In the Next Gen Stats era, a successful play for an offense is defined as followed:
- On first down, the play gains four or more yards
- On second down, the play gains half of what is needed for a new first down
- On third and fourth downs, the play results in a first down (or a touchdown, which also counts as a first down)
By that definition, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did something pretty cool in their 30-10 win over the New York Giants on Monday night: They started the game with 17 straight successful plays on offense.
Yes, the Buccaneers' first 17 plays on two drives met the above criteria, including all 16 in the first quarter. That resulted in a 73-yard drive to start the game and another field goal drive that bled over into the second quarter by four minutes. Tampa Bay's first unsuccessful play on offense was an incompletion by Tom Brady on a deep ball in Mike Evans' direction two snaps into the second quarter.
Overall, the Buccaneers would end up running 76 plays on offense and finding success on 43 of them. That success rate was hurt quite a bit by the team's last few drives, which were essentially just designed to run out the clock. Thirty of the Bucs' 43 plays in the first half were successful.
How did the Bucs get on that kind of roll? By taking what the Giants were giving them. As has been their custom this season, the Giants played with two high safeties on a majority of Monday's snaps, an approach aimed at reducing the likelihood of big plays and forcing opposing offenses to grind out long drives without messing it up along the way. Brady and Offensive Coordinator saw what the Giants were doing and happily played along. By the end of the game the Buccaneers had 308 net passing yards, pretty close to their league-leading season average of 314.8 per game. But only two of Brady's 30 completions went for 20 or more yards, the lowest number of 20+-yard passing plays in a game for Tampa Bay this season. The Bucs bled out the Giants with a million tiny cuts.
Brady's output was above average, according to Next Gen Stats, in three areas of the field in particular: to the right either behind the line of scrimmage or between the line of scrimmage and nine yards downfield and to the left between the line and nine yards downfield. He was 15-18 on passes into those three zones for 114 yards and two touchdowns, for a passer rating of 130.1. Brady tried only four passes that were thrown more than 20 yards downfield, completing one for 35 yards to Rob Gronkowski. He was also 7-11 for 112 yards on intermediate throws (10-19 air yards) left and down the middle.
But this game was nothing like the unfortunate check-down assemblage that was the Buccaneers' 29-19 loss at Washington in Week 10. Brady actually held the ball longer on average in Monday's game than he had in all but one other contest in 2021, the Week Four win at New England. Brady came into the game averaging 2.50 seconds from the snap to the throw, the second-fastest release in the NFL to Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger. But in this one he averaged 2.75 yards to the pass. His average air yards per throw were also significantly higher on Monday than they were in Washington, 8.2 to 5.1. This was by design, and it worked.
That longer time to throw underscores how well the Buccaneers' offensive line protected Brady on Monday night, even after losing standout left guard Ali Marpet to an oblique injury. Brady was pressured on just five of his 46 dropbacks, a pressure rate of 10.9% that was his second lowest of the season. Even with the quick passes at Washington, Brady was pressure on 14.7% of his dropbacks in that game.
The Buccaneers have faced a lot of defenses trying to take the big play away from them this season, unsurprising given how good Brady and the offense was at pushing the ball downfield during their run to the Super Bowl championship last year. The Bucs are trying to get back to that NFL mountaintop in 2021, but they might have to get their by a different path.