Despite the outcome of the Buccaneers’ game one thing is clear. Even in victory, Byron Leftwich’s play calling is atrocious. It’s still time for him to be let go. Here are some of my notes from this Sunday’s game as it pertains to the play calling on first down.
First and Ten: Run vs Pass
First and ten has been a point of contention since Leftwich has taken over play calling from Bruce Arians. This week was no exception either. Looking over the first half play by play the Buccaneers offense faced fourteen first and ten situations and one first and twenty. Of those 15 first down situations Leftwich called ten run plays and five pass plays. Even after he spoke of balance, there was none. The interesting part is that the pass plays were not dispersed anywhere in particular. In fact Leftwich chose to run on first and ten seven plays in a row. On the eighth first and ten situation he finally called a pass play. After it landed incomplete he ran it three more times in a row on first and ten. Then the only spurt of passes in first and ten situations came on the last drive because the team went into a two minute drill with no huddle. Much of that was likely Tom Brady calling the plays.
The second half became even more bizarre. As if to flip a switch Leftwich went into a pass happy frenzy. Calling for only three run plays on fifteen first and ten attempts (plus a first and goal). This complete reversal of tactics didn’t pan out as well as the run game either. It was disjointed and had no real feel of game planning to beat anything in particular. It was as if he was throwing things against the wall to see if they would stick.
Either way this is not balance. The end result of 18 run plays on first and ten compared to 17 pass plays is indicative of the complete lack of play diversity and creativity we saw against the Rams. This is just mind boggling.
First and Ten: Pass Play Calling
Compression of the field is a real issue for this offense on first and ten. No defense is expecting them to attack the intermediate or deep areas. In doing so they load up to go downhill. In essence they know they can play a shorter more compressed field and prevent any large gain. Opposing defenses bank on a “bend don’t break” attitude on first down because there is no threat of a deep shot.
So what does that all mean? Looking at the game against the Rams the Buccaneers and Tom Brady almost exclusively threw short routes. On 17 pass plays the Buccaneers only attempted ONE deep shot. ONE. What happened to “No risk it No Biscuit”? Now this isn’t to say the passes on first down have not been successful. Eight of the 17 were between five and seven yards. That’s a sizable chunk to take out of the needed ten yards on first down. However, the fact that they are almost all short yardage hampers the run game. If the defense is prepared for short yardage throws it also aids them in prepping to keep the run game from getting going. Without mixing runs with short passes, long passes, and play action the defense starts with an upper hand before the ball is snapped.
First and Ten: Run Game Production
Moving forward a discussion on who the ball carrier is on first downs needs to happen. Addressing the fact that Leonard Fournette had little success (3.1 yards per carry on first) while Rachaad White averaged 5.5 yards per carry on first and ten. There needs to be a change in the pecking order of who may get carries on first down.
Now again this becomes and issue. In order to disguise plays and create a diverse look for the defense you still need to have different running backs in the formation at different times. If a single running back is carrying the load and having a large amount of success then you can keep feeding him. Until then the need to keep defenses on their heels remains.
Each series starts off with a first and ten. It’s a tone setter for second and third downs. When a team is unable to gash a defense on first down they become exponentially easier to defend. Longer yardage situations shrink a playbook, especially on third and long. This team’s success can be regained if it does a better job on first down. To do that they need to change the play calling and that may require a change of play caller. Plain and simple, Byron Leftwich needs to go.