys to the Bucs’ offensive playbook working as well as it has is because Sullivan believes in all of the players on the unit.
"It’s definitely a fun offense,” Byham said. “I think one of the major things is Sully (Mike Sullivan) isn’t a guy that’s going to draw up plays for one guy. I’ve been in offenses in the past where you have your playmaker and that’s who you throw to or give the ball to. Here, he knows he has guys at every position and he’s not scared to spread the ball around and neither is Josh. He has Vincent (Jackson) and Mike (Williams) and obviously they’re great guys to always get the ball to but at the same time he’s not just looking at one guy and trying to force it in. He’s reading the coverages and giving it to the open man and making plays.”
Aside from a few wrinkles here and there, Sullivan’s play calling is seemingly improving week-by-week as is the level of execution from the players. One of the calls that has consistently been executed well has been the play action. With Martin running the ball as well as he has, it opens up endless possibilities for Sullivan to use all the weapons on offense, especially the ones you least expect.