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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Mike Evans Got Away from Indy Defense | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Colts

WR Mike Evans scored two more touchdowns on Sunday in Indianapolis, and the plays succeeded because their design and Evans' route-running created wide windows for QB Baker Mayfield to hit

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their Week 12 contest at Indianapolis, 27-20, failing to capitalize on one final possession when Colts edge rusher Samson Ebukam, looped behind quarterback Baker Mayfield and was able to swipe the football out of his hand. Dayo Odeyingbo recovered the loose ball to complete the strip-sack turnover and the Colts were able to kneel out the final 89 seconds on the clock.

The Bucs were in position to potentially tie the game or take the lead at the end because wide receiver Mike Evans did what he has done throughout this season and during his entire 10-year NFL career. He found the end zone. In this case, he scored twice on receptions of one and 23 yards, giving him 90 touchdown catches in his career, the 15th most in NFL history.

Evans' first touchdown, was somewhat unique among his many scoring catches. It came right after rookie tight end Payne Durham had made a dazzling catch over safety Julian Blackmon before twisting and lunging down to the one-yard line. That meant the ensuing touchdown catch was officially a one-yard play, but Evans definitely ran more than one yard.

In fact, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Evans had 17.1 yards of separation from the nearest defender when he caught the ball. NGS has been tracking such things since the 2016 season and that is the most separation on any touchdown pass thrown into the end zone in that entire time span.

Evans lined up in the left slot, with Durham out to his left and safety Rodney Thomas lined up over him and playing inside leverage. Evans is right on the line with Durham a step back and wide receiver Chris Godwin wide left and tight end Cade Otton next to the right tackle and a step off the line. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is in the shotgun with running back Rachaad White just to his right.

At the snap, Evans initially takes a step towards the middle of the end zone before cutting back underneath Thomas to the outside. Durham takes one step forward in the direction of the man covering him, cornerback Jaylon Jones, then cuts inside on a very shallow flat. The key to Evans getting so open is that not only did Jones follow Durham but Thomas let Evans go and jumped Durham's route as well.

White cut underneath Mayfield for a play-action fake, which briefly drew Ebukam's attention, but Mayfield didn't need much time, getting the pass off 2.1 seconds after the snap. The ball was in the air a total of 26.6 actual yards from Mayfield's release to the catch point, and it had an 86.4% completion probability according to NGS.

(As an aside, Durham's catch was the most improbable positive plays for the Buccaneers against the Colts. NGS gave it a completion probability of just 25.3%, easily the lowest among all 20 of Mayfield's completions in the game. Durham, who had to leap and reach over Blackmon to make the catch and prevent the interception, had just 0.6 yards of separation from the defender – basically none – when he caught the ball.)

There was no busted coverage on Evans' 23-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter, but he still managed to give Mayfield a pretty wide window in which to throw. The Colts played a zone defense with two high safeties splitting the field. Before the snap, Blackmon was the closest defender to Evans, who was lined up to the left, just a few yards wide of the hash marks, but Blackmon let him go and instead covered Otton, who had gone in motion from right to left. Jones also followed Otton, so the only defender who had a shot at covering Evans was Thomas, the safety on that side of the field. Evans only bent his route slightly to the outside until he got to the 13 and put his foot in the ground to cut more sharply towards the sideline. That created 4.9 yards of separation from Thomas, according to NGS, and Mayfield let the pass go when Evans was at the 10. The ball led Evans into the end zone and he caught it 3.9 yards away from the sideline. He had to slow up a bit to stay inbounds and that allowed Thomas to close the separation gap to 2.9 yards at the point the ball arrived.

NGS gave the pass a 43.1% chance of being completed, but Evans definitely gave the play a better shot at succeeding when he ran his route in such a way to give Mayfield a good window into which he could drop the football.

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