FAB 4. Bucs – Browns Game Notes
If time permits in my schedule, I plan on adding some notes about the previous week’s Bucs game from my film study during the week into each week’s SR’s Fab 5 column. I’m not going to spend a lot of time rehashing the obvious. Instead, I’ll try to dig deeper and offer some insight you may have missed when watching the game and tie it into the up-coming match-up.
Here are my thoughts from re-watching the Bucs vs. Browns game.
• The first thing I want to highlight is the Bucs’ first sack of the game, which came courtesy of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who now has six sacks on the season, including at least one in each of the last four games. We saw new defensive coordinator Mark Duffner bring out the exotic look that generated Pierre-Paul sacks against Chicago and Atlanta where JPP and defensive end Carl Nassib are standing up and the Bucs have two defensive linemen in three-point stances with 11:18 left in the first quarter.
But unlike the looks that the Bucs gave the Bears and Falcons with his personnel group, Pierre-Paul wasn’t on the outside right edge. He and Nassib were standing up in the A gaps with Will Gholston and Rakeem Nunez-Roches lined up in the B gaps. Linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David are showing blitz in the C gaps, but drop into coverage at the snap and safety Isaiah Johnson blitzes the A gap instead, as Nassib and JPP execute a twist stunt that brings a ton of pressure up the middle and brings Baker Mayfield down.
I don’t know who is responsible for this new wrinkle – whether it is Duffner or defensive line coach Brentson Buckner – but it’s genius. The Bucs are 3-of-3 with this exotic look in terms of getting sacks and I can’t wait to see the new spin Tampa Bay’s coaches put on this formation in Cincinnati and in the coming weeks.
• What else caught my eye was the play of defensive tackle Vita Vea, who got his first NFL start in place of the injured Gerald McCoy. Vea easily had his best game as a pro and did way more than the stats line – one tackle – suggests. The film review shows that he is impacting the Bucs defensive line and doing what he did at Washington, which is be the assist man on sacks.
Vea will never be a double-digit sacker in the NFL. He wasn’t with the Huskies. He’s not McCoy, and he’s nowhere near being Warren Sapp. If you get five or six sacks out of Vea a year that’s ideal, but he’s showing that he’s capable of helping Tampa Bay’s defensive ends and linebackers get to the quarterback, which is important.
Vea got an assist from me on Adarius Taylor’s sack, which came at 8:44 in the third quarter. Vea did a nice job of scraping from the middle of the line to the right as he saw Mayfield escape the pocket and roll to his left. Although Vea overruns the play and just misses out on his first NFL sack, he did his job by forcing the nimble Mayfield back into the middle of the field where Taylor was pursuing him and dropped the Browns rookie QB for his first sack of the season. I think in time and with better conditioning, Vea gets the sack in that situation.
“Vita looks like a guy that is still getting his legs under him,” Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said this week. “I think Coach Buckner said it best, he might’ve said it to you folks when he talked to you that Vita’s basically played his third preseason game or maybe he’s around his first game where everybody else is six games into the season.
“I mean he looks like a guy that’s still finding his way with his pad level a little bit, with his conditioning. We’ve talked about this before – riding the bike and losing 20 pounds is one thing but playing football against offensive linemen is another. We’re encouraged by the way Vita’s working at it, but I don’t think he’s where he’s going to end up being when it’s all said and done.”
I agree wholeheartedly. Vea still has a lot of work to do. My biggest criticism of Vea from what I’ve seen thus far is that he sometimes has tunnel vision on the player he’s blocking and needs to do a better job of locating the ball. With 8:36 left in the first quarter, Vea does a great job of driving Zeitler back into the backfield, but is oblivious to the fact that rookie running back Nick Chubb just ran by him.
Buckner needs to work on Vea’s ball awareness in practice and get the big, 340-pounder looking for the ball and not the guy he’s blocking. Keep in mind that Vea didn’t play defensive tackle until he got to Washington. He was actually a running back in high school, so this is his fourth year playing defensive tackle – ever. He’ll get better under Buckner. I have no doubt.
Here’s a look at Nassib’s second sack. You can see Vea has complete control over right guard Kevin Zeitler and is essentially two-gapping him and driving him back towards Mayfield with sheer power. As Mayfield feels pressure from Nassib, who is coming off the left edge of the defense with a great long arm move and a spin to the inside, he sees the pocket collapse and steps up. Vea sees this and has the lateral agility and balance to move from Zeitler’s inside shoulder to his outside shoulder, essentially shutting off Mayfield’s escape route as Nassib closes in for the sack.
• I went back and looked at the safety the Bucs gave up in the first quarter when Peyton Barber got tackled in the end zone. It’s easy to suggest that the offensive line is to blame, but really the blame falls on tight end Antony Auclair, who got stoned at the line of scrimmage by rookie linebacker Genard Avery. Fullback Alan Cross also tried to double team with Auclair and move Avery, but the strongside linebacker did a great job of setting the edge.
It didn’t help that left tackle Donovan Smith got flattened by defensive end Myles Garrett, but that didn’t really affect the play as he was down-blocking while the Bucs pulled left guard Ali Marpet. The problem was that Marpet tripped over Auclair, creating a pile-up that Barber couldn’t move around in time to avoid the safety.
• I have praised right guard Evan Smith and called for him to start ahead of Caleb Benenoch this year, but on Sunday he had his worst game of the season and played down to Benenoch’s level. Smith had a holding call that erased Peyton Barber’s touchdown run, and was driven into the backfield on more than one running play. Benenoch had a holding call of his own against Cleveland, and the right guard position remains the weak link on Tampa Bay’s offensive line.
I’m concerned with how Benenoch and Smith will fare against Cincinnati Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. And I’m equally concerned with how right tackle Demar Dotson will handle Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. I think both of those match-ups clearly favor the Bengals.