Watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, it is apparent that this is a team on the rise. I'll break down their defense tomorrow, but offensively it's a fun group to watch for a number of reasons. Greg Cosell did a great job breaking down their run game in our Advance Scouting feature, so I wanted to focus solely on their passing game and quarterback Jameis Winston.
I was a fan of Winston entering the NFL Draft because he exhibited a lot of traits at Florida State that you look for in a starting quarterback. The arm strength was never an issue, but his ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the football under pressure was very impressive. He threw with rare anticipation for a college quarterback and was able to make tight-window throws because of it. Winston was also what Cosell likes to refer to as a "turn it loose" quarterback. He wasn't afraid to pull the trigger on a throw down the field, and consistently allowed his receivers to go and make a play for him. These are traits I saw over two years during his time in Tallahassee, and they've carried over to Tampa Bay.
On this third-down play against New York, the Giants send a six-man pressure at Winston. He feels the pressure bearing down, but stands tall and delivers a pass on an out route for a 16-yard gain and a first down.
The ability to "stare down the gun barrel" as they say has always been a strong suit of Winston's. At times Winston's lower-body mechanics can be affected by pressure, but overall he shows good poise in the pocket for a rookie quarterback. Another positive for him is his anticipation as a passer, and that shows up in a number of situations.
For a lot of reasons, the Bucs feature a number of isolation routes in this offense. With players like Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, you have two receivers who can win on those one-on-one routes because of their size and ability to separate at the catch point.
The Bucs have an offensive line that is young and has had some moveable parts over the last couple of seasons. They ask their tight ends and backs to stay in to protect. This means that there are fewer receivers out in space which limits the amount of real concepts you can call as an offensive staff. Tampa Bay's favorite isolation route might be the deep dig.
Here, you see the deep dig from Mike Evans. There's no other complementary routes to that side of the field. Nothing to clear out the seam inside. Nothing to take away any underneath defenders. It's one-on-one, and Winston has to throw to beat that cornerback. Look at how early Jameis looks to release this ball. Evans is still a few steps away from his break when he cocks back to throw, preventing the Houston cornerback from breaking on the ball in time to make a play. This results in an 18-yard completion and a first down.
That throw came against a man coverage concept, but what about against zone? Against certain zone concepts, windows can get very tight for quarterbacks. If you don't hit the right lane with perfect timing, particularly in the middle of the field, you're going to get picked off.
Here's another dig from the Bucs, this time from Evans in the slot. The Giants drop into a five-under, three-deep zone coverage with just a three-man pass rush. With five underneath defenders, throwing lanes are tighter. Winston has shown in the past that he's struggled with underneath defenders. It was an issue for him at Florida State. He's thrown some ugly interceptions early this season in similar types of situations. Look again, however, at the anticipation he shows here on this throw. He lets go of the football at the correct time and hits the dig route, beating both the underneath defender and the safety over the top. This throw requires the perfect amount of timing, accuracy and velocity. Winston hits it for 18 yards and a first down.
Tampa is a vertical passing team, and they will look to stretch the field against the Eagles on Sunday. One of their favorite downfield concepts includes a dig route. It's a two-man route concept called "Dagger," and they're very effective with it. "Dagger" calls for the slot receiver to run a straight vertical route down the seam, a clear-out route for all intents and purposes. The outside receiver runs a dig route behind it, with the hope that any defenders inside are carried upfield by the vertical route.
Here's the "Dagger" concept in full effect against the Carolina Panthers. Again, look at the anticipation by Winston. He turns it loose, throws it over the top of the underneath defender and hits the dig route for 19 yards and a first down. The confidence Jameis has in his playmakers, the velocity of his throws and his understanding of the route concepts against coverage allow him to throw this ball earlier than you would expect a rookie to do.
Another area where Winston has had a ton of success has been with his ability to manipulate defenders at the second level. He does a great job working safeties with his eyes and taking them away from where he wants to go. I have one example of a play just like that that I'm saving for this week's Tape Study segment on Eagles Game Plan. Keep an eye out for that later on the site, but here's an appetizer to hold you over until then.
It's second-and-10 down in the red zone against Jacksonville. The Jaguars are playing Cover 3 with a single-high safety. Winston knows that, in order to make this play happen, he has to move this safety to keep him out of harm's way. He drops back. Look as Winston's eyes look directly to the left side of the field and at that safety, drawing him to the left hash. This is by design. When he hits the top of his drop, he pulls the trigger immediately to Evans on a "bender" route down the seam for a 17-yard gain to put the Bucs inside the 5-yard line. This is great quarterbacking from Winston, and a great throw down in the red zone.
This Tampa Bay passing game is going to take a few shots downfield. It's not a matter of "if," more so of "when." While they don't have any true burners at wide receiver, they will attack you vertically with a number of different concepts. Evans is very good at playing the ball in the air and winning in contested situations. He has, however, had too many drops this season. Winston displays great touch on his deep ball, especially down the sidelines.
On this "Divide" concept, look at the ball Winston puts at the pylon, allowing Evans to go and get it for his only touchdown of the year. Tampa Bay hopes to put stress on your secondary. When you have big receivers who move like they do, it's something your defensive backs have to account for in the week of preparation.
Evans is strong at the line of scrimmage, and trying to disrupt him early has been a moot point for some defensive backs because he does such a good job of just running straight through contact in press coverage situations.
Just trying to play the fade or vertical routes down the field is troublesome for cornerbacks too. Winston will throw the back-shoulder fade to Evans on a consistent basis. This is going to be a huge week for the Eagles' cornerbacks. They will need to be very sound in their technique, properly reading their keys before the snap, hopefully picking up on any tells Evans may have in his stance and then trying to disrupt at the catch point without getting penalized. The way the Bucs use Evans makes him one of the toughest assignments in the NFL.
I mentioned deep digs as one of Tampa Bay's favorite isolation-type routes. The quick slant is the other. The Bucs love running it off quick play-action with Winston under center, as he pulls up immediately after the run-fake and pulls the trigger to hit his man over the middle.
You see that play in action here against Washington, with Evans taking this pass 25 yards for a first down.
Winston hits Vincent Jackson on the quick slant. Jackson is reportedly going to miss this game due to injury, but the Eagles will still have to prepare for this quick-slant concept off of run-action.
This isn't off play-action, but this is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a former second-round pick out of Washington. He takes this quick slant to the house against Tennessee. "ASJ" is big, strong and athletic. His ability to line up at a number of different spots is something the Eagles will have to prepare for this week. On that play, he was matched up man-to-man against safety Michael Griffin, a former cornerback who is known for his abilities in coverage. Whomever gets matched up against Seferian-Jenkins in man-to-man will have to combat his combination of size and athleticism to keep him contained.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.