When the Buccaneers face the Washington Football Team in the wild-card round on Saturday night, the obvious issue for the Bucs’ offense is a Washington defensive line stacked with five first-round picks (Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Ryan Kerrigan) and the interior pressure that front five can create.
Interior pressure has always been Brady’s Kryptonite (as one half-smart football scholar pointed out this week), and Brady has not been great at all under pressure this season — per Pro Football Focus, he’s faced pressure on 155 of his 636 dropbacks, and he’s completed 57 of 130 attempts for 675 yards, four touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of 54.5 — the ninth-worst passer rating under pressure among quarterbacks who have taken at least 50% of their teams’ snaps.
But if Tampa Bay’s offensive line is able to mitigate that furious pass rush — and with guards Alex Cappa and Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen, they very well could — Washington could be in big trouble in a big hurry.
— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) January 9, 2021
The relationship between Brady and Bucs head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has taken a while to solidify, but it’s happened in the last month, for multiple reasons. After a first half of the season in which Brady and his receivers were rarely on the same page, leading to some embarrassing helium throws, everyone’s adhered themselves to the same playbook. Brady and his targets are in sync, and Arians and Leftwich have this offense humming with three things — play-action, pre-snaop motion, and ’12’ personnel — two tight ends, two receivers, and one running back.
Brady had just 67 play-action snaps from Weeks 1-9 — the third-fewest in the league behind Philip Rivers and Kirk Cousins — and he threw six touchdown passes to two interceptions. Without play-action, he threw 14 touchdowns and five picks. In Weeks 10-17, Brady dropped back on 58 snaps with play-action in Weeks 10-17 with seven touchdowns and one interception to show for it. Without play-action in the second half of the season, Brady threw 13 touchdown passes to four picks. So, maybe it’s time to dial that up a bit more.
Arians has been resistant to pre-snap motion this season, saying at one point that Peyton Manning didn’t need it when Arians was coaching Manning with the Colts from 1998 through 2000, but it’s a different league now, and Brady benefited greatly from motion during his time with the Patriots. Brady has utilized pre-snap motion for years to help discern coverage concepts, to isolate and remove specific defenders, and to give his receivers an advantage that their physical gifts don’t always present.
But it’s been a bigger part of Tampa Bay’s offense lately, and the results are obvious in a positive sense. From ESPN’s Seth Walder:
If we're looking at overall motion (motion at snap and motion and set) they've been higher than they normally are last three weeks! pic.twitter.com/D4G3yDDPM6
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 30, 2020
This touchdown from Brady to Chris Godwin last Sunday is a perfect example of how motioning a receiver across the formation not only gives Brady a zone indicator, but also creates an unfavorable matchup for the Falcons’ defense. Safety Keanu Neal checks linebacker Foyesade Oluokun to trail Godwin on the slot fade, and that’s… not the best call.
This 29-yard touchdown pass to Chris Godwin reflects everything going right with the Buccaneers' offense right now. PA flash-fake, 12 personnel, motion to create matchups, boom. Foyesade Oluokun is a good player, but I don't know why the check is for him to trail Godwin. pic.twitter.com/ZU5CKCCkyK
— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) January 9, 2021
Add in the specter of ’12’ personnel, which is the personnel on this play, and another advantage becomes clear — with two tight ends in the formation, there are more blockers. This is especially true when one of those tight ends is Rob Gronkowski, the best blocking tight end of his era. It’s one reason Brady has been more willing to take deep shots out of ’12.’
With ’12’ personnel and play-action since Week 13, Brady completed 12 of 20 passes for 239 yards, 108 air yards, five touchdowns, one interception. On attempts of 20 or more air yards in those same circumstances, Brady had five attempts, four completions, two touchdowns, one interception. If you see the Bucs in ’12,’ the deep shot is coming.
Here’s another example against the Lions’ hapless pass defense in Week 16. The Bucs have Gronk and Cameron Brate aligned to the right side. Subtle pre-snap motion moving Brate inside tells Brady that Detroit is playing man coverage (which Detroit should never do), the stack creates coverage confusion off the snap, and then it’s yet another Brady-to-Gronk deep fade in which Gronk bodies the poor defender for the 33-yard touchdown.
It’s almost like those two guys have been there before.
Washington doesn’t play a ton of man coverage — they’re more conversant in two-deep stuff. One example: They have 124 pass-defense snaps in quarters, fourth-most in the league behind the Browns, 49ers, and Bills. Brady against quarters this season: 59 of 83 for 680 yards, 481 air yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions. So, if the Bucs can keep the pass rush at bay, Brady can hunt — and he’s clicking in this offense as never before.
“I’d say every week is getting a little bit better and a little bit more consistent [with] better communication,” Brady said of the structure this week. “We’re all understanding each other a little bit better each week. Football season is tough – there’s a lot of things to coordinate, there’s a lot of moving parts, different players and in and out, you’re running different schemes. But I think we’ve just tried to not take the foot off the gas pedal [and] tried to understand each other a little bit better each week and try to put ourselves in a decent position. Any time you make the playoffs, it’s a good feeling and it’s a great opportunity to be playing this weekend. A privilege, I think, for all of us. I think we want to go make the most of it. Playoff football is pretty special to be a part of, and I’ll be excited to be out there Saturday night.”
Why wouldn’t he?