The dichotomy of the Bucs offensive line versus CAR

Don’t look now, but your Tampa Bay Bucs are one of the highest-scoring teams in the NFL for the 2023 calendar year. The team’s offensive resurgence on Sunday against the Panthers was a welcome sight for Bucs fans who endured a disappointing season of offensive incompetence.

There are many factors that have hampered the Tampa Bay offensive strike. Some of them looked at least temporarily improved for at least one game. Others are still lingering problems to worry about in the future.

One really quirky aspect of the game that’s been largely underplayed is the really polarizing play of Bucs’ offensive line. A unit that routinely gave quarterback Tom Brady ample time to find a large number of open receivers and take shot piece after piece to nine-time 1,000-yard receiver Mike Evans also failed to make even the slightest gap for their running backs in rushed attempt after rushed attempt. How can a squad with so many decent pass guards have such a disjointed, clumsy run-blocking day?

Bucs Pass protection was very good on Sunday

Brady ended up falling back 48 times on Sunday. The Panthers were only able to pressure him on those drop-backs per Pro Football Focus 11 times. That 23% pressure rate matches his season total of 19%, but the difference this past week was that Brady wasn’t the driving reason for the “clean” designation.

Brady recorded his seventh best throwing time of the season at 2.36 seconds. Since week 10, Brady’s time to throw has gone from 2.25 seconds to 2.38 seconds. It may not seem like a big difference, but that fraction of a second of extra time allowed Brady to attack the intermediate to deep areas of the field on more than 22% of his throws on Sunday.

And here’s what that protection looks like and how it’s led to some major plays.

Opening Drive Bucs O-Line gave Brady time to find Godwin for Catch-and-Run

The O-line showed its high-end potential in pass protection early in the game. On the first drive, it gave Brady a chance to scan the field and find Chris Godwin on an overtime play. The result of the play was a turnover due to a fumble, but really look how the line gave Brady all the time he needed to find the open man and deliver what would have been an explosive play.

There were reruns where the rule allowed Brady to go to readings that should never be possible with normal progression.

This was one of Brady’s three touchdowns against Evans that day. And it should never have happened. Evans is the back read here on a 3×1 can. Brady reads the piece from the draft side to his left.

Under traditional reading progressions, he is realistically never supposed to get to Evans. It’s a utopia. But because the protection is so good for him, Brady moves one to two to three to four and comes all over the field to see Evans set the CJ Henderson on fire. He then rips the ball to Evans for six.

Looking at that guard you’ll see left tackle Donovan Smith helping left guard Nick Leverett get hold of the three-technique, before reconnecting with Brian Burns, who was initially stoned trying to run in through center Robert Hainsey . Meanwhile, on the right side of the line, right tackle Tristan Wirfs washes away the defensive end, while right guard Shaq easily lashes out Mason with his defensive tackle. Brady had plenty of time for this play, and if he gets time, he’s still very dangerous.

Everything was not perfect in the pass protection on the day. The Bucs allowed three sacks, which is a high total for them, in addition to eight QB hits. All three bags were the result of communication errors, which theoretically means they can be cleaned up and eliminated in the future.

The first sack was a failure of the line and running back Leonard Fournette to properly block an overload on the right side of the offensive line. Fournette eventually knocks Hainsey down, allowing Yetur to penetrate Gross-Matos and get to Brady.

The second sack resulted from Mason and Wirfs failing to pass a TE stunt properly. Wirfs stayed with Derrick Brown who crashed from the outside and launched Brown to the ground. Mason waited for Wirfs to pass Brown. As a result, the inside defensive tackle looped around both offensive linemen to get to the quarterback.

The third sack was the result of a double A-gap blitz that Brady reached just before he was about to warm up Russell Gage, with Rachaad White failing to slow down the glitzy linebacker enough.

Blocking the Bucs run was terrible

As the passing attack clicked due to extra time in the pocket for Brady, the running game was again abhorrent. The Bucs were only able to rush 67 yards on 25 carries. You might think their 2.68 yards per carry mark on the day was their worst rushing performance of the season based on rate, but you’d be wrong. They “exceeded” that goal several times throughout the season, including in Week 4 against the Chiefs when they carried the ball six times three yards.

It’s really amazing the big difference between the unit when they’re pass-blocking versus when they’re run-blocking. Her is an example of a run within the zone that the Bucs ran with a shotgun.

It looks like Hainsey expects linebacker Frankie Luvu to fall into cover and so he tries to get a double team on defensive tackle Bravvion Roy. Luvu doesn’t let himself fall and goes into the room that Hainsey is leaving to join the double team. This leaves Leverett exposed as he attempts to perform a range block on Luvu. Sliding to the right, Leverett sees Shaq Thompson trailing behind Luvu. What happens next is a comedy of errors as you see both Hainsey and Leverett attempt to lead themselves back to their original positions to prevent both linebackers now in the backfield from dropping Fournette for a loss.

The problems for Bucs running game are many and varied. They insist on running away from smaller splits that invite more people to the party on both sides of the ball. This poses two unique challenges. First, of course, the more defenders involved in a game, the more likely one of them is to make the tackle. But in addition, with every new attacking player you bring into the group, you increase the chance that someone will make a mistake when blocking.

The Bucs running game also relies on using their offensive linemen who time double teams and move from them to the second level to take linebackers out of the game. Luvu had 13 combined tackles and Thompson had 12. The two rarely faced Bucs offensive linemen moving to the second level.

Finally, Tampa Bay’s run-blocking performance currently has no rhythm. Rarely do two players block at the same time and move together as if they were in a ballet where everyone knows where the other will be and trusts that they are actually there. Right now it’s six to eight guys moving slowly and individually. The result is poor spacing, leading to small gaps for the ridges to pass through. Even when they do their jobs well, the sense of urgency and effort isn’t high that leads to this sort of thing.

Which brings me to my last point. Looking back at the few problems with pass protection on a day when they played very well for the most part, the problems again boiled down to communication. Communication is the ultimate form of collaboration.

Bucs LG Nick Leverett and Panthers DT Matt Ioannidis – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Often, as pass protection for the Bucs, every lineman is asked to be an island of sorts. When each person knows the person they have to block, it ultimately comes down to whether they can win against their individual opponent. The Bucs offensive line is usually very good at this. But once they have to work together, whether it’s passing a stunt, picking up an overload, or blocking together in unison on a run play, the performance falls apart and the results are often disastrous.

This is not playoff football being played right now. These are talented players whose sum is less than the parts. And after 17 weeks, you shouldn’t rely on it being fixed in time to jump the Bucs into the Super Bowl.

The possible return of Ryan Jensen can help because a) he is a better player than Hainsey and b) he has shown to be a very good communicator and facilitator. But to pin the season’s hopes on him coming in after missing the entire regular season and playing at a high level AND fixing the continuity issues this line regularly plays with is a giant ask.

What will most likely continue is an oscillation of play between simple command questions where the line can show off their individual talent levels and complex unity play where they break down on a regular basis. And the transgression will Dr. Jekyll-Mr. That’s why Hyde likes to perform.

#dichotomy #Bucs #offensive #line #CAR

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