ReFo: Buccaneers @ Seahawks, Week 9
Ben Stockwell notes worthy performances from the Seahawks' comeback win over an aggressive Tampa Bay team.
ReFo: Buccaneers @ Seahawks, Week 9
A game that for so long looked like an advert for parity in the NFL instead ended up as an advert for why good teams win and bad teams lose. Just before the half the 0-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers held a three score lead over the 7-1 Seattle Seahawks; the team in the reckoning for the number one overall pick way out in front of a team widely picked to make it to the Super Bowl, on the road no less, this is why we love the NFL.
However there was always a sense of inevitability about the Seahawks road to the comeback as the Buccaneers fell into the all too familiar trap of a bad team establishing a lead against a good team through aggressive and opportunistic lead then deciding to play conservatively, sit on and defend the lead. It rarely works and yet we still see the same old story that allows the superior team to get off the hook. A Buccaneer team that was seemingly delving deep into the playbook, even turning to an appendix perhaps for Mike James’ jump pass score to Tom Crabtree, seemed to playing solely from pages one, two and three in the second half as they desperately tried to hold the lead but were unable to against momentum the Seahawks built, even with an errant interception from Russell Wilson.
For the Seahawks they will take two things from this game; the first that against better teams they will not be given a target to hit to comeback if they dig themselves such a deep hole, better teams will extend not sit on a good lead like that. The second is that however conservatively the Bucs played they mounted this comeback and got things turned around, irrespective of the opponent turning around a three score deficit which will give them even more confidence as they head off to Atlanta next Sunday, the site of their playoff defeat in January.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
James by Ground, James by Air
For a team already in the doldrums, the loss of the exciting Doug Martin from the Tampa Bay backfield was viewed with doom and gloom two weeks ago, but yesterday in Seattle Mike James put in the kind of game to remind Tampa Bay fans that running backs aren’t impossible to replace. Helped by some strong run blocking up front, James gutted a usually stern Seattle run defense at times. When the blocking was there James showed elusiveness and speed in the open field to maximize the space given to him while when the blocking wasn’t there he also showed an ability to make players miss or find a crease to get back to the line to minimize the loss.
He couldn’t cap his game off with a score on the ground — he still has to wait for his first rushing score in the NFL — but he did get the ball across the goal line for an unorthodox passing touchdown to Tom Crabtree on a post hand-off jump pass; a play call symptomatic of the Buccaneers’ first half aggression. If James can continue to play like this (and if the Bucs continue to lose) it will make the decision easier to put Martin on ice for the rest of the year, and get him the shoulder surgery he reportedly needs, safe in the knowledge that the running game is in good hands.
No Slowing the Ground Game
One crucial failure from the Bucs in their attempt to hold their lead yesterday was their inability to make the Seahawks one dimensional as they chased a three-score deficit. While the Seahawks’ composure and the time left in the game certainly played a part, the Bucs at no point looked like being able to take the Seattle ground game out of the equation. This meant that in spite of playing from behind the entire game, the Seahawks still ran more than they passed (32 runs to 29 drop-backs) with the energetic and physical running of Marshawn Lynch a crucial factor in the home team’s recovery.
In the front seven only defensive tackles Akeem Spence and Gerald McCoy earned positive run defense grades and they were only marginal. Adrian Clayborn, Jonathan Casillas and Mason Foster (-4.0, four missed tackles in run defense) all struggled in particular to coral Lynch and the rest of the Seahawks’ running game. As a team 11 of the Bucs’ 16 missed tackles came on the ground, an unwelcome reminder of just what an abysmal tackling team this was last season having made some strides this season only hitting double digits once before this season. With the ground game still a valid part of the offense, the pressure was never on Wilson to carry the Seahawks’ back. Instead, they were able to execute their normal offense to get back into the game at a reasonably comfortable pace with the Bucs’ offense failing to extend the lead further.
Customary Defensive Bright Spots
For anyone who keeps a close eye on the Bucs’ defense you will know that bright spots are few and far between, but there are some that are extremely bright and catch the eye and two of those did again yesterday. Up front, Gerald McCoy was as ever the leading light in the Tampa Bay pass rush (+6.8, 2 Ht, 4 Hu) proving far too hot to handle for Seattle tackles and guards alike with some eye-wateringly quick pressure that often had Russell Wilson bailing from the pocket before he had set at the top of his drop-back. This was a welcome bounce back for McCoy in the passing game having registered his first negative grade of the season last week recording only one hurry against the Panthers. Six total pressures yesterday matched his season high and earned him his highest single game pass rush grade of his career.
A level behind Lavonte David was a tackling machine notching up a dozen total of which eight were defensive stops taking his season total to 46 with 28 of those in the last month. A welcome, and less familiar, bright spot to complete the trio on each level of the defense was Mark Barron (+3.2) who notched four stops from the secondary closing well on runners and receivers alike to offer some resistance to the Seattle offense.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Lynch Maintains Fine Form
The stat production may not have been consistent, but Lynch’s performance and form in the last month has been consistent and consistently good at that. Lynch racked up seven missed tackles as a runner yesterday (only his third most in a game this season) and much like his younger counterpart for the Bucs excelled both in terms of maximizing the gains that his line gave him and minimizing the losses that they surrendered. Whichever gap Lynch ended up hitting he was doing damage to the Bucs’ defense with in excess of a 5-yard per carry average through the A-gaps, B-gaps, C-gaps and D-gaps yesterday. What makes Lynch’s form this month all the more impressive is the often patchy and inconsistent run blocking that he is getting in front of him as help. Lesser backs might have had some down or invisible games where they just couldn’t find a crease, but Lynch has risen above it and right now there isn’t a running back in better form than him in the entire league.
Many Happy Returns
After a strong first eight games with the Seahawks we have made note on more than one occasion of how good Michael Bennett has been for his new team and how much the Bucs have missed a pass rusher of his ability on the edge of their defense. Though he played only 26 snaps against his former team yesterday, Bennett took the opportunity to emphasize for just what they are missing. Another five pressures (1 Sk, 1 Ht, 3 Hu) took his season total to 41 as he got to grips with a variety of Tampa Bay blockers to generate his pressure, particularly in the fourth quarter.
He beat interior blockers to the outside, outside blockers to the inside and most emphatically registered his sack by driving right tackle Demar Dotson right back to Mike Glennon to knock him down with Dotson and just make contact before Chris Clemons could steal the sack from him coming from the opposite side. Though he only played a limited number of snaps Bennett did plenty to allow his former team to rue their decision to let him walk back in the spring.
Unger Showing Signs of his 2012 Best
Before he left the game due to a suspected concussion (just another in a string of offensive line injuries for the Seahawks this year) Max Unger was showing some of his best form from last season especially as a run blocker (+2.3) in comfortably his best game of 2013. Clearly unsettled with the flux in personnel around him, Unger has struggled to re-discover his 2012 form but looked in control at both the first and second level yesterday against the Bucs’ linebackers and defensive tackles playing his part in Robert Turbin and Marshawn Lynch registering a combined 47 yards on 10 carries through the A-gaps. Equally comfortable working left and right, Unger came out about even against Akeem Spence while getting comfortably the better of Gary Gibson in the second half. When he returns healthy from his concussion, the Seahawks will be hoping that this performance was the start of a return to his fine form from last season.
– After a fine run of form, Earl Thomas’ tackling let him down yesterday. Missing three, it was the third time in the last two seasons that he has hit that mark.
– On the theme of missed tackles, Mason Foster’s five misses were a career high and takes his season total to 12, already the worst single-season total of his career with eight games to go.
– The Seahawks only blitzed Mike Glennon on seven of his 29 drop-backs yesterday. When they didn’t, he notched a 138.4 NFL passer rating (+4.5 PFF passing grade); 14-of-18, 150 yards and two touchdowns.
PFF Game Ball
A threat in the first half, Marshawn Lynch came to the fore in the second half helping the lead the Seahawks’ move back into the game and profiting from some good blocking in overtime to set up Steven Hauschka’s overtime winner.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.