On December 8, 2019, the Indianapolis Colts will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In this Week 14 match-up, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.
Since their inception in 1976, the Colts have faced the Buccaneers just 13 times. The Colts currently lead the all-time series, 8 to 5. In the past 20 years, the Colts are 3 and 1 with a memorable (insane) come from behind victory that went to overtime against the Jon Gruden led, defending super bowl champions. While I hope for a Colts win this Sunday, I don’t think any of us would mind a less exciting game this time around.
Let’s figure out what we can expect in Week 14.
Bruce Arians’ scheme
Most Colts fans who know that Bruce Arians once filled in for Chuck Pagano during his cancer treatment and recovery, are probably familiar with the basics of Arians’ scheme. He’s famous for detesting the West Coast Offense and 7 step drops. Bruce Arians doesn’t like to play small-ball, BA he wants to hit home runs. Jacob Stevens over at Field Gulls (SB Nation’s Seahawks Blog) wrote up an awesome piece on the Arians offense, which the coach named the “Six-Gun Offense” when he was hired in Arizona.
The architecture of the plays themselves isn’t unique or particularly sophisticated. One of the first things to note is not patently obvious, yet really self-apparent: that an intentional deep vertical attack will primarily stand on vertical routes. There are a handful of double-moves, inside/outside leverage tricks, and the finer points of route running that are utilized to get receivers open. It’s not a schemed-open offense, which only works closer in toward the LOS. Arizona doesn’t need to scheme their receivers open. They wouldn’t be able to capitalize on as many shot plays without them, no doubt.
The key factor in the home run-seeking Six Gun Offense is shrewd utilization of shot plays. Situational stuff. Setting up plays. Not as much what to call, but when to call it.
I know I’m quoting a lot of this article, it’s just so good.
Q2 2:36 1st-10 ARI 20
”Players, formations, plays.” That’s what Brock Huard stresses that most coaches teach their defenses to watch for. So what do defenses expect when they see rookie interior lineman A.Q. Shipley report as eligible? And then align offset in the backfield?
Let’s explore how multiple uses of a single play can set up an opportunity for a shot. This is the opening play of the drive. On three occasions in two games has Shipley reported as eligible and align in this fashion on the opening play of a drive. On five occasions in three games has he done this, very early in a drive (within the first three plays)
No shot is taken here. Palmer and the play’s design seem intent on moving the safety over and targeting TE Jermaine Gresham on the backside, not seriously challenge deep. Palmer’s deliberate midfield gaze and mechanical turn to throw to Gresham show he’s working within the play’s design. Incomplete, but the play unfolded as drawn up.
Shipley aligns offset for chipping duty in the backfield. Although I thought they might use this unusual assignment to call a slide assignment for the line, they haven’t, which might speak to the intentions of this usage: not so much for additional pass protection but for imprinting a memorable play to then play off of.
Sure enough, not one to let you forget, Arizona runs the play on the following drive (now Q2 13:23). Ought Cleveland expect a roughly similar approach to the play, or ought they anticipate the changeup?
Running a play multiple times in a game to set up a shot play is nothing new, or particularly creative. It’s not a shocking trick. But that’s the NFL. Where two LB swapping coverage or a DB blitz counts as exotic, and where a slight permutation of a standard route is a wrinkle that can do real damage. It’s almost funny how well this works.
Palmer looks to Gresham instantly, who actually cuts inside instead of out this time. As though that modest wrinkle were intended to help get Nelson open on a deeper cross, Palmer then looks to Nelson and triple-hitches the windup ala Bronco-era Peyton Manning to get Campbell to close on Nelson’s route, leaving Fitzgerald alone with Donte Whitner, which you don’t want if you’re a Browns fan.
These two plays show exactly what Jacob Stevens was talking about when he said that this offense wasn’t sophisticated and it was more about when to call a specific play, rather than what play to call.
Arians loves to setup plays like this throughout the game. Between this and having specific “shot plays” determined before the game, Arians would like to set up the defense with the ground game, followed by play-action passes and running similar plays multiple times. If you’re interested in how he calls his plays (or just interested in football at all) you should read this great article from The Ringer.
So the question, now that Arians has passed play calling duties off to Byron Leftwich, is do the W-eating-Jameis-Winston-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers still employ the type of “No risk it no biscuit” downfield passing attack as we’ve all come to know and expect?
Bucs offense long TD pic.twitter.com/lqLg71Ao9x— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Even just a casual watch of a Buccaneers game it becomes very obvious that this team lives and often dies with the deep pass. While they do have shorter concepts they often use to move the chains or to pick up some easy yards while keeping a defense honest, this team wants to throw the deep ball.
This play features three vertical routes against Tampa 2 coverage. I don’t know how many quarterbacks would blatantly disregard the coverage and attempt this throw, but I’m guessing the number is very low and it’s likely they’re leading the league in interceptions thrown by a wide margin. Regardless, he made the throw and it worked out.
*See the Quarterback breakdown for times they failed to find a biscuit.
Bucs offense deep throw to sideline pic.twitter.com/DUwy4jIN3k— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
I really love a good flood concept. It’s called a “flood” because it can be used to overpower zone coverage by “flooding” individual zones and creating an impossible task for a single defender.
With that said, flood concepts are often effective against man coverage as seen above. By bunching both receivers and giving them inside releases off the line it naturally creates space that can be used to defeat man. You will often see the short route in this concept as a drag from the backside which is a natural man-beating route in the event the defense isn’t in zone coverage.
Regardless this concept is perfect for an Arians offense as it’s traditionally read from high to low, meaning Jameis Winston will be looking to his deepest receiver first to see if he can hit a big play, if that isn’t there he checks the next deepest route and if it isn’t there then he finally checks his third and final option on the play.
It also creates a very simple three reads on one side of the field, which some quarterbacks need more help with than others.
Bucs offense deep throw down seam pic.twitter.com/q1qS9DvDpm— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
This is just 4 Verts. For a breakdown of the concept watch this:
What about on the goal line?
Bucs offense goal line pass pic.twitter.com/tQ3C8Hkepf— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Pre-snap motion makes this play happen. It’s also a really dangerous throw. The Falcons show man coverage and account for the man in motion by dropping a linebacker into Winston’s throwing lane. Winston does a good job avoiding that defender and placing the ball where his receiver could catch it, that said to throw a catchable ball he throws the ball in the direction of a defensive back closing on the pass. Had this ball come out a second later or with less velocity this ball is getting intercepted.
Bruce Arians seems like a fun guy to go to a casino with.
Just don’t take any of his advice unless you can really afford to lose the money.
Jameis Winston was taken with the first overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft. According to reports, Winston’s whiteboard work (You’ve probably seen this famous clip of Andrew Luck’s whiteboard work) was nothing short of amazing leading up to the draft. He was considered by many to be a football savant.
Being amazing in meeting rooms doesn’t automatically translate to on-field success and his 22 Touchdowns, 20 interceptions and 12 fumbles (5 lost) on the 2019 season show that as well as any clips or analysis I could provide. With that said, here are some clips and analysis of Jameis Winston:
Bucs QB INT 1 pic.twitter.com/Xh6dnzjI9k— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
This route wasn’t great, but Jameis also stared down his receiver. The corner jumped the route and picked this one off.
Bucs QB INT 2 pic.twitter.com/qeb4Dtp4xs— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Here, Winston panics and attempts a jump pass. He throws behind his intended target, the ball is tipped and intercepted.
This counts against Winston, but should it?
Bucs QB "Interception" pic.twitter.com/iFmKqGkR70— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
I’m not entirely sure how this even happens but there it is on tape.
Bucs QB interception 4 pic.twitter.com/RyG08kGzqU— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
This is a bad throw into a crowded middle of the field. This play, even with a better throw, had almost no chance of being a positive play. In Winston’s defense, this was a 3rd and 11 and had his tight end made the tackle (not something I type often) it would have been as good as a punt.
Bucs QB interception 5 pic.twitter.com/SWSDS1qwyC— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Here Winston throws to a well-covered out route and once again, the cornerback jumps the route and intercepts this ball. It wasn’t a great decision.
There’s a pattern here
Bucs QB interception 6 pic.twitter.com/D0Pv4Dzavv— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
A well-covered receiver over the middle of the field, ball gets tipped and picked. This should sound familiar.
Technically down at the 1, but a nice ball all the same:
Bucs QB long TD pic.twitter.com/x5DcHaAdx4— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Then there’s a play like this. Winston recognized that his receiver was one on one with no help over the top and he decided to take his shot. His receiver was able to separate and Winston threw a good ball. Had Scotty Miller been able to maintain his balance he’s in for 6.
Jameis Winston is a frustrating quarterback. At times he makes big throws into tight coverage that make you say “wow” other times he’ll attempt those same throws and the ball gets picked. He doesn’t know when to take shots and when to hold on to the ball, his decision making ability under pressure is poor. Because of that, he’s averaging nearly two turnovers per game so far this season.
If this Colts defense doesn’t create a turnover this week it will be extremely disappointing for what has otherwise been a good Colts defense this season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers longest rush of the season was a 26-yard scramble from Jameis Winston and despite what people like Stephen Smith might tell you, Winston isn’t a good athlete. The second-longest run belongs to the Bucs leading rusher Ronald Jones II. Jones “exploded” for 25 yards. Peyton Barber, the team’s second-leading rusher has a long run of 16 yards on the season.
Neither back is averaging more than 3.9 yards per carry, and as a team, they average just 3.7. The one area the ‘Bucs backs do well is near the goal line as they have punched in 13 rushing touchdowns, 7th most in the league. Let’s look at what amounts to a few highlights!
His long is just a yard more than this
Bucs RB Barber 15 yard TD run pic.twitter.com/P0t0LILZND— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Here, Peyton Barber just had to find his hole and run straight through it. He was successful at more or less running straight.
This run defense is questionable
Bucs RB Jones 11 yard run pic.twitter.com/RPsb160ksz— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Ronald Jones takes what’s there and “avoids” the edge-setting outside linebacker. He doesn’t make anyone miss in the secondary, nor did it appear that he really had a good plan to try to make them miss, but he took what was there and picked up a nice gain.
Here’s where they can hurt us
Bucs RB Jones catch out of the backfield pic.twitter.com/fUsEUMV16I— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Where these backs might be most dangerous is catching passes out of the backfield. Dare Ogunbowale is third on the team with 26 receptions and Ronald Jones has 21 of his own.
This is just a designed play, not much different from a screen. The receivers all run down field to block members of the secondary and the Arizona Cardinals defenders were completely unprepared to account for a pass to the flat. This was a well-executed, low-risk play on 3rd and very long.
Low-risk it, still got the biscuit. No one tell Bruce, he’ll be furious.
Jones might need LASIK
Bucs RB Jones 6 yard gain pic.twitter.com/irQVyd7FKt— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Ronald Jones misreads his blocking on this zone left before pin-balling off of teammates and falling forward for a six-yard gain. To be fair to him, there wasn’t an obvious hole as he approached the line but instead of showing any patience at all he starts to cut back to his right where a linebacker is ready and waiting, he bounces into the back of his tight end before finding a crease in the middle of the line where is able to squirt forward.
This is obviously less than ideal.
The Bucs have a poor rushing attack, they have put up big numbers some weeks against bad defenses and then in other weeks, against bad defenses like against Jacksonville, they run for 74 yards at a 2.4 YPC average. Statistically speaking, the Buc’s have played three top ten teams against the run this season; the Saints, Seahawks, and Titans. In those three games, they rushed for 241 yards on 64 carries, good for a 3.77 YPC average. Ultimately, this Buc’s rushing attack isn’t one I’m worried about.
This receiving corps is a two-man race, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans lead the Buccaneers in targets, catches, yards and touchdowns. Both receivers have more than 1,000 yards on the season, Godwin has hauled in 9 touchdowns while Evans has 7 of his own.
As far as targets go, Evans draws nearly 9 attempts per game to Godwin’s 8. The next receiving option is Cameron Brate who has averaged 3 targets per game. If you combine Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale the running backs average 4.7 targets per. You might remember O.J. Howard as a talented first-round tight end prospect from a couple of years back, Howard has averaged 3.4 targets per, though he has missed time and has only been targeted more than 4 times, in 3 games this year.
Despite having talent at multiple spots, the Buccaneers have looked to feed their top 2 receivers and I don’t see that changing this week.
Godwin held on to the ball
Bucs WR Godwin nice catch, takes big hit. pic.twitter.com/vDIETOCqcW— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Having Chris Godwin and Mike Evans means that Jameis Winston’s risky passes will be completed more often than they should. Here, Godwin hauls in this pass, takes a hit and helps add stats to the league’s 4th-ranked passing offense.
Bucs WR Evans makes nice adjustment on back shoulder throw pic.twitter.com/d5s6aPSlMJ— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
That defensive back didn’t have a clue there was a ball in the air. Winston rifles it in the general direction of the back of his receiver. Not that that was a mistake, it wasn’t, but the DB didn’t have a prayer to defend this play. Evans makes a great adjustment, turns and brings it in for a first down.
Find the hole
Bucs WR Evans with long reception pic.twitter.com/hMsPrLSqYF— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Mike Evans does a good job of finding a hole in the zone, sitting down and allowing Winston to find him. After the catch Evans is able to gain an extra 11 yards, which is huge for any offense.
This receiving corps is a good one, even if it is only two men deep. Despite the team’s struggles, this offense is still capable of moving the ball through the air and putting up a lot of points. Defending Godwin and Evans have to be huge priorities this week for Matt Eberflus and his staff.
The starters from left to right: Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, and Demar Dotson. If you looked at these guys pro football focus grades you would think this was a good offensive line. They grade out well in pass blocking and a little lower, but still passable, on the ground. Statistically, they’re blocking the leagues 22nd ranked rushing attack while Jameis Winston has been sacked 40 times, 7th most in the league.
It could end up being a productive (albeit eventually disappointing) day for the Colts defense.
Not on the line
Bucs offensive line sack 1 pic.twitter.com/MTL5kjKI5l— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
Part of the problem is not having a plan for when the defense sends 7 pass rushers. This ball has to get out of his hand quickly, and the Bucs didn’t have a backup plan. The offensive line gets tabbed with this sack but this wasn’t all their fault.
This time they only sent 5
Bucs offensive line sack 2 pic.twitter.com/9dUqbs8VnZ— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
The Bucs should have been able to block the Saints on this play but Demar Dotson was beaten by Cameron Jordan, who has 12 sacks on the season.
Bucs offensive line sack 3 pic.twitter.com/NaDCaUZ1vD— Not Chris Shepherd's Burner Account (@NotShepsBurner) December 2, 2019
This time Jordan beats Donovan Smith for the sack while rushing 4. If I were the Colts, I would try to get Justin Houston one-on-one on the edges most of the game.
Ultimately after watching the tape, this offensive line is better than their stats make them out to be, PFF has a point (their rankings are still useless but they were right on this one). Their running backs couldn’t find their way out of a closing department store and their quarterback isn’t putting themselves in a position to win often enough.
With competence around them, this line might be viewed as a top-10 unit. As it stands, this could still end up being a good day for the Colts front seven.
This Buccaneers offense probably sounds terrible but they’re still top 5 in both points scored and yards gained. As a team, they just give up the 3rd most points in the league. Having a turnover-prone quarterback and an offensive system reliant on passing the ball downfield, it’s not surprising they rank as they do.
The Colts are going to have to be able to outscore these Bucs and even though the Colts defense is very good, the Bucs will just keep taking risks and if you place enough bets, eventually you’re going to hit on a few of them. But when those bets don’t hit, the Colts defense, specifically the secondary, has to make them pay by forcing turnovers and doing their best to keep the Bucs under 25 points this week. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but it won’t be easy.