Yardbarker Horiz

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Is The Game Plan?

The plan before the 2009 season was for new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski to to install a running game using a zone blocking scheme.  This new scheme would take advantage of the young offensive line and talented running backs on the Buccaneers roster to create a powerful rushing attack.  This philosophy was detailed by Head Coach Raheem Morris during his first offseason (Apr 2, 2008):
"'When you talk about the violent football teams, the physical football teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers, you think about downhill running and people smashing,' said Morris. 'That's just what it is. When you talk about violent football teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, you talk about people smashing you and running the ball downhill. We want to become those guys.'" -- Head Coach Raheem Morris
Unfortunately, Coach Jagodzinski was released during the preseason due to prolonged attention-to-details issues which I interpret as poor performance under game time conditions (such as play calling or working with assistants to get the right personnel on the field, etc).  This interpretation of these events makes sense since game day trouble would not be detectable during a normal interview or during training camp.  Coach Jagodzinski had been a head coach at Boston College.  The focus of a head coach on game day is strategy.  A coordinator must focus on tactics.  The only other offensive coordinator duties that Jagodzinski had previously had was "passing game coordinator" at Green Bay.  As such he had never flown solo as an offensive coordinator before and therefore may have been an ineffective tactician.

But the lure of what Coach Jagodzinski brought to the interview table is obvious.  He was fresh from dealing with college players.  His program at Boston College had just graduated the (arguably) top rookie QB the year before (Atlanta's Matt Ryan).  In the context of an upcoming draft with plans to grab a young signal caller, the fit is natural and too good to pass up.  Protect that new young quarterback with a solid running game and have a proven coach in place to groom him into the passing game.

Ah, but the best laid plans . . . .

Before the 2009 season a zone-blocking run system was installed to replace the assignment blocking system of the prior coaching staff.  During the preseason players gushed about how they could tell it would work and they liked it.   Then, just before the last preseason game, Coach Jagodzinski was dismissed and Coach Greg Olson was promoted to Offensive Coordinator.

Suddenly, Tampa Bay came out throwing.  And throwing.  And the Buccaneers have rarely stopped since.  What was to be a powerful rushing offense finds itself throwing 57.5% of the time through Week 14.  In only 3 of 13 games so far in the 2009 season have the Buccaneers rushed the ball more than pass the ball.  Those run-focused games were against Washington, at Carolina, and Miami -- three of the four narrowest losses this season.  While there have been games when the run/pass count was different by less than 5 attempts (Miami, Atlanta, New England), there have been four games with 15+ more passing attempts than running attempts (Carolina, Philadelphia, NY Giants, and Buffalo).  In contrast, the widest margin for the run game so far this season has been 8 more rushes than passes (Washington, at Carolina).  The win against Green Bay was fairly balanced with only 6 more passing attempts than rushing attempts.  In raw numbers, the most rushing attempts in a single game this year has been 31 twice (Dallas, Miami) and the most passing attempts in a single game this year has been fifty (50!) twice (Buffalo, Philadelphia).

There is no discernible pattern -- the high pass attempts are not specifically in games where the Buccaneers were far behind and playing catch-up football (for example, the Buccaneers were down by only 6 points at the start of the fourth quarter at Buffalo, one of the 50 pass attempt games).  And it was not a matter of which quarterback was playing:  games with Byron Leftwich averaged 20 rushes and 39 passes, games with Josh Johnson averaged 26 rushes and 30 passes, and games with Josh Freeman have averaged 25 rushes and 33 passes (Leftwich and Johnson each had a 50 pass game, Freeman's high attempt mark was 44 in his game against Carolina).

So very clearly we see that Coach Olson is a pass-first type of offensive coordinator.  This is not entirely surprising as his background includes time at Purdue as quarterbacks coach with Joe Tiller and time in Detroit as quarterbacks coach with Steve Mariucci.  As the season has progressed the offense has lost more and more of the zone blocking schemes and returned to the rather West Coast look of the past few years (just as the defense has also returned to what has previously been utilized).

While the debate about having a rookie quarterback and using a run game to remove the game from his shoulders is valid, it is not the subject here.

The change from the Jagodinski-run system to the Olson-pass system has severe consequences for the upcoming offseason.  During the 2009 offseason, the offense was tooled to be a running football team with good, young size up front, blocking wide recievers, versatile tight ends, a fullback, and a multiheaded tailback.  Several of these facets of the offense were established in free agency last year.  By addressing these things last offseason the Buccaneers are primed to be aggressive on the defensive side of the ball this year.

However, if the Buccaneers are going to be a pass-system team then it's not so clear that the offensive side of the ball is where it needs to be.  In fact, several positions on offense may need to be addressed during the 2010 offseason (free agency and draft).  Wide receiver is underproductive for the number of pass attempts -- perhaps the Buccaneers need to give up some downfield blocking ability for speed, route precision, or hands/physical size.  Offensive linemen need to be evaluated on pass-blocking ability and changes made if needed.  You could also assert that the multiple back scheme is not necessary and replace tailbacks with more wide receivers.  Perhaps the fullback position is not necessary and can be used for a defensive player instead.

The downside of all this is that it will detract from adding more young talent to the defense which is clearly in need.

While currently there is no clear sign that the direction will be anything different from what we've already seen, three games remain in the 2009 season.  It is possible to establish an identity in these games different from the prior 14 games, though unlikely.

It will be intersting to watch how this plays out.  The issue of the Tampa Bay offensive identity will most likely be the single most important driver of the 2010 offseason.

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