The offense made two plays on Sunday that it must continue to make in order to be successful the second half of this season — getting deep to Joey Galloway and getting the football in Michael Bennett's hands for scoring chances.
Tampa Bay faced 1st-and-10 at their own 42 with 5:58 left in the second quarter, shortly after Jacksonville took a 17-3 lead. Jeff Garcia had just hit Galloway for an 18-yard gain in play action.
The Bucs set up with three wide receivers. Galloway was to Garcia's right and in the slot. Earnest Graham was in an offset I formation, with B.J. Askew the up back. The Jaguars defensively had four men up front, but five others crowding the 45-yard line. Two were guarding slot receivers. The other three may have suspected a run play was coming.
The Bucs used a quick snap count on the play and Garcia, for the second straight play, used play action. The offensive line gave him solid protection. Galloway ran a deep post out of the right slot, splitting a safety and cornerback for an easy touchdown.
A closer look at the replay behind the Jaguars defense reveals just how much they were sucked in by the play fake and the Bucs' blocking scheme. On the fake, the entire Bucs offensive line moved the line of scrimmage to the left. Askew moved left to block and Graham moved left on the play fake. The resulting shift sucked in seven Jaguars defenders, leaving the secondary to deal with three receivers.
The routes Galloway and Hilliard ran made the play work, too. Hilliard, in the left slot, ran a crossing route at midfield. Galloway ran a deep post. Around the Jags 40, they crossed paths, forcing free safety Reggie Nelson into a decision — pick up Galloway or Hilliard. He chose Hilliard. By doing so, however, he left an opening in the middle of the field for Galloway.
The play worked perfectly. Garcia connected with Galloway at the Jags 25. The corner covering Hilliard originally — who gave up coverage to the safety — and corner Aaron Glenn trailed Galloway. He was never in danger of being hit or stopped.
Bennett's touchdown run was actually supposed to be a touchdown pass, but the score helped give the Buccaneers their first lead of the game in the third quarter.
Tampa Bay set up in an obvious pass set. Galloway was in the right slot. Jerramy Stevens was in the left slot. Ike Hilliard was wide left. Askew was the lone set back and Bennett was behind the line of scrimmage on the left hash. As a result, the Jags defense had eight men within six yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap.
At the snap Garcia turned and threw behind him to Bennett. The throw itself allowed Bennett to move forward and begin his momentum toward the line of scrimmage. It also served to suck five different Jaguars toward Garcia, as they hoped to get a rush on Garcia believing he would be passing downfield.
That — and left tackle Donald Penn — opened up a running lane for Bennett. Jags linebacker Mike Peterson, sucked in by the screen, tried to pursue Bennett, who has sprinter speed. Penn rolled out from his left tackle position and sealed off a safety, providing the perfect lane for Bennett.
As Bennett raced past the line of scrimmage, he cut left toward the sideline, knowing Peterson was in pursuit. He also got a great block from Hilliard, who shoved a cornerback and potential tackler out of the way to improve Bennett's cut lane. As he crossed the 15 there was a wall of Jaguars in pursuit as well. But Bennett outraced most of them. Only Nelson had enough speed, plus the angle, to give Bennett a good race. But by the 5-yard line, Bennett had the corner and started diving toward the goal line for the touchdown. Nelson tried to grab him, but Bennett hit the pylon on his way out of bounds.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK
After falling behind 10-3, thanks to a Jon Carney field goal, the Bucs took over possession at their 26 with 7:18 left in the second quarter. That changed quickly, and it ended Garcia's streak of passes without an interception.
The Bucs were in an I-formation set with a wide receiver split to either side. Galloway, the intended target, was to Garcia's left. Glenn — a late start thanks to Brian Willliams' hamstring injury — played off Galloway, out of respect to his speed. This looked like a run play, and that's how the Bucs wanted it. The Jags had five men on the line, and two more linebackers in the box.
Garcia audibled at the line, but Glenn never moved. At the snap, Garcia dropped back in a way that led the defense to think he would hand off to Graham. It wasn't a play fake, though. He just turned around briefly as he took his three-step drop. After the fake, Garcia turned quickly and threw without hesitation. Galloway ran a five-yard hitch.
The idea was to suck in enough defenders to deal with what looked like a run play, get the ball to Galloway outside and let him make a play. But Glenn spoiled everything.
This was a timing route, so Garcia is supposed to turn and throw. But Galloway made a minor mistake. He ran the 5-yard route and stopped, but when he stopped he turned his shoulders outside, almost parallel to the 30-yard line. That allowed Glenn — who did a great job of reading the play and jumping the route — enough room to slip over Galloway's inside shoulder and pick off the pass. Had Galloway positioned his shoulders more diagonally across the 30, he might have cut off Glenn's route to the interception.
But that's quibbling, really. Glenn, a 14-year veteran who has seen that play hundreds of times, did a great job of reading and reacting. Sometimes the defense simply makes a great play.
Late in the game the Buccaneers defense had to make a stop to force a chance of possession, one that would have given the Buccaneers offense about three minutes to work with in order to win the game in the fourth quarter. The Buccaneers actually got the football back with 1:43 left at their 34-yard line. But by failing to stop the Jaguars on 3rd-and-6 at the Jaguars 7 with 3:17 left, the defense failed to give the offense good field position and enough time to drive for a field goal without the need for a two-minute drill.
The Jaguars were in a shotgun set with two backs and three wide receivers. Fullback Greg Jones was set up to quarterback Quinn Gray's right. There should be no doubt that a screen pass was a possibility here.
The Buccaneer defense was in a basic Cover 2 with four down linemen. The corners played about 2-3 yards off the wide receivers.
At the snap, both running backs slid out into the flat and the wide receivers headed downfield. The protection is adequate. Gray chooses to throw to Jones in the flat and there was plenty of room to run.
The thing is, the Buccaneers had the play read. As Jones caught the pass, linebacker Derrick Brooks appeared in front of Jones to make the tackle. Brooks appeared to have good position, but Jones faked him out. Brooks moved just a bit to his left expecting Jones to continue that way. But Jones, sensing what Brooks did, cut inside. Brooks suddenly whiffed at air and Jones headed for the first down marker. No other tackler had a chance.
The play was a big one, as the Jags drove four more plays before punting and pinning the Bucs back at their 37. If Brooks had made that tackle, the Jags likely would have punted and the Bucs might have had the ball at midfield with about 2:45 left. That could have made a big different in the final minutes.