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A good offense is like a good wardrobe – anchored by strong staples with enough versatility to handle any type of conditions. It should also evolve. Your good winter coats are your good winter coats, but a new scarf can go a long way. Last year’s team had all the pieces. But, to continue this drawn-out sartorial metaphor, it was like the Bucs had a closet full of Dolce & Gabbana suits with no tailor. Well, everything has fit a lot better in 2021.

Some of the changes happened after last season’s bye week, like when the Buccaneers went from using play action on 19 percent of their passes to 26 percent. Their pre-snap motion rate changed, too, spiking from 46 percent to 59 percent. These changes were clearly intentional, no matter how much Byron Leftwich tries to gaslight us into thinking otherwise. What’s most encouraging are the continuous tweaks. Not overhauls. Just subtle adjustments that give this offense more answers.

In Week 1, with Chris Godwin in motion, Dallas cornerback Jourdan Lewis was unable to press at the line of scrimmage. Godwin released freely, ran a clean route, and scored. 

One example of this adaptability has been how Tampa Bay has manipulated personnel to exploit its opponents. Against the Dallas defense, orchestrated by Dan Quinn and his unremitting use of single-high coverages, Tampa Bay emphasized having speed on the field by playing 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, and three wide receivers) on 64 percent of their offensive snaps. Furthermore, the Bucs were only under center for 31 percent of their snaps.

The Bucs looked dramatically different against the Falcons when defensive coordinator Dean Pees used two-safety coverages on 59 percent of Tampa Bay’s offensive plays. To counter Atlanta’s lighter boxes, the Bucs went under center on 62 percent of their snaps and dropped their 11 personnel usage to 46 percent. Having another tight end on the field made the threat of the run imminent, and Leftwich took advantage by dialing up playing action on 35 percent of the Bucs’ passes.

From a design standpoint, Bruce Arians’ offenses have always placed a particular emphasis on core concepts. Arians and Leftwich aren’t up all night crafting the perfect designer or gadget play that they’ll use once in the entire season for a gain of 13 yards. Instead, they ask the quarterback to find answers within their existing concepts. 

However, even some core concepts have seen tweaks. One example of this is how the Bucs ran Smash last Sunday. As I’ve written about before, the Bucs prefer to use their Okie and Smurf concepts over the typical hitch and corner combination. Against the Falcons, Tampa Bay ran a variation where Antonio Brown lined up out wide (instead of a tight split, as he would for Okie or Smurf) and ran a pivot route underneath Chris Godwin’s corner route. Although Brown lost his balance and the ball went to Godwin, this was good process. Brown is one of the league’s sharpest route runners. Letting him use that agility is in the Bucs’ best interests. 

The Bucs even ran their counter to Okie, which the Bucs used surprisingly little last season. 

Arians and Leftwich also poached Sean McVay’s Strike concept (known as Drift under Kyle Shanahan). Strike lets the receiver find space against zones as opposed to running to landmarks. 

Tom Brady’s arsenal has apparently expanded, too, as he’s thrown two designed bootleg passes through two games. Over 20 games last season, Brady only had six designed roll-outs. 

My biggest concern for the Bucs’ offense was, and still is, how they play against middle of the field open coverages. They haven’t been tested by a top defense yet, but there have been positive signs. 

The Bucs used a Spacing concept to beat the Falcons’ Cover 2 zone on 3rd down. Godwin shuffled and found space between the linebackers. 

Patient, underneath, play calls are a necessary part of the game plan to beat middle of the field open coverages. This offense hasn’t been perfect, of course. In fact, their actual efficiency metrics are well behind where they should be. As PFF’s Timo Riske explained, the Bucs have consistently moved the ball, but turnovers and a few high-leverage situations (e.g. drops on 3rd down) have hindered their EPA/play over a small sample size. The good news is that there’s no way the Bucs finish the season as the 19th most efficient offense. 

Arians and Leftwich’s offense is showing signs of growth and refinement. They’re continuing to be aggressive, but with intricacies that weren’t possible last year with a new quarterback and a truncated offseason. The signs have been good, but it still has been only two games.

The biggest test to this offense’s adaptability will come Sunday. That’s when the Bucs take on Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald, and the Rams.

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About the Author: Paul Atwal

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3 months ago

Where in the world did you come up with your lead? Winer coats, scarfs? Dude, this is Florida, where my everday wardrobe consists of a pair of shorts and a very golf freindly polo shirt.
Coats and scarfs indeed. Is GQ hiring.

3 months ago

Despite you lead I did find your film work and analysis insightful and enjoyable. I also have to agree with you about how Lefto has been trying to gaslight the public about how the Bucs haven’t tweaked their offense. Even BA is in on the hilarious attempts at subterfuge as reported by the network announcers during Sunday’s game when they talked about how BA said they were done dinking an dunking. Good god, that pass to Godwin on third down in the middle of the field wass exactly that. The other pass to Godwin in the endzone for a TD… Read more »

Reply to  drdneast
3 months ago

Similarly I hope BA downplaying using Bernard as a pass catching back out of the backfield regularly is just a plot to save that for the big games.

Reply to  Eddie
3 months ago

He didn’t mind throwng the ball to David Johnson in Arizona.

Buc for Life
Buc for Life(@spfederico)
3 months ago

Outstanding analysis and explanations Paul! As a fan, it is exciting to see the evolution of the Bucs offense! I am interested to see (unless I already missed it) a similar analysis of the evolution of the running game. From the stands it has also definitely appeared more evolved and diverse than last season. And, who are Dolce & Gabbana? Lol!

3 months ago

You, sir, are talking over my head about football. I love it! This is how this ald f@rt learns new things and enjoys the game even more.

Go Bucs!!! Time To Take Out The Rams!

3 months ago

Paul please keep throwing your own spin on your leads. It’s one thing that makes your writing stand out from the other writers here and not all Bucs fans live in Florida. Just because some troll wants to complain about your way of writing I wouldn’t worry about commenting on the negative. He’s more worried about the lead than the rest of a very well written and in depth article. Good work and please keep throwing your own spin on writing otherwise this would be one boring ass world were all writers use the exact same style.

Last edited 3 months ago by Benjamin
Reply to  Benjamin
3 months ago

Perhaps you didn’t read my second post where I told Paul how much I enjoyed his article and insight. My jab at his lead was all in fun and if you read his reply, he took it as such, pinhead.

Reply to  Paul Atwal
3 months ago

I enjoy the feedback to the huddled masses.

3 months ago

Now this is a reporter I can get behind. Excellent job.

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

Nice work as always Paul. The evolution of this offense can be summoned up this way, couple years ago with Winston our 1st and goal would have consisted of run, run, pass. Very vanilla Very predictable. Now with Brady defenses aren’t sure what to expect. Fade, Quick Slant, Run, Play Action, Screen Pass, defenses are left on their heals because the play book is wide open…Paul I wanted to get your take on when we go 12 personnel (two tight end set) with OJ & Gronk. If you were a defensive coordinator would that keep you up at night? Cheers

Last edited 3 months ago by Captain Sly
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