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Nothing easy about slowing down Tom Brady and a talented Buccaneers offense
After an embarrassing primetime loss, the New York Giants have the privilege of hosting Tom Brady and the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football in Week 8. The 5-2 Buccaneers are coming off a 45-20 road beat down of the Las Vegas Raiders, and Tampa Bay also dismantled Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers 38-10 in Week 6. Brady’s offense ranks third in the league in points per game with a whopping 31.7, while the Giants rank 31st with 17.4.
The Buccaneers offense has allowed Brady to throw, even when they’re trailing; they rank sixth in the league in pass attempts per game and eighth in passing yards per game with an average of 288 yards. Bruce Arians “air it out” type of attack still meshes with Brady’s skill set, but the weapons of a healthy Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scottie Miller and Rob Gronkowski assist Brady in all areas of the field. Godwin will not be playing Monday due to a broken finger, nor will Antonio Brown who is still on suspension.
Tampa Bay ranks 21st in rushing attempts per game with about 26 and they’re 19th in rushing yards per game with an average of 105. Brady has no problem checking down to either running back when there’s nothing downfield, and Brady does this quickly. We saw it far too often throughout the years with James White, Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen, and Rex Burkhead, and he does it in Tampa Bay with Jones and Fournette. Jones has 18 catches on 27 targets for 86 yards on the season, and Fournette has 13 catches on 15 targets for 81 yards. Jones has a propensity to drop the football; the pass catching back role was supposed to be LeSean McCoy’s, but he’s been dealing with injuries.
Their offensive line is incredibly physical; rookie right tackle out of Iowa Tristan Wirfs has only allowed 13 pressures all season (compared to Thomas’ league leading 37), according to PFF. Left tackle Donovan Smith has only allowed 15 pressures on the year. The interior offensive line is no joke either; Center Ryan Jensen and guard Alex Cappa play with a mean streak, and guard Ali Marpet is the seventh-best rated offensive lineman according to Pro Football Focus.
There’s going to be a heavyweight battle with the Buccaneers interior offensive line and the Giants’ defensive line. Dalvin Tomlinson, Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and B.J. Hill will need to try and dominate the trenches to establish a presence against this offense.
The Buccaneers employ a lot of DUO (power without the puller) rushing attempts that create double teams on the line of scrimmage and allow the lineman to climb to the second level. If the Giants line up in even fronts, I think we’ll see a decent amount of DUO. If the Giants line up in odd fronts, there will be more stretch zone and power/gap concepts towards the edges of the defense. They’ll also use split-zone, wham blocks on the unblocked interior defensive lineman, and lead blockers with an H-Back, similar to the Giants. It will be tough, but the Giants can establish themselves at the line of scrimmage; the strength of New York is the presence of that stout defensive line. The defense will have to be incredibly creative and efficient to manipulate a player like Brady.
Here’s the first offensive play against the Raiders. Arians and Brady run a play-action YANKEE concept that forces the linebackers towards the line of scrimmage against a zone look. The Raiders try to disguise this as man coverage, but it’s a Tampa 2 type of look with the linebackers carrying the seam player. The deep post by Evans commands the boundary safety’s attention while the backside deep cross from Gronkowski comes wide open near the numbers. Brady just misses this throw, but the Raiders defense was scrambling and out of position.
Tampa Bay has success with the deep crosses behind the linebackers in man and zone coverages. We have seen the Giants be susceptible in this area of the field. A way that Graham has combated that susceptibility was to drop either Logan Ryan or Julian Love into a robber type of position to remove the inside break. This has worked, but I can see the Buccaneers running a deep post over the top of this route, which would put the single high safety into a vulnerable position, if he’s looked off to the other side, or fails to pick up the post in time.
This is a simple play for a modest gain, but I feel it’s important given the way Graham has been calling defenses. The Giants use a lot of zone-match and will switch coverages if certain routes are vertical. It’s not a novel concept, but it can be exploited with savvy route running, good timing, or even a flooded zone like we saw with Ryan Lewis’ peaking at the inside seam when he hesitated on John Hightower’s big catch late in the fourth quarter. Chris Godwin releases outside and through the flat defender’s outside shoulder, which holds that flat defender in place and doesn’t allow him to get outside. Godwin’s route also forces the deep cornerback and the buzz safety to cover him near the numbers. Since the flat defender is held in place for a split second, and the corner drops to the numbers, there’s a wide open Miller on the line of scrimmage splitting the numbers and the sideline. These simple types of play designs can take advantage of what Patrick Graham does, so communication will have to be executed very well on Monday from the young secondary. If Brady chews up zone coverage, then the Giants may attempt to run more man coverage, which would be an experience given what happened in Week 1 against Pittsburgh.
This is a similar concept with the first GIF, but there’s another horizontal cross, and obviously it’s a different personnel package. Las Vegas attempts to run man coverage and the deep crossers are too difficult to cover, especially when they’re compounded by Brady’s touch and placement. We witnessed the Pittsburgh Steelers take advantage of Graham’s man defense in Week 1 and this could be an unfortunate result if the Giants are forced to adjust to more man coverage.
Tampa Bay also employs the Ohio Concept on quick outs to Gronkowski and Miller, as well as Evans. The No. 1 receiver clears out the side and it’s on the receiver to win in the slot and establish outside positioning on his break. These are quick route combinations that the Buccaneers have success with.
Another aspect of this Buccaneer passing attack is the smooth route running from some of the receivers. Yes, there will be no Godwin, but Miller is quick in and out of his breaks, and his double moves work well. He’s able to get vertical on the cornerback, chew the grass, not sell his outside break, and then explode right by the cornerback, while Brady puts a dime over his shoulder for a touchdown. Miller has been good setting up his routes and not tipping his hand until he breaks.
As for Mike Evans, he’s their touchdown threat. He has 25 catches for 358 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season. When the offense is near the goal line, they either attempt to run the ball, quarterback sneak the ball, or give Evans a chance on quick screens or 50/50s. Evans and James Bradberry are quite familiar with each other and will be reunited on Monday Night Football.
The Giants will have their hands full. Tom Brady has just under 2,000 yards passing through seven games, with a touchdown to interception ratio of 18-4. New York may struggle to get pressure on the Hall of Fame quarterback, and the reliable zone coverage could prove to be a vulnerability against the savvy vet. If the Giants are going to win this game, they’re going to have to protect Daniel Jones and not allow the pass rush of the Buccaneers to win; this may lead to a more conservative game plan, and a lot of quick game. Mitigating the Buccaneers’ offensive opportunities by trying to possess the ball is one way to force Brady to the bench. The Giants have been competitive in every game other than the game against the 49ers triage squad. That competitive streak will be put to task against this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.