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Baker Mayfield Picked Apart the Zone | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Packers

On his way to a perfect passer rating, Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield was nearly flawless and highly productive when presented with zone defense looks by the Packers


Mike Evans is always happy to see man-to-man coverage because he's confident he can beat whatever man is assigned to him. He didn't see much of that in Green Bay in Week 15, but no matter. He still finished the game with five catches for 57 yards and his 11th touchdown of the season as the division title-hunting Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a critical 34-20 win.

Evans' 19-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter, in fact, was against zone defense according to NFL Next Gen Stats, with Green Bay dropping into a Cover 3 look. From the left slot, Evans ran a go route but he bent it in such a way that gave quarterback Baker Mayfield a wide window in which to throw. At the snap, Evans curved slightly towards the numbers but stayed inside of cornerback Eric Stokes. Meanwhile, safety Rudy Ford, playing the middle of the field, first started after Trey Palmer, who was running a crossing route from left to right. That slight shift to his left meant he had no chance to recover when he saw Mayfield throwing to Evans. At the point he caught the ball, Evans had 2.5 yards of separation from Stokes, still the nearest defender and he still had almost five yards before he would hit the back of the end zone. For Mayfield and Evans, it was one of their easiest touchdown hookups of the season.

It was like this all afternoon for Mayfield, who finished the game with 381 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions on 22 of 28 passing, becoming the first visiting quarterback ever to put up a perfect 158.3 passer rating at Lambeau Field. He did most of his damage against zone coverage because that's what the Packers chose to show him all day. Of his 28 throws, 24 came against a zone look and he completed 20 of them for 361 yards and three touchdowns. His 26-yard TD pass to Rachaad White was against a Cover 3 zone look, as was his 52-yard scoring pass to David Moore in the fourth quarter. Only Ko Kieft's two-yard touchdown grab was against man coverage.

The only blemish on the Bucs' passing attack on Sunday was the five sacks Mayfield absorbed, including one that led to a touchdown and a quick Packers touchdown in the first quarter. Fortunately, he had plenty of unpressured dropbacks to work with. While he was pressured on 10 of them (including the five sacks), he completed 20 of 23 passes when not pressured, resulting in 339 yards and three touchdowns.

Mayfield became the third quarterback in the NFL this season to produce a perfect passer rating in a game, as San Francisco's Brock Purdy also did so against the Buccaneers in Week 11 and Buffalo's Josh Allen did so against Miami in Week Four. As one would expect from those surface numbers, Mayfield's performance against the Packers ranks as one of the best by an NFL quarterback this season in more advanced Next Gen Stats.

For instance, Mayfield produced an expected points added (EPA) total of 20.4, the ninth highest mark by any quarterback this season. In terms of EPA per dropback, his mark of 0.62 was the 10th best this season.

Finally, while the Buccaneers' improved running game over the past month would theoretically add more bite to the play-action passing game, Mayfield was actually much better without a fake handoff in Green Bay. On play-action passes, he was four of seven for 44 yards and one touchdown, with a completion percentage of 57.1% and a passer rating of 115.5. Those are fine numbers but they pale in comparison to throws without a fake. On those 21 passes, he recorded 18 completions for 337 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect passer rating. His completion percentage over expected (CPOE) on those plays was an excellent +16.9%.

Mayfield was sharp throughout what was so far his best game as a Buccaneer, and he wasn't thrown out of rhythm by his early turnover. He was especially sharp, however, when the Packers showed zone coverage and the Bucs' offensive line kept his pocket clean.

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