After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' unexpectedly poor showing on defense on Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints – 420 yards, 38 points and a 64.3 third-down conversion rate allowed – there was a general consensus that the home team didn't play very aggressively against Drew Brees and company.
That wasn't strictly true, at least in terms of sending extra men into the backfield after Brees. In fact, after watching the game tape (which likely wasn't a very coveted task), Head Coach Bruce Arians was a bit surprised to see just how aggressive the Bucs' defense got in that regard.
"Going back, we blitzed more than I even thought we did on the field – it's whether it was blitz zone or blitz man [and] we went zero [coverage] a couple times," said Arians. "We got him off the spot, but Drew did a great job…of moving in the pocket and still being accurate. Guys were getting ready to hit him and he threw some really good balls down the field accurately. It was the best I've seen him play in a while. Defensively, our safeties and our inside linebackers did not play very well. There was really, really poor communication."
If there was a lack of aggression, it appears that it was in the amount of man coverage called compared to zone. Perhaps the bigger problem, though, was that the Bucs' blitzing simply didn't work.
Overall, three Saints quarterbacks made 36 dropbacks in the game, 33 by Brees. (Taysom Hill had two and Jameis Winston had one.) The Buccaneers brought five or more players at the quarterback on 17 of those plays, or 47.2% of the time. That's actually a higher blitz rate than when the two teams met in the Superdome in Week One. In that game, the Buccaneers sent five or more pass-rushers on 14 of 32 dropbacks, or 43.8% of the time. None of the Saints' other opponents this season have blitzed more than 23% of the time against Brees.
The Buccaneers did get their one sack on a six-man blitz, with outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett hitting Brees as he threw on the first drive of the third quarter, creating a fumble that Bucs safety Mike Edwards recovered. Overall, though, the blitzing strategy didn't work any better than the non-blitzing approach. Here was the Saints' passer rating against three, four, five and six-man rushes:
3 Pass Rushers: 143.2
4 Pass Rushers: 128.5
5 Pass Rushers: 126.9
6 Pass Rushers: 144.0
Brees had exactly one touchdown pass against each of those groupings. He was pressured on exactly one third of his drop-backs against both four and five-man rushes, while the three and six-man approaches only resulted in one pressure (the strip-sack) on 15 snaps.
Here are some additional observations gleaned from the updated Next Gen stats database after Week 10:
Smith Speeds Up
Ryan Smith was the fastest man on the field Sunday night…or at least he hit the highest top speed. He hit 22.03 miles per hour while covering a Bradley Pinion punt in the first quarter. That just missed his top speed this season of 22.07 miles per hour on another punt coverage in Las Vegas in Week Seven. That's the top mark for any Buccaneers player this season.
Newly-signed WR Antonio Brown was the Buccaneers' third-fastest player on the night, and the fastest on offense. Edwards got up to 19.98 miles per hour on the aforementioned fumble return after Barrett's strip-sack, the fastest of any Buccaneer on defense on Sunday night. Brown reached 19.96 miles per hour on a deep route in the second quarter, on which he covered nearly 49 yards of grass. The play result was a seven-yard pass to running back Leonard Fournette.
Quarterback Tom Brady had his best success while throwing the ball 11-20 yards downfield. He completed eight of his 10 passes in that range for 118 of his 209 yards on the evening, though one of his interceptions was also on a throw to the intermediate left.
For the second week in a row, the Buccaneers were not able to connect on any deep balls, something that had been a strength of the offense over the first nine weeks. In this case, Brady tried six passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield in the air, and none of them were completed. Last week, the Bucs were 0-5 in that range.
Shaq Closing In
For the second time in the last three weeks and the fourth time in nine games, Barrett was the best Bucs pass-rusher at getting close to the quarterback. The NFL's 2019 sack leader recorded his fourth QB takedown of the season but was also the Bucs' defender with the lowest average separation from the passer at the time of the pass.
Barrett's average separation from the quarterback was 3.61 yards, which is significantly better than the league average of 4.51 yards. Barrett also paced the Bucs' defense in this regard against Las Vegas, Denver and the L.A. Chargers.
The various figures in this regard by Saints' defenders illustrates how much pressure Brady was on throughout the evening. Marcus Davenport (3.17), Trey Hendrickson (3.50), David Onyemata (3.68) and Cameron Jordan (3.75) were all around the same rate as Barrett or better.