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The Right Call to White | A Next Gen Look at Bucs-Lions

The Bucs and OC Dave Canales picked the perfect time to dial up an outlet pass to RB Rachaad White in Sunday's Divisional Round loss at Detroit, anticipating a blitz with a play that NGS deemed a near certain touchdown


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were eliminated from the playoffs in the Divisional Round on Sunday in Detroit, but they didn't go down without a fight. Three times in the first three quarters they were down by a score; three times the game was tied again by the end of the period. The Lions pulled away with two consecutive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but the Bucs rallied again to get within eight points and get the ball back at the end with a chance to tie. Unfortunately, an interception with 93 seconds left sealed the 31-23 final score.

The Buccaneers touchdown that tied the game at 17-17 near the end of the third quarter was the result of a brilliant play call by Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales. Facing third-and-10 at the Detroit 12-yard line, the Buccaneers anticipated a blitz and dialed up the perfect antidote. The offense lined up in shotgun formation with an empty backfield, with trips to the left, tight end Cade Otton detached to the right and in the slot and running back Rachaad White split wide to the right. Before the snap, Mayfield signaled White to motion back to the backfield to line up just to his right.

The Lions did indeed bring a blitz, and fortunately for the Bucs it was right up the middle. The Lions lined up with a five-man front. Linebacker Alex Anzalone was crowding the line and defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson was seven yards back on the right hash and creeping up just before the snap. Both Anzalone and Gardner-Johnson crashed up the middle while edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson (on the right) and Derrick Barnes (on the left) dropped into coverage.

The result was only two defenders on the right side to cover Otton and White, who darted out horizontally to the right at the snap. The blitz was somewhat effective – NFL Next Gen Stats credited Gardner-Johnson with a pressure because he was 2.8 yards from Mayfield and closing fast at the point of the throw. But thanks to the play design, Mayfield had an easy target and got rid of the ball in 1.84 seconds after the snap. Cornerback Kindle Vildor followed Otton on a go route into the end zone, leaving only Hutchinson to be accounted for. Right tackle Luke Goedeke took care of that issue, releasing from the line and blocking Hutchinson toward the sideline while Otton stopped his route and blocked Vildor. That created an unfettered lane for White to dash through for the 12-yard score.

White proved to be excellent in space on short passes throughout the 2023 season, often creating more yards than expected. On this play, however, he didn't have to do anything dramatic, simply using his speed to dart straight upfield without being touched. NGS gave White an 84.2% chance of scoring at the moment he touched the ball and gave the pass a 91.3% chance of being completed.

This was not the first time that Mayfield and the Bucs relied on White to solve situations where the opposing defense produced pressure on the quarterback. According to NGS, Mayfield targeted White 33 times during the 2023 season when the quarterback was under pressure. Astonishingly, 31 of those 33 passes were completed, and the Mayfield-White combo accounted for the most completions under pressure of any duo in the NFL. Their 93.9% completion rate on such plays was also the highest percentage in the league among the 120 duos who combined for at least 15 targets under pressure.

According to NGS, the Buccaneers had a 25.0% win probability before that third-down pass to White. After the play, which tied the game with just 10 seconds left in the third quarter, that win probability had surged to 38.4%, a sizeable 13.4% jump. Of course, the Buccaneers did not come away with the victory in the end, but they entered the final quarter with a very real chance at the road upset thanks to one very timely play call.

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