The winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers did something last week that most teams dream about. The Bucs traveled into a hostile CenturyLink Field and pasted 21 points on the board before the Seattle Seahawks knew what hit them.
Three second-quarter touchdown passes from rookies—two from quarterback Mike Glennon and one from running back Mike James—put the Buccaneers in a great position at halftime to upset the NFC’s top dog. But the Seahawks scored 17 unanswered points in the second half and then kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime to steal the game from Greg Schiano’s Buccaneers.
Watching the success Tampa Bay had early in its Week 9 game showed both that the 2013 Buccaneers have greatly underachieved this season and that there’s enough talent on this roster to win football games, even now that this season is decidedly lost.
How can the Buccaneers replicate their first-half success Monday night when the team hosts the Miami Dolphins?
More Offensive Line Success
It’s easy to look at James’ 82 first-half rushing yards and his 4.8 yards per carry and congratulate the rookie for a fine performance toting the rock. James deserves that credit. But his offensive line made it pretty easy for him.
With just 58 seconds left in the first quarter, James busted through the left side of the line and gained 21 yards before being pushed out of bounds. It was James’ longest run of the season and he had a gaping hole to navigate through.
James enjoyed more of the same in the second quarter. In this play the 5’10” rookie popped out from behind the line and darted right up the middle for 11 yards.
By taking a look at the All-22 film you can see that the hole created by the offensive line was huge, big enough for three, maybe four running backs to run through hand-in-hand.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), left guard Jamon Meredith, center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Demar Dotson all had fantastic run-blocking grades (1.7, 1.6 and 3.6, respectively). It was Zuttah’s second successful run-blocking grade in a row, Dotson’s best run-blocking grade of the season and the first time Meredith had started at left guard. This was also his best run-blocking performance.
Switching Gears isn’t Always Good
Tampa Bay seemed to open its playbook a lot in the first half. James threw a touchdown pass, there was an onside kick, and James took a direct snap from center and ran the football. Those were just a few of the ways Schiano got aggressive with the play calling.
That aggressiveness seemed to dry up in the second half.
Schiano told the assembled media during his Monday press conference at One Buc Place that moving away from some of those eccentric plays wasn’t by design, Seattle’s defense made some adjustments at halftime.
You can be aggressive in a lot of different ways. The third downs (in the second half), we had some guys open on different plays we hadn't shown and we just couldn't get the ball off.
That said, it was pretty apparent that Schiano played more in the second half not to lose than to continue doing what brought success to the team early. Some of those play calls were mentioned by JoeBucsFan.com.
Joe looked to a number of third-and-short plays in the second half in which Tampa Bay went to the pass when in the first half the team would have given the ball to James to run.
On the Bucs’ first drive of the fourth quarter leading by a touchdown, the Bucs had a 3rd-and-3 situation from the Bucs-40. Instead, the Bucs go to the pass (from a rookie in a rocking, raucous chamber of doom) and Glennon is sacked and the Bucs have to punt.
On the Bucs’ second possession, the Bucs had a 3rd-and-2 from their own 29-yard line and again, instead of James running, Glennon threw incomplete to the left side.
Schiano admitted during his press conference that his Bucs had trouble in pass protection in the second half, which makes the move away from James even more intriguing.
James had 17 carries in the first half and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. In the second half he only carried the ball nine times but averaged 8.4 yards per carry. It wasn’t like Seattle found a way to shut the rookie runner down, Tampa Bay just went pass instead of sticking with a winning recipe.
Statistically on a personal level, Glennon and James both had solid games. But Glennon went 17-of-23 for 168 yards and finished with a 123.1 passer rating after going 10-of-11 for 124 yards in the first half. Even with a two touchdown lead at halftime, it’s hard to sustain success when Glennon threw for only 44 yards in the second half and completed 58 percent of his passes after connecting on 90.1 percent earlier.
It’s also hard to maintain a lead when almost every drive ends with a punt. After Tampa Bay kicked a field goal to go up 24-7 in the third quarter, every other drive stalled. The final five drives of the game resulted in a Buccaneers punt and never did the Bucs cross midfield after the 9:48 mark in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay moved from an inspired first-half performance to mediocrity in the second half in Seattle. Sure, Pete Carroll and the Seattle coaching staff made adjustments, but it looked like Schiano and his crew either failed to compensate and correct or just got way too conservative.
Miami is a team with a much weaker run defense than Seattle’s. If the Tampa Bay offensive line can open holes for James like it did in Seattle in the first half, and the offensive game plan continues on the path of that success, the Buccaneers can earn their first win of the season.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.
Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.