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The Bucs offense was special on Sunday when they blew out the Dolphins 45-17. After reviewing the tape, four things stood out. 

1. More Yards After Catch

Bruce Arians offenses have always been air yards-oriented. This is by design. However, the Buccaneers have improved in yards after the catch, going from 4.6 yards after catch per completion (YAC/cmp) in 2020 to 5.6 YAC/cmp in 2021. The one yard increase bumped the Bucs from the 25th ranked YAC/cmp team to 11th. 

One reason for this improvement is the Bucs’ improved execution in the screen game. 

With Chris Godwin in a stack formation behind him, Mike Evans was immediately in position to block after the pass. The real stars of this play were Donovan Smith, who put a devastating hit on CB Nik Needham, and Ryan Jensen, who cleared a lane downfield. 

Spread out instead of stacked, Tyler Johnson and Cam Brate created space for Godwin who tacked on even more yards with a vicious juke move on Eric Rowe. Godwin was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL after the catch in 2019, his breakout season. It’s awesome to see him getting back to that type of production in 2021. According to PFF, Godwin is third amongst all wide receivers in yards after catch, and sixth in YAC per reception. His six forced missed tackles in tied for fourth at his position.

Ali Marpet and Evans helped Ronald Jones tear off a huge gain on a screen designed to look like Arians’ flagship concept, 989/“Go”. The vertical concept stretched the secondary deep, leaving a lot of exposed space for Jones to work to.

Evans’ blocking efforts weren’t a one-time thing, as he later helped Johnson on an RPO catch-and-run. 

The downfield passing attack is this team’s bread-and-butter, as it should be. But as this offense becomes more well-rounded, they’ll have more answers against all the different types of coverages they could face. Improving the screen game is just the cherry on top of the Bucs’ sundae – which, at this point, is overflowing with cherries.

2. Passing Game Lenny

Leonard Fournette has had an up-and-down tenure in Tampa Bay. His volatility spawned the beloved LEONARD! segment on the Pewter Report podcast, in which Jon Ledyard and Scott Reynolds test the limits of their vocal chords while reviewing Fournette’s most recent flubs and triumphs. Well, his play over the past two weeks has prompted more head nods than head shakes. 

Fournette is becoming a serviceable passing game running back. Am I confident that he won’t drop an easy pass for an interception against the Eagles on Thursday night the way he did against the Cowboys? Absolutely not. But against the Dolphins, Fournette was everywhere in the pass game. He ran routes out wide, he caught check downs as a back, and he also helped protect Tom Brady in the pocket.

Brady looked to Fournette as the primary read on Arians’ frequently-used “Okie” concept. Fournette was smooth as he beat Byron Jones, the outside cornerback in the Dolphins’ Cover 3 zone, on an out route. 

Fournette also looked comfortable as the safety valve. After all the juggled catch attempts, it’s almost jarring seeing him complete the catch and turn upfield with ease. 

Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is even scheming plays for Fournette. After lining up to Brady’s left in shotgun, Fournette motioned across to the right as the ball was snapped. Jerome Baker struggled to follow Fournette and was out of position in man coverage. Furthermore, Antonio Brown’s inside release on his curl route acted as a natural rub, thus creating another obstacle for Baker.

Finally, once Fournette had the ball and Baker looked to be in position to make a tackle, Fournette ducked under Baker and picked up more than enough yards to move the chains. 

On second-and-9, Brate’s shift allowed Brady to confirm that the Dolphins were in man coverage. Again, without hesitation, Brady fired a pass to Fournette, trusting that his running back was a mismatch against Baker. 

With Evans, Godwin, Brown, and Rob Gronkowski, the Bucs don’t want to throw to running backs too often. However, Fournette becoming a dependable option underneath who can turn a throwaway for zero yards into a checkdown for a small gain or more is huge. Being a consistent mismatch against linebackers, as he was against Miami, would make him truly special for this offense. 

“It’s all about earning trust,” said Fournette. “You can’t go into practice dropping a lot of balls. In the back of [Brady’s] mind, he’s going, ‘I can’t throw this guy the ball’. So I try to make every catch he throws to me. I try to make it easy for him.” 

Fournette certainly seems to have earned that trust.  

3. Antonio Brown vs. Anybody

Brown has been incredible, and it’s not just because he’s drawing third-string cornerbacks. The Dolphins moved their star cornerback Xavien Howard all around the field, often across from Brown. 

Howard won in the red zone when he blanketed Brown’s pivot route in a way few can. 

Side note: check out how well Nik Needham and Jevon Holland pass off Godwin’s crossing route. Not all teams match this way, but this has been a staple of Bill Belichick defenses for a long time, and Brian Flores has taken that with him to the Dolphins. 

When Miami showed blitz on first-and-10, Brady got the Bucs into a seven-man protection by motioning Godwin in to block. Brown took advantage of the Dolphins’ aggression and beat Howard with a now route for a first down. 

Brown blew by Howard as a crosser on the mesh concept. Howard didn’t even get picked, as a defender often would in mesh. Brown won outright with speed. He was dominant all day against one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

Leftwich countered the Dolphins’ man coverage by aligning the offense in a bunch formation. This created congestion at the line of scrimmage, and Howard was left way behind as Brown sped across the field. Also note Brown’s awareness, as he changed the angle of his route to run away from a Miami defender buzzing underneath. 

Finally, on third-and-10, trailing by a touchdown, the Dolphins were in a must-win situation. But Brown blew by Howard again, and picked up the back-breaking first down. 

“When you got Chris and Mike, and AB’s the third guy, it ain’t a fair fight,” explained Arians. “Now that he knows the offense and Byron is putting him in a position where (Brown) knows what he’s doing, he can play really fast. Tom trusts him. We like that matchup usually week in and week out. And I’m sure it’s going to switch pretty soon. One of those other guys is going to feast.”

Unfortunately for the Buccaneers’ upcoming opponents, Brown has shown he can dust No. 1 cornerbacks, too. 

4. Brady Wants Home Runs

One way top quarterbacks differentiate themselves is by making great plays when others would make good ones. With most passing concepts, there’s a predetermined progression. The quarterback knows which receiver to look at first, second, third, and so on. The order of the progression can change depending on the defensive coverage.

Brady is not only an elite processor who progresses through his reads at an incredible speed, he’s also willing to hit the “alert”. An alert is a route that’s not meant to be a part of the progression, but should be glanced at against specific defensive looks. This is easier said than done, and some quarterbacks almost never throw the alert unless everything is absolutely perfect. For example, Jared Goff and Jimmy Garoppolo have both been criticized for this. Brady is not one of those quarterbacks.

On the play above, Evans’ route is effectively clearing space for other receivers underneath. The idea is to “flood” zone defenses with multiple receivers to the same side, all at different depths. However, against press man coverage with only a single-high safety in the middle of the field, Brady trusted Evans to win his matchup and delivered a strike.

That was actually the second time the Bucs had gone to Evans on the same concept. Brady underthrew the first one and the ball slipped right through Evans’ hands. Leftwich liked what he saw and gave his star players another chance. 

Without the alert, Brown would’ve been the first player in the progression. Brown got open, too, and it would’ve been a successful play for a chunk gain. Instead, Brady went for the kill shot.  

This unbelievably talented offense is refusing to become complacent. Instead, they’ve continued to evolve and add layers to their already-potent attack. If this continues, the Bucs offense could go down as one of the greatest in NFL history.

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About the Author: Paul Atwal

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3 months ago

Ledyard never quits on his dissing of Fournett. He acts amazed that Playoff Lenny can actually complete catches, which is pretty amazing that he pretends to believe that. Even though Fournette is second only to Bernard in catch percentage of targets (a little more than 79%) on the team to date this season for anyone who’s caught more than one pass this season. The only one higher is Bernard at 88%, And of course Fournette caught the highest percentage of his targets (86%) in the entire league during the playoffs earlier this year. And full career, Fournette has a higher… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Naplesfan
Captain Sly
Captain Sly(@captain-sly)
Reply to  Naplesfan
3 months ago

Who mentioned anything about Fournette not being able to catch in this article? And furthermore this was written by Paul Atwal so you might want to save your rant for one of Ledyards weak I mean weekly breakdowns.

Captain Sly
Captain Sly(@captain-sly)
3 months ago

Greatest Offense in NFL history Whew! I hope not because those never win a super bowl. Greatest offenses I’ve ever seen 99’ Vikes, 01’ Rams, 84’ Dolphins & 94’ Cowboys all failed to win Super Bowl. Let’s hope for a better defense. Lol.. Anyway good read Paul

Mike Pengelly
Mike Pengelly(@ontariomike)
3 months ago

Add Gronk to this receiving cocktail and the result is deadly !! Can’t wit to hear when he’ll be back…not much mention of it. Tyler Johnson has been a great fill in as well. Scotty might be well back on the list when he recovers.

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