Bucs’ second and long offense
Something I’ve learned from the Rams is that second and long is closely correlated to third and medium, whether that’s because you’re really good on third and medium (relative to your overall offense), so are content in turning 2&9 into 3&4, or because you’re bad on third and medium, so you’d rather try to turn 2&9 into 1&10 and risk having a 3&9.
The Bucs’ overall offense is very good, and they have had success on third and medium when defenses have had allowed them to stick to their base concepts, however, their base third and medium offense is not good relative to their overall offense- I.e their ability to pick up five yards when they need five yards is nowhere near as good as their ability to pick up chunk plays.
This is a mix of Arians’ scheme not being suited to third and medium, and not having a quick WR that can routes like arches. Tom Brady is obviously a difference maker, particularly on third downs, but their third and medium offense is the biggest weakness I’ve identified in the Bucs’ offense.
One of Arians’ favourite plays on third and medium is stick. No other offense I’ve watched has done this with any regularity as it’s simply not a good idea as stick is not good against tight man coverage, and most defenses play tight man coverage on third and medium.
As mentioned above, it’s important to have synergy between your second and long offense and your third and medium offense. The Bucs don’t. This is most evident by Arians being comfortable running the ball on second and long against 2 high. They still do pass a good bit against 2 high on second and long, but they go away from what they’re good at: being explosive in the pass game. So, it’s more their mindset of trying to be efficient on second and long is the problem as they’re not good at being efficient, and when you try to be efficient on second and long you’ll usually have to be efficient on the next play too.
The following three play sequence from the start of the second matchup with the Saints is a great illustration of their struggles on third and medium and how a good defensive coordinator exploited it:
Arians’ first play of the game, which is common for his opening scripts, combines a pre-snap motion (shift), play-action, and Godwin being the primary receiver. The concept itself is a sail concept with Godwin running the sail route.
Arians’ play call wasn’t bad, and they actually completed the same concept vs the Saints on the third play of their first matchup, but the Saints won the two key matchups on this play, resulting in an incompletion.
On second and 10, Arians likely anticipated the Saints to be in 2 high as they were in 2 high for most of the first game. Arians sticks to his tendency of liking to run the ball vs 2 high on second and long.
So, a favourable situation to run the ball results in a seemingly favourable result. However, on third down, Arians again sticks to his tendencies and calls a standard 3 man stick concept on third and 3. This is a particularly bad call against the Saints as Arians would have known they would play aggressive man coverage on third and mediums as that is what they did in the first matchup.
If the Bucs had a better third and medium offense than their strategy of running the ball in favourable situations on second and long would be a good one, but it’s not a good idea to try to get to third and medium when you suck on third and medium relative to your overall offense.
As mentioned above, when the Bucs do pass against 2 high on second and long, it’s usually a ‘ball control’ concept like levels.
This is a similar strategy to the Rams, but the Rams’ third and medium offense is very good compared to their overall offense as they have quick WR’s like Kupp and the concepts McVay calls are actually suited to third and medium.
The Packers, who don’t have a WR like Kupp (outside of Adams), need to be able to beat man coverage when Adams gets doubled on third and medium. To do this, LaFleur uses man beaters from bunch formations frequently to create favourable situations for his WR’s against man.
Arians uses bunch formations a decent bit, but not often on third and mediums. The first bunch formation that he used in 2020 on a third and medium resulted in an easy completion to Jaydon Mickens (!).
The following play is an illustration of why playing single high without any disguise is a bad idea on second and long against the Bucs as Brady easily beats the post safety with his eyes and Evans easily wins on his seam route.
So when you play single high you give the offense isolation opportunities, which isn’t a sustainable strategy against the Bucs’ WR’s, particularly with Brady at QB. Thus, the key is not giving them those isolation opportunities.
The answer though isn’t to just play Tampa 2 as most of the Bucs’ ball control concepts are best against Tampa 2 and Brady will pick up easy yards throwing to his backs. The Lions found this out the hard way when they realised they couldn’t stick to playing single high.
The Bucs also like creating isolations on the Mike LB in Tampa 2, usually with sit routes or middle read routes (which converts to a post vs middle of the field open).
Some of their routes convert to a ‘buc’ route (~10 yd sit) vs Tampa 2-
Brady has also been comfortable throwing hole shots.
So, in conclusion the Bucs offense is probably the most challenging offense to execute in the entire NFL, and thus it is key to force them to consistently execute as they’re not designed to be an efficient, ball control offense that limits negative plays and consistently converts on third and medium.
The Bucs’ inefficiency on third and medium likely won’t be as much of an issue against the Chiefs as they likely won’t sit in 2 high that much, so Arians will likely stay away from calling runs and ball control concepts on second and long as often, and thus they’ll have a better chance of avoiding third downs.
However, Spagnuolo is one of the best game-planners in the NFL so I wouldn’t be surprised if he adjusts from his normal second and long defense and tries to accentuate the Bucs’ third and medium weakness by incentivising the Bucs to run and throw the ball underneath on second and longs, setting up opportunities to disguise and pressure on third and mediums.