Analysis Notebook: TNF, Week 8
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are watching their season careen off the tracks with Head Coach Greg Schiano at the wheel. Between the Josh Freeman fiasco, the MRSA problems they have been battling, another rendition of Kneelgate, and electing to use Darrelle Revis – the game’s best lockdown corner – in a zone scheme where he can simply be bypassed by the opposition, Schiano has earned every call for his head there has been, and there have been plenty.
Along with the questionable use of Revis, the Bucs have been employing some frankly bizarre coverages and schemes on defense across the board, trying to take away one thing at the cost of several others. They seem to have assigned their most athletic linebacker, Lavonte David, to take the halfback in man coverage in almost every play, but apparently without regard to what this does to the rest of the defense playing zone. While David tears off to mirror the running back out of the backfield, the rest of the defense rarely seems to make any adjustment to fill the gap in the zone shell that David just created. Similarly, when they went out of their way to shut down Tony Gonzalez, players were shooting out of their zones in the secondary to bracket cover the big TE, leaving underneath players hung out to dry with no help over the top.
The hallmark of this Bucs team under Schiano seems to be naive and ill-disciplined play. Only the Jets have surrendered more penalties than the Bucs this season and no team has coughed up more penalty yards. But I’m not talking just about penalties when I say ill-discipline. It can manifest itself in other, simpler ways, and we saw a good example of it last night for Carolina’s first touchdown.
The Bucs sold out against the run, buying completely into Carolina’s heavy-formation and abandoning almost all coverage responsibilities entirely leading to one of the easiest scores the Panthers will ever see. As if to compound the error the Panthers ran the same play later in the game on back to back plays – both times it was successful with the Bucs failing to even learn from their mistakes, even the biggest and most glaring.
Carolina @ Tampa Bay | 1st Q, 4:52
The fact that it was 3rd-and-goal probably should have been a tip to the Bucs that this may not be a pass. Unless Carolina were planning on using all four downs to score the touchdown (possible, but unlikely with neither team yet to open the scoring), the chances are higher in today’s NFL that they will try to pick up two yards through the air than on the ground, even for a team as successful there as the Panthers can be. It’s not a lock either way, but the point is that the Tampa defense needs to be aware that either run or pass in play here.
Despite having no obvious receivers split from the formation the Panthers actually sent four receivers out into patterns on this play, five if you count the tailback Mike Tolbert who hooked up just past the line of scrimmage when finding nobody to block after his run fake. Spectacularly enough, the Bucs managed to allow three of those five to be completely wide open in the end zone, marking one of the more complete coverage breakdowns you will see.
The problems start with the play action fake. The middle of the field buys it completely, jumping down to stop the run, but then curiously failed to drop into zones once they realized their error. While Lavonte David takes off to the flat to cover the release of the FB, three other defenders all decided to cover Tolbert at the line of scrimmage, opening up a yawning chasm behind them with essentially nobody covering three receivers.
Darrelle Revis dropped into his zone deep in the end zone on his side of the field and is left to just stare aghast as the rest of the field was left open by the rest of the coverage. This must be beginning to feel like the story of his first season in Tampa at this point. Despite now topping our cornerback rankings, he seems to spend much of his time within this scheme watching helplessly as other defenders blow their assignments.
To an extent, you can understand one of the three routes getting open. It’s a sixth offensive lineman in the shape of No. 78, Nate Chandler, running a drag across the back of the end zone. The other two, however, are tight ends, and more importantly have to fight through or past the Tampa defenders to get into their route. It’s almost as if Mark Barron, Mason Foster and Jonathan Casillas are expecting some kind of third layer of zones to be behind them, adding a 12th and 13th player to the defense, because they just let them go into empty space and instead focused all of their energy on Tolbert.
Despite the bust, the Bucs almost got away with it. The six-man rush sprung DE Daniel Te’o-Nesheim with a free run at Cam Newton, but he was unable to finish what should have been an easy sack. Newton, actually two inches taller than the DE and not much lighter, simply stiff-armed him to the ground before lofting the ball to TE Greg Olsen for the score.
No matter what way you look at this defense from Tampa Bay, it was poorly conceived and incredibly ill-disciplined. Whether their intention was to sell out completely with an overload blitz or they simply blew simple zone coverage assignments, they gifted the Panthers the first points on the board, and despite being gashed so badly on the play, failed to adjust to it when the Panthers ran it twice more later in the game.
At this stage it’s difficult to see any way back for Schiano in Tampa Bay, with fans turning on him as the team continues to struggle from game to game. Leaving all of the hype behind, however, the biggest problem with his tenure right this minute is inept scheming and basic bad coaching. Every week the Bucs conspire to blow coverages in disastrous fashion, leaving receivers wide open and gifting the opposition scores. All this despite having the game’s best corner capable of taking away an opponent’s best receiver on his own.
The game’s best corner can help you do a great deal on defense, helping out everybody else by allowing you to deploy additional resources everywhere else on the field. Instead of doing that, the Bucs seem to be actually removing resources from various places on the field without even using Revis to his best effect, leaving him sitting there watching plays collapse around him from the safety of his zone.
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