Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Going Back to Three-Wide | A Next Gen Look at Rams-Bucs

After balancing their two-TE and three-WR packages in a Week 11 win over Carolina, the Buccaneers put their deep group of receivers on the field more often against the Rams on Monday night

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 23, 2020 - Wide Receiver Mike Evans #13 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates a touchdown with Quarterback Tom Brady #12 during the game between the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers lost the game, 27-24. Photo By Kyle Zedaker/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

On Monday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced a Los Angeles Rams offense that generally runs about 75% of its offense through three-receiver set, and the Buccaneers' offense followed suit.

In their 27-24 loss to the Rams, the Buccaneers had 67 offensive plays that counted, and they had either three or four receivers on the field for 50 of them, or 74.7% of the total. Tampa Bay ran two plays with only one receiver (those are most commonly used for goal-line or short-yardage), 15 with two receivers, 44 with three receivers and six with four receivers. There was some variance among those four groupings; for instance, among the six plays on which the Bucs went four-wide, five featured a tight end as the fifth eligible while one featured a running back.

This was a change from the week before in Carolina, and the Buccaneers have switched their offensive personnel strategy up quite a bit from week to week in 2020. Against the Panthers, the Bucs were nearly split down the middle between 11 and 12 personnel, with 42 plays that featured three or more receivers and 35 that featured one or two, generally with two or more tight ends.

In this particular stretch, the results from the Bucs' Week 10 approach were more successful than Week 11, as the Buccaneers gained 544 yards and scored 46 points in Charlotte before being held to 251 yards and 24 points against the Rams. This does not mean the first approach is always going to be a sounder strategy than the second one. The Buccaneers gained 454 yards and scored 45 points in Las Vegas in Week Seven in a game in which they had three or more receivers on the field for 50 of their 70 plays (71.4%).

The most obvious difference between the games in Weeks 10 and 11 is that the Rams have a much better defense than the Panthers and are very stout against the run. The Buccaneers used a lot of two-TE sets in Charlotte in part to make a concerted effort to get the run game going. They had very little success in that department against Los Angeles – 42 yards and 2.3 yards per carry – and they were never down by more than one score so it wasn't a case of the run being abandoned during a big comeback attempt.

The Buccaneers fared better, to a relatively mild degree, with more receivers on the field on Monday night, though the offense as a whole didn't produce as well as it has in most weeks no matter what approach was used. With one tight end, one back and three receivers (11 personnel) on the field, the Bucs averaged 3.41 yards per play, scored two of their three touchdowns and had a success rate of 41%. A play is deemed a success if it gains 40% of the needed yards for a first down on first down, 50% or more percent on third down and gets the needed yardage on third or fourth down. With one running back, two tight ends and two receivers on the field, the Bucs averaged 2.87 yards per play and had a success rate of 40%.

Though it's a very small sample size that can be heavily influenced by one big play, the Bucs' most successful package was one tight end and four receivers. They used that grouping five times and had a successful play on four of them, averaging 6.40 yards per snap.

What will the Buccaneers' offense do next week? It's notable that the Chiefs' defense has been susceptible to the run, allowing 133.5 yards per game to rank 26th in the league and 4.64 yards per carry to rank 25th. The Bucs may choose an approach more like the one that worked against Carolina's 17th-ranked rush defense.