Already up 10-3 against the New York Giants, the Bucs were poised to put the game away early on their third offensive possession. Cameron Brate motioned from the outside tight end spot in a hip formation to an off-set fullback position. Tom Brady, under center, took the snap and fired the ball past receiver Tyler Johnson to Mike Evans, looking to take advantage of the soft outside cornerback. The ball bounced off Evans’ chest right towards a leaping cornerback Adoree Jackson. And just like that, the Bucs — as they’ve done several times this season — put their opponents back in the game.
The mistake came after a dazzling touchdown drive to open the game that featured play fakes, screens, sweeps, and end arounds.
“That’s good? The way we doin’ it?” asked Byron Leftwich, sitting next to Brady on a sideline bench with a tablet in hand.
“Sssso good!” said Brady with an emphatic snap of his head.
The offense continued marching on their second possession by methodically picking apart the Giants’ two-high coverages. The Bucs used tempo. They passed on first downs, setting up short runs on second downs. And Brady even moved the chains with a third down scramble for 10 yards, leading to a red-faced and expletive-riddled celebration. Although the offense fizzled out in the red zone and settled for a field goal, the drive was impressive.
The Bucs had 18 no huddle snaps on offense last night — by far the highest count since Brady has been in Tampa.
Yet, on Tampa Bay’s fourth offensive possession, the stakes felt much higher than they should have. The Bucs were at risk of fluttering after an early turnover, as they had a week prior in Washington. Thus, the third-and-3 from their own 29 yard line was a pivot point. Move the chains and work towards a touchdown, or go three-and-out and think, “Here we go again.”
Leftwich lined up his offense in a 1×3 formation, isolating Rob Gronkowski to Brady’s left. The Giants showed another two-high coverage pre-snap. However, after the snap, New York rotated their weak side safety, hoping to cut off crossers from the offense’s trips side. The coverage was effective, at least initially. Brady went through his progressions and reset in the pocket.
Gronkowski, recognizing that he wouldn’t be targeted in-rhythm, adjusted his route on the fly. He stemmed up-field — prompting the free safety to open his hips — and then cut across into open space.
Great job by Gronkowski to stay alive on this route. Instead of immediately cutting across, he took a few steps upfield first. This got the safety to open his hips and let Gronk get way more open than he otherwise would have. pic.twitter.com/IaT6NC1EmJ
As an aside, this is a good example of a would-be full field read. On a recent Pewter Report podcast, I spoke with Jon Ledyardabout the difference between full field and split field reads, and why they matter when evaluating a quarterback’s decision-making. On this play, had Brady not thrown the out to Brate, he would have had a natural progression to Chris Godwin and Evans on their drive concept.
Ronald Jones II capped off the drive with a power run on first-and-goal from the Giants’ 6-yard line. Tampa Bay’s offensive line continued their dominant play by denying any early penetration. And, from another hip formation, the tight ends created an excellent double team to displace the defensive end.
According to Sports Info Solutions, the Buccaneers have already called power 20 times this season. In 2020, playoffs included, they only used it 22 times despite it being their most efficient run play. This is just another example of how the Bucs have benefited this season from diversifying their run game.
Even though the fourth drive occurred mid-way through the second quarter, it was a game changer. The numbers back this up, too. Per nflfastR’s model, the possession increased the Bucs’ win probability by 17 percentage points — the highest change from any drive all game.
The Buccaneers offense proved that it can refocus after an unforced error. Their next goal will be to avoid that error altogether.