View exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos of the Buccaneers' Week 9 matchup against the Carolina Panthers from Team Photographer Kyle Zedaker.
-Critics will say 14-year NFL veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick lacks the cannon of an arm needed for an explosive offense. Those critics would be wrong. And he's doing pretty darn well at refuting those claims this season. The Bucs' offense is built on explosives and the Bucs have the second-most explosive passing plays (16 or more yards) in the league this season behind only the Los Angeles Rams. During Sunday's game, he completed passes that went for 30 and 31 yards. His pass to tight end O.J. Howard that went for 31 yards was basically all air yards and set up an Adam Humphries touchdown to start the fourth quarter. So for those who come down on Fitz's arm, he shows no sign of backing off long throws. He currently has the longest completed air yards average with 9.3 yards per completion, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats. Not only is he throwing longer passes, he's also having to put a little bit of spin on it and be extremely accurate. Fitzpatrick has second-highest what's called 'aggressiveness percentage' among active QBs this year at 21.7. This means on 21.7 percent of his passing attempts, he's throwing into tight coverage where there is a defender within a yard or less of the intended receiver at the time of completion or incompletion. It's a mouthful, but it's also interesting to consider the amount of trust placed in a quarterback. The experience Fitz has in the league also has to help, considering there isn't a lot of things he hasn't seen.
-Speaking of things Fitzpatrick hadn't seen, in the Bucs' first meeting with the division-rival Carolina Panthers, Norv Turner's offense got creative. Coach Koetter had said earlier in the week that he had seen Turner put his own spin on the offense, and that apparently came in the form of bootlegs, jet motion and reverses.
Scott Smith had you covered this week with the Signature Play, a naked bootleg that quarterback Cam Newton had been effectively running so far this season. He did it again in this game and was successful, though the play was called back on an illegal shift by the Panthers.
Then came a jet sweep to running back Christian McCaffrey that has been seen in Kansas City on more than one occasion. It happened halfway through the first quarter and the Panthers were at the seven-yard line with a first down. Newton nodded in McCaffrey's direction, which sent the back into motion from the strong side. Newton took the snap and immediately pitched it to the passing McCaffrey who found a hole on the weak side thanks to a couple good blocks by his receivers. Cornerback Carlton Davis set the edge but Javien Elliott was lined up as the nickel and got blocked down, opening up a hole in between the two defensive backs. It was safety Justin Evans who came down to fit off Elliott and prevent the touchdown, stopping McCaffrey short for a gain of only four, which is honestly a pretty good execution against a very difficult-to-defend play.
The Panthers got creative further out on a play that resulted in a touchdown where the Panthers executed a reverse off of an around. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel ended up running 103.8 yards for the 33-yard touchdown, according to NFL's Next Gen Stats. Not the most efficient by any means, but certainly not expected.
-Diving further into wide receiver Adam Humphries' career day, the slot receiver recorded eight catches on eight targets, yielding a 100.0 catch percentage. Those eight receptions got him 82 yards and two touchdowns, for his first multi-touchdown game of his career. What's interesting is that Coach Koetter has said before that Humphries is that guy that's always in the right place at the right time. It means he's open and in a position, often as a checkdown target for the quarterback. His availability also may have something to do with the separation he creates for himself. On average, Humphries is able to get 3.59 yards between him and a defender, whereas the league average is 2.8. In a unit where Humphries is actually the fourth receiver, he doesn't get as many targets, which may explain his lack of career touchdowns, but that is no indication to how reliable of a receiver he is, especially when other receivers are well covered.
"Well Humph, he's a good football player, he's kind of down the line in the pecking order for us as far as a guy that gets targets," Coach Koetter said. "They did a good job on Mike (Evans) today, and it was more about Humph was the guy. They were doubling Mike some, they were pressing Mike a lot, Fitz found him, and Humph made a couple of nice runs after the catch on his own."
It's true that the Panthers were able to cover Mike Evans very well on Sunday. He had just one catch on the day for 16 yards. But the Bucs still had 243 yards receiving overall, with Fitzpatrick connecting with nine different players throughout the afternoon, a testament to how deep the receiver corps runs.