The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got their hands on the football in Sunday's win over the Carolina Panthers, they had a seven-point lead and the ball just over midfield after a failed onside kick attempt. There were 116 seconds left on the clock and the Panthers had two timeouts left, so the goal was obvious: Keep the ball on the ground and get one first down so that Carolina's offense wouldn't get another shot.
Leonard Fournette had a slightly different plan.
Taking a handoff from Tom Brady on first down at the Carolina 46, Fournette shuffled his feet for just a second and then saw a seam over left tackle. He shot through the hole so fast that linebacker Shaq Thompson could only make an ineffective dive at his feet. At this point, Fournette had just two defenders to beat, cornerback Rasul Douglas and safety Tre Boston. Mike Evans took Douglas out of the picture with a clean block and Boston…well, the veteran safety found out that Mr. Fournette can really turn on the Jets in the open field.
Boston started out even with Fournette at the 40 but gradually fell a yard and then two yards behind before ceding defeat at the five-yard line. It was the kind of highlight that Fournette commonly created at LSU, which in turn is what got him drafted fourth-overall by the Jaguars in 2017.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's Week 2 matchup against Carolina.
According to the NFL's Next Gen stats database in Week Two, Fournette got up to a maximum speed of 21.44 miles per hour during that run. It's the fastest speed any Buccaneer running back has reached through the first two weeks of the 2020 season, and the third-fastest mark produced by any player on the team.
While Justin Watson clocked the fastest time for the Buccaneers in their Week One loss at New Orleans, three of his teammates topped that mark in Week Two. Here are the five fastest speeds achieved by Buccaneers players so far in 2020, and the plays on which they were posted:
1. WR Scott Miller, 21.76 mph on a route he ran into the end zone in the first quarter against Carolina, with a diving attempt just coming up short.
2. CB Jamel Dean, 21.72 mph on coverage of a punt against Carolina in the second quarter.
3. RB Leonard Fournette, 21.44 mph on a 46-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against the Panthers.
4. Dean, 21.44 mph on coverage of a punt in the first quarter against Carolina.
5. WR Justin Watson, 21.07 mph on coverage of a punt in the fourth quarter against New Orleans.
Here are some additional observations gleaned from the updated Next Gen stats database after Week Two:
More "12" for number 12.
Tom Brady is seeing a lot of Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard in the huddle. The Buccaneers' usage of "12" personnel – groupings with one back, two tight ends and two receivers – continues to rise. The Bucs used such packages on 20% of their plays in 2019 but it was up to 24.6% in the 2020 season opener. After two games, Tampa Bay's frequency of 12 personnel on the field has risen to 29.5% of all offensive plays after they ran 20 snaps out of it in the win over Carolina.
Head Coach Bruce Arians suggested in the offseason that this particular number might be on the rise in 2020, and that was based on the deep pool of tight end talent the team had collected after trading for Gronkowski. In Week Two, however, the high usage of 12 personnel was probably driven more by the fact that starting wide receiver Chris Godwin was unavailable. It probably also had something to do with what plays were working. The Buccaneers averaged 4.68 yards per play out of "11" personnel (three receivers) but 7.31 yards per play out of 12 personnel.
Shady Shaping Up as Third-Down Back
LeSean McCoy got his first handoff as a Buccaneer in Sunday's win, though it wasn't a particularly fun experience. McCoy lined up to Brady's right in the shotgun and Brady took the snap and then ran over to McCoy's spot for the handoff. The play broke down immediately, though, and McCoy was wrapped up five yards deep by Brian Burns the moment he got the ball.
Perhaps the Buccaneers were hoping Carolina would assume it was going to be a pass attempt and ignore McCoy. That certainly would have played to the odds, as almost every play McCoy has been on the field for through two games has been a passing play. McCoy has played 34 snaps so far and 31 of them have been pass plays; that 91% rate of pass plays is the highest for any back in the NFL who has at least 30 snaps this season.
This isn't really a tendency for opponents to exploit. Rather, McCoy is coming into the game in what are already obvious passing situations, such as any third down of more than a couple yards. And he was effective in that role on Sunday, especially early on, catching five passes for 26 yards, all in the first half. Four of them came on the game's first scoring drive, including three in a row as the Bucs approached midfield.
Of the five plays in which Brady completed a pass to McCoy, three produced first downs. That's a fair number, too, thanks to a pair of penalties. On one play, McCoy turned a short pass up for 16 yards but lost 10 of them thanks to an illegal block above the waist call on Ryan Jensen. Later in the same drive, McCoy was stopped three yards short on third-and-nine but then took a late hit, which tacked on seven yards and made it first-and-goal. Ronald Jones scored on the next play.
Will the Thrill
The Buccaneers had five sacks of Teddy Bridgewater in Sunday's game, recorded by four different players, including one by defensive lineman Will Gholston. And while fellow down lineman Ndamukong Suh led that rush with two sacks, it was Gholston who spent the most time in close proximity to Bridgewater.
Gholston had an average separation of 4.11 yards from Bridgewater per pass rush, according to Next Gen Stats. This statistic measures the "average pressure distance from the QB at the time of the passer throw or sack (in yards)." It only includes plays on which the player was actively rushing the passer.
Gholston's separation of 4.11 yards was followed by 4.28 for Jason Pierre-Paul, 4.89 for Shaquil Barrett and 5.07 for Ndamukong Suh. The league average in this category in Week Two was 4.51 yards.