Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel knows that FB Mike Alstott had pressure in his face as he tried to throw a halfback pass on Monday
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense clicked throughout much of the game on Monday Night, racking up a season-best 346 yards. There was more consistent movement of the ball by the Bucs than their had been in weeks.
If just two more plays had been executed as well, the outcome might have been more favorable than the eventual 30-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel helped explain on Wednesday why those two plays turned sour.
We are referring to a Tampa Bay possession that began with 8:32 left in the game and the Buccaneers trailing, 27-23. Starting at their own 18-yard line, the Bucs quickly advanced to the 44 thanks to three outlet passes to running backs Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott. After throwing an incompletion, QB Shaun King found WR Keyshawn Johnson for a nine-yard gain.
And then came the two plays. On third-and-one, the Bucs lined up in a power package, bringing jumbo tackle George Hegamin in as a tight end on the left side of the line and putting tight end Patrick Hape in the backfield as a blocker. Fullback Mike Alstott, lined up behind Hape, got the ball and tried to run behind all that extra blocking on the left side. The Vikings, however, were equally loaded in that area and were able to stop Alstott for no gain.
As Steckel explained on Wednesday, the Bucs were unable to win that battle in part because of some pre-snap confusion. QB Shaun King, having difficulty hearing the call over his helmet microphone, made a slightly incorrect formation call. According to Steckel, the player who was sent to the wrong area knew the formation was incorrect but couldn't get that across to King because of the din. The result was that two Vikings who were expected to follow that player to the other side of the formation ended up staying put in the hot zone.
That brought up fourth-and-one, and the Bucs had prepared a play just for that occasion during the week.
"We told the offense that if we get in a fourth-and-one situation, we're going to run a halfback pass," said Steckel, explaining the team's pregame setup. "They all loved that. I think it's called a surprise element, and obviously, you could see that a guy was wide open."
Indeed, rookie TE Todd Yoder was alone 25 yards downfield on the left side. Alstott took a pitch from King and swept right, where roughly 20 of the players on the field congregated. He then stopped, moved the ball into his right hand and threw across the field to the waiting tight end. Steckel explained why the team had chosen a seldom-used rookie to run this play.
"'Todd Yoder, a rookie, in for just one play in the game, they're going to throw to him?'" said Steckel, expressing what he assumed the Vikings would think. "The thing is, I've seen Todd over the years at Vandy make some critical plays. He's a big-time player."
In this case, however, Yoder stopped and turned, expecting a shorter pass as it had often been practiced. Alstott threw to a spot he thought Yoder would be.
"People were in Mike's face," said Steckel. "When I first saw it develop, I thought, 'Oh my goodness, this is just what we thought.' Then I looked at Mike and he had people in his face. So I said to him today, 'Now you know (what a quarterback feels like when) everybody says, 'Didn't he see him, he was wide open?' Shaun King didn't see him because somebody was in his face. And that's what happened to Mike. There was some penetration and pressure on that side, and he assumed Todd was going to be in a specific landmark, and it didn't work out that way."
Alstott's pass was farther downfield than Yoder had expected and, in attempting to adjust and turn, Yoder tripped backwards. The pass fell incomplete. The Bucs chance to retake the lead went down with him.