Welcome to Bucs Briefing! During the season I’ll be studying the All-22 tape of each game, and providing you with a comprehensive film breakdown of what went right and what went wrong for the Bucs on Sundays.
The hope is that Bucs Briefing will be live on the site early each Wednesday morning, allowing fans to get a long look at the coaches tape and see the game from more exciting angles. With the short week before Thursday Night Football, we’ve expedited the process to get Bucs Briefing out to you Tuesday morning.
Bucs Offensive Line Is Dominating
When I say a team’s offensive line is dominating, the vast majority of the time I’m referring to the line’s work in pass protection. We are fans of a league that revolves around execution in the passing game, and it is extremely difficult to do that if a team’s offensive line is a revolving door in protection.
A quarter of the way through the season, and the Bucs really haven’t had that issue. Yes, left tackle Donovan Smith had his Week 1 (and occasional Week 2) struggles, but he’s been rock solid over the past two weeks, putting together his best performance of the year against Los Angeles.
On the inside Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen are both playing at an All-Pro level, while Alex Cappa has been very solid in his second year as the starting right guard. He’s a clear tick up from where he was a year ago, and the strength he’s added to his frame while still improving his technique is extremely impressive.
But the biggest surprise of the group has been the spectacular play of rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who has looked like a budding star through four weeks. Facing off against the likes of New Orleans’ Pro Bowler Cam Jordan, Carolina’s Brian Burns and Denver’s Bradley Chubb hasn’t phased the rookie, who has yet to allow a sack in his first four starts. On Sunday it was Los Angeles’ Joey Bosa confronting the Iowa product, and Wirfs was once again more than equal to the task.
It’s hard to believe how much time Bosa spent on the ground on Sunday, easily more than any other game I’ve watched him play. Wirfs was extremely well-prepared for Bosa’s long arm and other power moves, rarely letting the defensive end make forcible contact with his arms or his frame.
Bosa’s pass rush game is predicated on the long arm, which leads to a host of other nifty hand-fighting moves. What he loves to do as a change-up is this ghost move, where he fakes the long arm and tries to dip under the tackle when they shoot their hands to combat his stab. Wirfs is expecting it though, and doesn’t overshoot, instead pushing Bosa straight to all fours as the edge defender tries to corner.
That’s pretty much how the match-up went most of the game. Whenever Bosa tried to build off of a power move, Wirfs either guided him down or snatch-and-trapped the rusher to the ground.
Bosa goes for the bull rush, Wirfs gives some ground and snaps the star pass rusher to the ground with strong hands. Wirfs pulled out this move a few times, something I haven’t seen much from the rookie before.
Later in the game, Bosa tried to start attacking the tackle’s hands on his punch, hoping to knock him off balance on a cornering attempt. Wirfs’ hand usage proved far craftier than Bosa was prepared for, as he anticipated the defender’s actions before they occurred.
Bosa expected Wirfs to fire out so he chops straight down with his inside arm, but the Pro Bowler hits air as Wirfs’ yanks back his hands and then rips Bosa to the ground. These kind of “who’s gonna shoot their hands first?” mind games went on all afternoon between the two players, with Wirfs handily getting the better of the match-up. One more for the road.
While Wirfs’ having his way with Bosa may have been the most surprising positive outcome for the Bucs offensive line on Sunday, it was hardly the only one. Marpet was utterly dominant once again, continuing to carve out an All-Pro-caliber season at the quarter point. Marpet took Chargers second-year defensive tackle Jerry Tillery apart on Sunday – Old Testament style.
This was the nastiest rep of Marpet burying Tillery, but Smith and Jensen also get in excellent licks on this play. Run or pass game, that’s how it was. The Bucs offensive line controlled almost every play when the unit was on the field, consistently giving Brady perfect pockets to throw from and plenty of time to find the deep balls in the second half. Tampa Bay’s offensive line didn’t allow any sacks against Los Angeles.
But if you’re the Tampa Bay coaches, the thing you’re probably most thrilled about is how they finished the game. With Tampa Bay holding a 38-31 lead and attempting to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter, one first down will seal the victory. Time to let the Bucs O-line go to work, just like it did in Weeks 2 and 3.
Wirfs kicks out Bosa, while Cappa has the key blocks, helping Jensen secure the nose tackle before climbing and erasing the linebacker at the second level. Jensen seals off Linval Joseph with a little nudge from Cappa, and Marpet and Smith thoroughly knock around the three-tech on the backside. That’s the kind of finish you want in your front five, and the Bucs are getting elite nastiness and execution from the group each week now.
Ronald Jones II deserves some love too, on what was probably one of his best runs of the year. The initial hole is obvious, but then he makes a great second cut and even breaks a couple tackles. Highly encouraging rushing performance from Jones on the day, and he closed the game out the right way, finishing with a career-high 111 yards on 20 carries (5.6 avg.).
It’s been a long time since the Bucs have had an offensive line that has played like this, and it’s a major reason why they should be considered legitimate contenders if they stay healthy. Chicago will present a formidable test for the unit on Thursday night (Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Robert Quinn, etc.), but Tampa Bay’s group is ready for that caliber of a fight. A year ago, I’m not sure that would have been the case. General manager Jason Licht deserves a ton of credit for using every avenue – the draft and free agency – to build this starting five over the past few years.
CLICK PAGE 2 TO SEE HOW TOM BRADY SHREDDED THE CHARGERS PASS DEFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft