Explosive plays – defined by Sporting Charts as runs over 10 yards and passes over 25 – have plagued Tampa Bay at times this season, in terms of execution on offense and prevention on defense.
Sunday, the Bucs allowed 11 explosives against the Raiders while Tampa Bay’s offense was only able to add seven of its own, five of which came in the first quarter. By comparison, the Raiders had six explosives in their final five drives, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
For the season the Bucs are minus-12 in “big play” differential, which head coach Dirk Koetter believes is the second most telling stat.
“I’m a huge believer in explosives being the No. 2 stat behind turnovers in winning football,” Koetter said. “Along those lines, I was just looking at it this afternoon. We picked up our sixth explosive of the game on offense on the first play of the second quarter on that touchdown pass to [Russell Shepard].
“So, one quarter plus one play, we’ve got six explosives. We only got one the rest of the game. They got [most of] theirs in the second half. We got most of ours in the first quarter, and for some reason, we couldn’t hit ours and I thought we had some good chances.”
On the other end Koetter, as he often does, put a share of blame on the offense for putting the defense in bad position. And while it did, failing to move the chains on its last three drives, the defense had its own deficiencies. Coordinator Mike Smith didn’t deflect any blame.
Bucs DBs Jude Adjei-Barimah and Bradley McDougald give up the game-winning TD – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
“Totally unacceptable. No doubt about it,” Smith said Thursday. “Some of [the explosives] are missed leverage and missed tackles. There were some that were short throws where we did not tackle well. There were some where we had miscommunication, the wrong guy hung on the receiver when he shouldn’t have been there. There are a myriad of things we have to get better at. And I don’t think we should try to blame it on play or one group. We work in tandem. This was a team that we played last week that had only given up five sacks. We sacked him twice. Of course, we were out there for 93 friggin’ plays.”
And though Smith didn’t make excuses for the final drive in regulation and the missed tackles in overtime, the difference in playing time was significant. To illustrate, all four of the Bucs defensive backs played at least 92 snaps, while Raiders’ receivers Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts played 72 and 63, respectively. It’s no wonder Tampa Bay’s secondary looked gassed at the end.
The defensive line has a rotation; receivers have a rotation; defensive backs do not, according to Smith. Tampa Bay was going to keep its best defensive backs on the field, even for five quarters.
“When you’re playing out there at the defensive back position, there are a lot of nuances in the game that are going on,” Smith explained. “They say there’s no contact out there. There’s a lot of contact. A lot of hand fighting and you get into a groove. It’s a one-on-one battle when you’re out there, especially in the type of defense we’re playing with our defensive backs. You want to them to have a good feel for what they’re trying to defend, because it is a one-on-one battle and you don’t want to get a [cornerback] that’s coming off the bench fresh, so to speak, but not having had the opportunity to know what a [receiver] doing this week, how he’s escaping and what his game plan is. And different receivers have different escape techniques.”
The task to limit explosives won’t get easier this Thursday. Not only do the Falcons have the NFL’s No. 1 offense, but also the best “big play” differential, at plus-12. Other than offensive efficiency, the key for the Bucs defense to avoid the same position, Smith said, is to get off the field on third down. The bottom line is that it’s a team effort.
Raiders WR Amari Cooper and Bucs S Chris Conte – Photo by: Getty Images
“I know people like to talk about one position, one group. It’s a team game,” Smith said. “What happens up front is going to affect what happens in the back end. A guy mis-covers and we have a free runner back there. Another guy tries to compensate and we get a P.I. And by the way, up front, we didn’t have any pressure. So it’s a complementary game and we all have to understand that and we’re all responsible.
“I told my guys after the game, ‘when you miss a tackle, I miss a tackle.’ We’re all in this together. And that’s one thing I think you’ll see. We’re all going to come out and they’re going to play their tails off on Thursday night.”