Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Play-Action Gives Passing Game Bite | A Next Gen Look at Bengals-Bucs

The Buccaneers' strong first half of offense against Cincinnati on Sunday included a higher usage of play-action passing than in most games this season


In Week 15 against Cincinnati, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense put together perhaps its best opening half in any game this season, though a rash of turnovers in the second half helped the Bengals rally for a 34-23 win. At halftime, the Buccaneers had a total yardage edge of 261-83, a 16-6 advantage in first downs and, most importantly, a 17-3 lead on the scoreboard.

Of those 261 yards, 194 came through the air as Tom Brady completed 17 of 23 passes and had two interceptions and a 127.8 passer rating by the intermission. One aspect of the Bucs' approach against Cincinnati that helped the offense get into a rhythm was the heavy use of play-action passing.

Overall, the Buccaneers used play-action on 28.9% of Brady's dropbacks, their second-highest percentage of the season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. (All subsequent statistics are also via NGS.) They used play-action 31.0% of the time in their Week 10 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Munich. For the season, the Buccaneers' play-action rate is 16.2%.

The Bucs were particularly fond of play-action in the first half on Sunday against the Bengals. In the first two quarters, Brady dropped back 23 times and faked a handoff 43.5% of the time, the team's highest usage of play-action in any half this season. That was a total of 10 passes with play-action, of which Brady completed seven for 95 yards, giving him a passer rating of 100.0 and an EPA/DB (expected points added per dropback) of 2.3. He was only pressured on one of those 10 dropbacks and he got the ball into the hands of his pass-catchers with room to run. Of those 95 yards, 37 came after the catch. Brady's completion percentage of 70.0% on those 10 passes was 13.1% better than his expected completion percentage.

The Buccaneers only used play-action on 13.6% of Brady's dropbacks in the second half against Cincinnati, though it was the four straight turnovers plus a botched fake punt that led to the Bengals' barrage of unanswered points rather than any particular offensive strategy. The Buccaneers also possessed the ball for just nine of the 30 game minutes in the second half and spent most of the fourth quarter chasing a double-digit lead and eschewing the ground game (and by extension play-action).

Brady dropped back 22 times in the second half, including one play on which he was sacked. He executed a fake handoff on just three of those plays, completing two passes for 21 yards. He was pressured on one of those three dropbacks and finished with an EPA/DB of 0.70. Overall, Brady's usage of play-action on 13 dropbacks against the Bengals was his most against any team in 2022.

For the season as a whole, Brady has a 101.2 passer rating and an EPA/DB of 0.26 when faking a handoff before passing. He has completed 66 of 104 passes for 755 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

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