A convenient scheduling quirk occurred this past weekend for anyone who wanted to get an advanced look at future Vikings opponents: Tampa Bay and Detroit, the Vikings next two opponents, played each other. As luck would have it, this week the Vikings Week 3 and Week 4 opponents (Detroit and Kansas City) also play each other.
With Detroit and Tampa Bay squaring off last Sunday, I set the DVR and watched that game back this morning. I took quite a few notes in watching the Lions defeat Tampa Bay 27-20, but I’ve decided to focus on just two areas.
Here are my thoughts on Tampa’s defensive front seven and passing attack after watching last weekend’s game…
Buccaneers defensive front seven
– Tampa Bay plays in a 4-3 defensive scheme and that front seven includes a very young defensive line. The Buccaneers invested their first two picks in each of the last two drafts on defensive linemen, and the result is a starting defensive line that averages 23.75 years of age and an entire defensive line group that is even a touch younger than that.
– The two standouts on that line are DT Gerald McCoy, the #3 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and Adrian Clayborn, the #20 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. McCoy is good at splitting double-teams and being a disruptive force in the backfield, but he had no sacks and no tackles for a loss against the Lions. Clayborn is athletic and sheds blockers very well. He had a great outside rush move against LT Jeff Backus early in the game, but he also had trouble finishing plays and he was fooled on an end-around early in the game.
– Ultimately, I think the Buccaneers defensive line will be the heart and soul of the defense for several years to come. They are young and very athletic. But the Vikings offensive line matches up with this group and it’ll be a fun aspect of the game to watch on Sunday.
– The three linebackers are athletic and when pressuring the QB can be dangerous because of that athleticism. The Vikings offensive line, RBs and TEs need to have their protection responsibilities buttoned up to make sure Tampa’s LBs don’t get a free run at the QB.
– Against the Lions, Tampa Bay didn’t do a much disguising of coverage with their LBs. You’ll see Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson frequently showing one look pre-snap and then executing a different technique during the play. I didn’t see the Buccaneers do this at all; it was a very straight forward approach, and they dropped into a lot of zone coverage against Detroit.
– I think the Buccaneers LBs are prone to misdirection and play-action or draw plays. Detroit executed a great play-action pass early in the game, with RG Stephen Peterman pulling to the left side. Peterman pulling caused two Buccaneers LBs to bite, which allowed Lions QB Matthew Stafford to find a wide open Brandon Pettigrew down the seam for a 1st down.
– We’ll start with the trigger man – QB Josh Freeman. He’s a young, athletic and big-armed passer who has some spark but also doesn’t fare well under pressure. The trick is, it’s hard to corral him because he’s strong and fast. He’s a player on the rise, but he still has some learning to do. Hopefully he doesn’t take a step forward this week.
– Their WRs are more quick than fast. The best of the group is Mike Williams. Most of Freeman’s throws to Williams are when there is man-to-man coverage against him. I didn’t see Freeman throw to Williams when he was covered by two-plus defenders. Freeman threw two fade routes to Williams in the game’s first eight plays, both in man-to-man coverage. Then Freeman threw another fade to Williams later in the 1st half and yet another in the 2nd half. But Williams has the speed and ball skills to win those one-on-one matchups.
– I was most impressed with TE Kellen Winslow. He can lineup in a three-point stance or in the slot, and he’ll win both ways. The Lions tried to cover him up with S Louis Delmas, and Winslow won that battle most of the time. Many times Tampa Bay would call plays that involved the WRs running off coverage and Winslow running drag routes across the field, under the coverage. This is where Delmas struggled a touch. When Freeman targeted Winslow, it was mostly intermediate routes to the outside of the field when a LB or S was trying to cover him man-to-man.
– Here are two prime examples of the situations the Buccaneers try to create for Williams and Winslow: On a 2nd and 10 with 14 seconds to play in the 1st half, Tampa Bay had Williams run a deep route to runoff a CB and S. That created space for Winslow to come off the line and run a 10-yard out underneath the coverage on Williams. It was an easy throw for Freeman, and Tampa got into better FG range to close out the half. On 3rd and 3 in the 4th quarter, Tampa had 3 WRs and Winslow in the game (lined up on right side of offensive line). Williams came in motion and ran a shallow crossing route from left to right, and Winslow came out of his stance and ran a drag route from right to left. Delmas had man-to-man coverage on Winslow. After Winslow caught a few balls, Lions safeties began to key on him. So, on a 3rd and 8 in the 4th quarter, Winslow was in the slot to the right and Delmas was focused on him, which left Williams singled wide left. Freeman found Williams on a deep out route for the 1st down after a quick double-move.
– On a 3rd and 5, Tampa Bay went with a 3-WR formation, with Winslow in the slot; Freeman was out of the gun formation. Detroit rushed 6 defenders, which left a CB one-on-one with slot receiver Preston Parker. This is where I see Chris Cook excelling. The Lions CB couldn’t guard Parker on the corner route, but I think Cook can because he’s physical enough to jam the receiver at the line and disrupt the timing of route.
– I don’t know if this qualifies as a tendency or not; remember, I only watched on game. To accurately scout a team and discover tendencies, you certainly need more than one game’s worth of evidence. But when Tampa Bay was in the “Zebra” personnel package, I noticed that Williams and Winslow never lined up on the same side of the formation. My theory is that this gave the Buccaneers the best odds at getting a one-on-one matchup with one of these two pass-catchers, and whichever guy had the desired coverage, that was Freeman’s primary read. Many times it worked, including Williams’ 4th-quarter TD reception that made the score 27-20.
– I never saw Detroit try to jam Winslow at the line of scrimmage to disrupt the timing of the route. I wonder if this would work.
– Starting RB LeGarrette Blount is not good in pass protection; they bring in FB Earnest Graham often for those duties.
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