The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won a team-record seven straight games to get to Super Bowl LV, all after Head Coach Bruce Arians told the team to "dig a little deeper" to find ways to win. Turns out, the key word here is "deeper."
The Buccaneers' signing of quarterback Tom Brady in March was obviously one of the biggest and boldest free agency moves in NFL history, but it did lead to a bit of hand-wringing about how Brady would fit into Arians' "no risk-it, no biscuit" approach, which has never been shy about chucking the ball downfield. And, from Week One well into the regular season, Brady noted repeatedly that the offense was a "work in progress," largely because there had been no offseason program or preseason slate of games to build on.
Well, Brady has fit just fine into Arians offense and, if anything, the Buccaneers have gotten more aggressive with the deep passing as they have built their current winning streak. That continued into Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.
View the top photos of Tampa Bay's NFC Championship Game vs. the Green Bay Packers.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Brady's 36 passes against the Packers traveled an average of 11.5 yards in the air. That is the second-highest air yards average that Brady has had in any game this season, including the playoffs. That may have been a peak, but it was also the continuation of a trend that began after that bye week.
In six of the seven games since the bye, Brady has averaged more than 10 air yards per attempt. That's a significant shift because he had averaged 10 or more air yards per pass in just one game before the break.
The Buccaneers ran a lot of vertical routes in Green Bay and Brady targeted players on those routes 13 times, finishing with six completions for 160 yards and three touchdowns. Though he also threw two interceptions on those routes, he still finished with +9.0 expected points added (EPA) on those 16 throws. Expected points are defined as the value of the current down, distance, and field position situation in terms of future expected net point advantage. EPA is the difference between that EP at the start of the play and the EP at the end of the play. It measures the impact of a play or a group of plays on the game's score.
Brady's most stunning deep ball was the 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Scotty Miller, who scored with one second left in the first half. That pass traveled 54.1 yards in the air, and Miller has now been the target on four of Brady's six deepest passes and five of his six most difficult passes this year, according to Next Gen Stats. In terms of the difficulty of the pass, Next Gen Stats gave the play a 25% chance of being completed. Miller beat cornerback Kevin King in one-on-one coverage on the play and the difference was sheer speed. The Buccaneer receiver got up to a top speed of 20.64 miles per hour while King topped out at 19.19 miles per hour.
The Buccaneers have definitely been digging deeper since their Week 13 bye, but they've also been throwing deeper more often, and that trend doesn't seem to be slowing down.