The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense generated five sacks of Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke on Sunday, which is usually a good first step to shutting down an opposing offense and getting a victory. Heinicke, however, threw for 256 yards and a touchdown with a 110.4 passer rating and the Football Team beat the defending champs, 29-19. It was just the second time in the last two seasons that the Buccaneers got at least three sacks but lost, and also the first time in that span they lost to a team that came into the game with a losing record.
So what went wrong? Well, simply, Heinicke delivered under pressure, particularly when Tampa Bay sent extra men into the backfield.
Heinicke had 37 dropbacks in Sunday's game on which he threw or was sacked before he could get the ball away. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers sent five or more defenders into the backfield on 11 of those plays, or 29.7% of the total. And to some degree, it worked! Tampa Bay got three of their five sacks on those 11 "blitzes," all among the eight plays in which it sent just one extra man.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, Heinicke completed every pass he was able to get off against the blitz, going 8-8 for 81 yards and a touchdown. Despite the sacks, he had a passer rating of 108.3 against five-man rushes. The three six-man rushes the Bucs tried were even less effective, as Heinicke went 3-3 on those, one of which was his lone touchdown pass of the game, a 20-yard strike to DeAndre Carter in the second quarter that gave Washington a lead it would never relinquish.
The problem on that play was that none of the Bucs' six pass-rushers got particularly close to Heinicke even though it took him 2.82 seconds to get the pass off. That's just a tick faster than Heinicke's season-long TTT (time to throw) average of 2.91 seconds, according to NGS. Head Coach Bruce Arians didn't need Next Gen Stats to know this was a problem on Sunday.
"We had some blitzers coming free, they just didn't get there fast enough to affect the throws," said Arians. "Playing more zone than man-to-man because of who we're playing with, it's going to be a little bit softer back there, so we have to get home when we're blitzing."
The six players who came after Heinicke on the play were outside linebackers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, down linemen Will Gholston and Rakeem Nunez-Roches and off-ball linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White. Of the six, David got the closest to the quarterback; he was 3.0 yards away when Heinicke got off his pass. The others ranged from 4.4 to 9.6 yards away and NGS did not credit any of the six rushers with a pressure on the play.
The Bucs did get Heinicke to settle for a relatively low-percentage play. NGS gave his pass a completion probability of just 28.2%, but obviously he beat those odds. On the play, Carter lines up in a three-man bunch out to the left, closer to the hashmarks than the numbers. Carter is the widest man out, lined up off the line and to the left of Terry McLaurin, who is on the line. At the snap, McLaurin runs a curl in the middle of the field and is covered by Ross Cockrell. Adam Humphries, who starts out to McLaurin's left and off the line, cuts underneath Carter, who starts out straight upfield, and heads to the left sideline. He is picked up and covered well by Jamel Dean.
Dee Delaney lines up six yards off the line of scrimmage and just inside the hashmarks. He briefly reacts to McLaurin's route over the middle, then darts back to try to catch up with Carter, who goes straight up the field for 10 yards and then bends out to the left. At the time of the throw, Carter has 3.61 yards of separation from Delaney, who manages to get that down to 1.04 yards of separation as the ball is arriving, but Heinicke's pass is too perfect for Delaney to get a hand on it.
The blitz with David and White did work to some degree. White fakes a blitz three seconds before the snap but then drops back close to David in the middle of the box. At the snap, both inside linebackers head towards left guard Ereck Flowers as left tackle Charles Leno heads out wide to slow down Barrett. Leno ends up occupied with White, which gives David time to loop around them both and get a direct lane to Heinicke. However, as noted above, Heinicke gets the pass off while David is still three yards away, though he is closing very fast.
Leno guides Barrett around behind the quarterback and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones keeps Pierre-Paul from getting a head of steam on the other side. White, Gholston and Nunez-Roches all end up bunched with a group of blockers in the middle of the line.
Heinicke has now had two strong outings against a very good Buccaneers' defense, including last year's tight Wild Card game that was won by Tampa Bay. A lot of his success in that game last January hinged on his ability to scramble for yards or extra time to throw, and there was some instances of that kind of action in Sunday's contest, too. However, the key for Heinicke this time was handling the Bucs' pressure and getting off accurate passes that more than balanced out Tampa Bay's five sacks.