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2021 Colts Opponent Scouting Report: Week 12 Buccaneers Offense: Can I call Brady the greatest?

New York Giants v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Overview

On November 28th, 2021 the Indianapolis Colts will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In this week 12 matchup, I sought to understand our opponent and get a better idea of how they may attack our Colts.

Since week four the Colts are 6-2 while the Bucs have gone 5-2 in the same span. The Colts will be the best team the Bucs have seen since their week four matchup with the Pats. The last time we saw Tom Brady in Indianapolis he was wearing a different color uniform but TB12 still very much contending for championships. This Sunday will be a massive test for Indy on both sides of the ball.

Let’s see what we can expect in week 12.


Offensive System

If you take Bruce Arians, Byron Leftwich, Tom Moore, Clyde Christensen and Tom Brady, put them all on the same team and task them with figuring out the best way possible to score points on a football field what you get is the highest scoring offense in the NFL, apparently.

Bruce Arians is famous for his “no risk it, no biscuit” philosophy, that comes jam-packed with shots thrown deep downfield. Tom Brady’s career has been a real mixed bag of offensive philosophy. Between throwing deep shots to Randy Moss and taking what felt like a thousand check-downs a year, Brady has been asked to do a bit of everything in his 22 years in the league. If you’re wondering if a 44 year old quarterback still has the arm to make some of the kinds of throws Arians has been known to enjoy, the answer is (unfortunately, somehow) still yes.

The Bucs ran four routes on the right side of the field while wide receiver Mike Evans runs a deep post corner on the left. The Saints defense drifts to the right side of the offense leaving Evans one on one with a cornerback, deep. If you get Mike Evans one on one, deep, you almost have to throw that pass. And that’s exactly what Brady does after working his reads on the right side of the field.

So they still work the deep pass, what do they do underneath?

This play is designed to clear everything out for the crosser. Had someone blown coverage deep, Brady probably would have taken the shot but most of the time, he’s going to want to go to that crosser in man coverage. The route that really makes this one work comes from the lone receiver to Brady’s left. He runs directly at the safety over top of him which helps to keep him from getting in position to make a play on the crosser. Crossing routes are known as “man beaters” for good reason, they’re really, really tough to cover in man coverage.

The result here is a simple but effective play against man to man that picks up big yardage.

Same idea

This came just a few plays later. It looks a little different for a few reasons, the Bucs send their back into the flat who is chipped by the defensive end and covered over the top by the linebacker, they’re giving the back a lot of attention due to the face that the Bucs like to throw to their backs close to the goal line. The lone receiver at the top of the screen still runs at the backside safety and Chris Godwin still runs a crossing route underneath. The other Bucs receivers run in-breaking routes which means more defenders were in the area, but the idea against man coverage was the same but this one resulted in points for the Bucs.

Just a long screen

This is a fun design. The tight end and receiver on the right side of the field don’t run routes, they’re just blocking for the running back who comes free underneath against zone. Those two “routes” do just enough to pull the linebackers up and away from the middle of the field which creates an opening big enough for the back to squeeze his way into the end zone. Had the Saints covered the back, Brady likely would have looked to his left and then thrown this one away. Once again they were hoping for a specific player to come open and he got open.

You might be thinking that it can’t be that simple. The Bucs surely don’t run a lot of plays designed to get one person open, and you’re sort of right. The play above is more likely to work for the back against zone coverage. I understand he’s running a crossing route and I just called those “man beaters” but this ball had to come out quick and the fact that the defense is in a zone means that the tight end, receiver and running back have a numerical advantage at the catch point (in a way this is very similar to a run play). Given their balanced formation so close to the goal line there were naturally going to be several defenders near the middle of the field, beating man coverage into the waiting arms of the linebackers in the middle, would have done them no good, instead working their numbers advantage gave the back a chance to make the first guy miss and get in for six, which he did.

The Bucs offense isn’t made up of these kind of plays, primarily, it’s just that they can run a lot of them because Tom Brady knows what coverage you’re in before the ball is snapped. He’s played 22 years in the NFL. Defensive coordinators have been throwing the kitchen sink at this guy for 18 or 19 of those 22. There are people reading this article who haven’t been brushing their own teeth as long as Tom Brady has been reading NFL coverages. You’re not surprising him. If a one read throw is called and the defense gives a look that makes it obvious the throw isn’t going to be there, Brady is going to check out of the call.

This is a big reason why, at 44 years old, Tom Brady is still playing at an MVP level. Well that and the impossible arm strength he still has (it’s impossible, I said it and I meant it). This Bucs offense keeps things pretty simple post-snap a lot of the time and they can afford to do it because Tom Brady can put the offense in a good position pre-snap, before every play.

Watching a few of these clips you might have noticed that some Air Coryell principles are evident, which makes sense given Tom Moore, Christensen and Arians. Many plays will challenge all three levels on the same side of the field and given what the Colts tend to do on defense hopefully most of Brady’s completions will look something like this:

Here the Washington Football Team dials up a zone blitz. On the right side of the formation the Bucs use three routes that challenge all three levels of the field. Brady obviously didn’t love his deep matchup and the intermediate route was inside-out bracketed by linebackers, which left Leonard Fournette open for a quick check down that picked up seven or eight yards on first down- setting up second and short means the entire Bucs playbook is open, which means getting seven to eight yards on first down off a check down is something Brady is happy to do.

So what is this offense?

It’s a little bit of everything. Brady is only limited in his ability to move, his arm is strong, he has 22 years of experience to fall back on mentally and he has an all-star cast of coaches around him. This offense isn’t a West Coast, it’s not an Air-Raid, it’s not an Air Coryell, it’s not a spread, it’s not any one thing and while I realize there aren’t any “pure” offensive systems left in the NFL, most systems hold tighter to a core philosophy than this Bucs team seems to. That isn’t more difficult to beat in and of itself, it just means that the Bucs offense can beat you without having to make a sacrifice to Bill Walsh, Hal Mumme, or Don Coryell before they do it.


Quarterback

A lot of Colts fans might read this article and be taken aback by how positively I’ve been talking about Tom Brady and to that I say; what else am I supposed to say? My entire shtick is telling the truth, being impartial and watching more football than any normal person would. And after watching all of that football, the impartial truth is that Tom Brady is playing really good football at 44 years old.

I still want to punch him in the face, even though I know it wouldn’t hurt him as he’s replaced it all with plastic:

But the fact of the matter is, he’s incredibly vain:

And still really good at football.

So that’s it? There’s no hope? Tom Brady is just really good and there’s nothing that can be done? After all he’s thrown 8 interceptions this season, surely he can be stopped. Right?

Let’s look at all 8 Tom Brady interceptions and see if there’s anything the Colts might be able to use to their advantage.

#1

The pass could have been a bit better but this one bounced off the intended receiver’s hands.

#2

Hail Mary pick. Still haven’t learned anything.

Next

Not on the same page with his receiver. We’ve still learned nothing of interest.

Next

Nothing of interest from Brady here, either.

Next

This was just terrible luck. Could have probably been ruled a fumble, too.

Next

Hey! We have something interesting! Tom Brady threw a bad pass. Ultimately he had Mike Evans bracketed by a linebacker and a safety. Brady probably could have completed the ball, if for no reason other than the fact that Mike Evans is really good, had he just thrown an accurate ball.

The reason he doesn’t throw an accurate ball is because he couldn’t really step into his throw given the pressure from his left guard getting walked into his lap.

Spoiler alert for later in the article: this offensive line is really good but if the Colts can get rushers isolated against left guard Ali Marpet, pass rushes like this one are very repeatable.

Next

This one is interesting too because it’s really similar to the last pick we saw. This one was on target but Brady either didn’t account for the safety over the top, or he didn’t expect him to be there.

Brady just made a big mistake. He is human, it does happen, but Matt Eberflus can’t just cross his fingers and hope Brady forgets there’s a deep safety a couple of times.

But don’t worry, there is something Ol’ Matt might be able to dial up.

The most interesting pick in the world

This angle isn’t the best but I just wanted to show you this angle before we get to the money shot.

The Money Shot

What’s interesting about this? The DB made a great play, right?

He did but he was able to because he was playing trap coverage. If his man released up field his job was to fall off the route, passing it off to the safety over the top and help take away the area of the field that was otherwise vacated by the other routes.

Why I’m excited about this play

I’m excited about this one because the Colts have it in their playbook.

It’s almost impossible to fool Tom Brady before the snap. It’s a little easier to fool him after the snap. On plays like this the Colts defenders are tasked with understanding what the offense might do based on the coverage they’re in and Kenny Moore is really good at processing that information.

You need to see this one again, zoomed in and slower

The most important part of this play is that Kenny Moore takes away that receiver’s inside leverage, he lets him release to his outside which allows Moore to look to the outside receiver without losing track of his man when he turned to run. Moore sees the in breaking route from the outside receiver and falls off of his coverage, effectively passing his man to the linebacker’s and deep safeties to sort out.

Ryan Tannehill made the right read. He had man to man coverage, his slot receiver was going to work to pull the safeties deep while the play action should hold the linebackers in place long enough* to get this ball to his receiver who should have been open for a nice pick up. Tannehill did everything right but the Colts defense did something no one could have predicted. Not even Tom Brady.

*Never mind the fact that Darius Leonard knew what this play was and came sprinting to where the play was going to be, it’s about time we all start to recognize that Leonard is a really smart player, not just an athletic tackling machine. Plays like this one prove that he processes the game at an elite level

Also shoutout to the guys over at Cover1 for this video that led me back to finding this play. They mostly cover the Bills but if you want to learn more about football, these guys are a great follow on both Twitter and YouTube. I learn something new every time they put out new content.

So those are the most exciting things I saw on film, but were there any other exciting things? A couple.

Like this

Watching Tom Brady in the pocket has always been a fun (and horrible at the same time) exercise. His feet are always so calm. He’s always been so calm. Nothing was ever rushed, nothing ever looked panicked. But when I turned on the tape this week, I saw this.

The Saints hit Tom Brady a lot. At 44 the hits have to hurt more. Tom can take all of the “supplements” he wants to keep that arm strong but there’s nothing you can take during the game that will make it feel better when getting hit by 325 pounders.

Or maybe he’s worried about his face. He’s invested a lot of money and it just takes one guy willing to get ejected to break a jaw and force Tom back under the knife.

Could be either one.

So what’s the bad news?

Well, he’s still willing to do this all day long, because it works

Tom has always been king of the checkdown and that hasn’t stopped. He can still rifle these balls in and get positive yardage on most plays.

He will always take the easy yards as long as the situation allows

This was just way too easy for any quarterback. 56 drifts away from the center of the field for some reason and Brady isn’t stupid, he’ll take that big gain over the middle every time.

You really can’t trick the guy

Tom Brady just called his shot. He knew what was coming, he told everyone what to expect and then he threw it right where we all thought he was going to throw it. This is easy for him.

This clip again

This is an elite level throw, the accuracy that far down the field is fantastic but the fact that Mike Evans was probably his third or fourth read on this play is what stands out most.

You absolutely cannot give him time in the pocket

Again, with time he will work through his reads and find someone open. Tom isn’t extending plays on his own, he’s not outrunning anyone currently under contract with the Indianapolis Colts and I’m including all of the guys on IR with lower body injuries, all of them would beat Brady in a foot race. But if the Colts give him time to throw, he’s going to shred the defense all day long.

So to wrap up this already too long exposé on Tom Brady, the good news is, he is human, he hates getting hit now, more than ever and he can make mistakes.

The bad news is... well everything else about this offense.


Running Back

The Buccaneers have two talented backs in Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II. Jones might get some play time but as long as Fournette is healthy, the bulk of snaps are his to lose.

They also have Giovani Bernard who has 22 receptions on the season to only seven rush attempts, despite having the Bucs longest rush of the season (24 yards). Bernard is a legitimate goal line threat, which feels weird to say but he’s averaging 5.3 yards per reception and has three receiving touchdowns.

Fournette is a big, lumbering back. Bucs fans will absolutely kill me for this but I still don’t think he’s that good. The Bucs offensive line is elite and Fournette is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He’s a fine back capable of carrying the load without wearing down. He’s also caught 44 passes this season so he is a threat coming out of the backfield. But he doesn’t create anything on his own.

Frankly given what the Bucs had to give up to get Fournette (nothing) and how talented literally everyone else is around him, he’s the perfect back for a team like Tampa Bay. He’s consistent and he won’t turn the ball over.

Perfect.

This is who he is

He’s fine, he’ll get you what’s there and if you block up a play and he has a clear run at the end zone there’s a chance he’ll build enough speed to score. Short of that if you give him five yards worth of blocking, he might fall forward and pick up six.

Fournette

He read his blocking well, made a cut and took what was there. Again, this was a fine play. Not spectacular. Fine.

This was dumb

Not Fournette’s fault, but what a dumb thing to ask him to do.

The Buccaneers are 31st in rush attempts and 1st in pass attempts this season. That’s not to say we couldn’t see a heavy dose of Fournette and company on Sunday, but why would they suddenly try to beat the Colts on the ground when they have so many other, better, options?


Pass Catchers

Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and of course Scotty Miller (who was just activated from IR yesterday). The Bucs literally have more good receiving options than they can have on the field at once. I didn’t even mention tight end Cameron Brate.

The three guys at the start of that list, Godwin, Evans and Brown are probably WR1’s on many other teams in the NFL. Antonio Brown is nuts but when he’s on the field he’s still really good. Mike Evans can’t be covered deep one on one. And all Chris Godwin does is make plays.

Yes, I’m posting it again, no I’m not sorry

Look, this article is comically long and seeing this clip three times isn’t going to kill you. Byron Leftwich will dial up long passes, Tom Brady will work his reads and has an impossibly strong and accurate arm and Mike Evans is uncoverable one on one. Deal with it.

I present to you: Chris Godwin

Godwin doesn’t seem as big as he is 6’1” 208 pounds, but if given the opportunity he can break through arm tackles and rack up a lot of yards after the catch. He leads the Bucs in every major receiving category except for receiving touchdowns. That’s Mike Evans who has 10, in 10 games.

Antonio Brown hasn’t played since week six, here’s the latest news from Brown

So you know, Antonio Brown is always up to something.

This might be the best receiving corps in the NFL. The Colts are going to need to be perfect in coverage to have a chance to limit these guys. I don’t have a lot of faith they can.


Offensive Line

From left to right: Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa and Tristan Wirfs

As far as offensive lines go, this is a very good unit. But every line has a weak link, I spoiled it earlier in the article but we’ll talk about that again soon.

Textbook

Donovan Smith liked that Tweet. I usually only have mean Darius Leonard tweets liked by NFL players (named Darius Leonard), but Donovan Smith liked my assessment of this play. He won’t read this article though, so I’ll take the chance to say if he were a Colt I would have wished that he finished his block a little more violently than he did, but hey it was still a good block.

Don’t expect to see something like this against Wirfs on Sunday

Here Wirfs was rocked by Cameron Jordan. The Colts don’t have a Cameron Jordan on their roster. Could someone surprise Wirfs? Sure it’s the NFL. Anything could happen on any down, but if I had to bet on if Wirfs will allow a sack this weekend, I would bet that he wont.

One thing that was consistent was Ali Marpet one on one

Ali Marpet can’t handle a heavy bull rush. He just can’t anchor. The Colts need to do whatever they can to get one on one matchups with Marpet as often as possible on passing downs.

The Colts defensive line has shown improvement rushing the passer in recent weeks. With that said they haven’t played against an offensive line that could claim to be in the same ballpark since week two against the Rams. One game doesn’t determine anything and it wouldn’t be that surprising if the Bucs shut down Indy’s pass rush on Sunday. If that happens no one needs to sound any alarm bells about the pass rush, the Bucs line is really good.

If the Colts do find a way to hit Tom Brady, by all means celebrate, because if they can’t get to him, I don’t know if there’s any way the Indianapolis Colts can beat these Bucs.


Final Thoughts

The Bucs offense is averaging nearly 31 points per game. Tom Brady is on pace to throw 49 (not a typo) touchdown passes this season and one of his best receivers hasn’t played since week six. Their offensive line is really, really good and the fate of the entire game might come down to Kenny Moore making a couple of big plays and Ali Marpet losing some one on one matchups to Taylor Stallworth and or Grover Stewart.

If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, good, it shouldn’t.

If somehow the Indianapolis Colts defense comes out and shuts down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense, then we can start talking about this team like they’re real contenders. If they can’t shut them down, it might not mean anything other than the Bucs are an unfamiliar opponent who also happen to be the reigning Super Bowl champions. A win would be great but there’s no shame in a loss this Sunday.