Sometimes, a single game can change the course of an entire season, and a single play can change the course of an entire game. In this feature, some of the most crucial plays from last week are analyzed and broken down.
Let’s preface this with one simple, undeniable fact – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do not have a quarterback competition. Yet.
Through the first three weeks of preseason, Josh Freeman is 12 for 26 on throws for only 101 yards and no touchdowns. He has yet to get the first-string offense on track. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, it’s a put-up or shut-up sort of year for Freeman, and so far, nothing’s been put up.
His backup is third-round rookie Mike Glennon, out of North Carolina State, where he only started for two seasons, including leading the nation in interceptions in his senior year. While he rocketed up to second on the depth chart before preseason games began, he hasn’t impressed, either – on Saturday against the Dolphins, he was only three for nine for 44 yards. Still, only one Buccaneers quarterback has thrown a touchdown pass this preseason so far. With the game, and South Florida bragging rights, on the line against Miami, could Glennon deliver his third touchdown pass of the preseason?
The Game: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) @ Miami Dolphins (1-2)
The Stakes: As it’s a preseason game, nothing major is at stake in the matchup for the teams, but for players trying to make the 53-man roster, these games are crucial. Some amount of bragging rights in South Florida are on the line, and with the cutdown to 75-men happening Tuesday, some jobs might be on the line, as well.
The Situation: With only 1:08 left in the game, the Buccaneers find themselves down by six and struggling. Their only touchdown to this point came after a muffed punt, rather than on any offensive plays – they only managed 14 first downs on the night. The Dolphins took the lead back at the very end of the second quarter on a Brandon Gibson touchdown, and then extended it to a 6-point lead with a field goal at the beginning of the fourth.
The Dolphins were driving to end the game, milking the clock down in Tampa Bay territory, when Jonas Gray fumbled after a solid tackle by William Ghoulston. The ball squirted right into the hands of Sean Baker who took it 55 yards the other way to set up a chance for the Buccaneers to escape Miami with a victory. Four straight runs by Peyton Hillis set up a second and nine on the 12 yard line.
With Glennon in the Shotgun, the Buccaneers come out in a three wide receiver set, with David Douglas, the slot receiver, split to the strong side. Tight end Tim Wright is essentially a fourth receiver on the play, clearly not in any sort of blocking stance. The Dolphins are in a nickel defense, with three down linemen and the fourth defensive lineman, Antwan Applewhite, standing up, almost serving as a rushing outside linebacker.
On the weak side of the play, cornerback R.J. Stanford is playing receiver Eric Page very tight, but back on the strong side, cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are giving their receivers at least a five-yard cushion, allowing plenty of room for an underneath throw.
As the play begins, the Dolphins only rush four, dropping everyone else back into coverage. While this gives them maximum coverage downfield, it means they never get any pressure on Glennon. The offensive line easily turns away the pass rush – Glennon is never in danger. Nor does Glennon spend much time making up his mind on what to do with the ball – he never even glances back towards the weak-side of the play, and with good reason.
The Dolphins appear to be in a man-to-man cover scheme for the most part, but as Douglas runs a three-yard in route, Davis keeps backpeddling, ending up in the end zone. He ends up covering Wright on the play, who ran a post towards the end zone. This wouldn’t be a problem had linebacker Jelani Jenkins not also ran with Davis towards the end-zone. Without knowing the exact play call, it’s hard to tell definitively who messed up the coverage, but the end result has three people covering Wright, and none on Douglas. Douglas ends up catching the ball at the nine yard line in acres of open space – the nearest defender is standing on the goal line.
A mistake, certainly, but not a game-ending one quite yet – Jenkins recovers from his backpedal to head for Douglas, as does safety Keelan Johnson, as they converge to try to keep Douglas out of the end-zone. It looks like they’re going to each take one side of him, keeping Douglas from having anywhere to cut around them, but it ends up being a moot point – Jenkins feet give out from him, and he slides to the ground without ever getting a hand on the play. Johnson lunges for Douglas’ legs, but it’s too late – Douglas half-jumps, half falls into the end zone for the go-ahead (and, as it turned out, winning) touchdown.
The Aftermath: Greg Schiano was “disappointed” with how his offense performed in the game – considering their offensive line surrendered six sacks, “disappointed” might be an understatement. Both touchdowns weren’t caused by great offensive drives; both were set up on very short fields by the defense and special teams. Glennon’s touchdown wasn’t a great bit of scheming or an athletic play – it was the result of a blown coverage.
Some people are beginning to question whether Freeman’s the quarterback of the future – which is a bit ridiculous. With multiple years of real games to evaluate, the third game of a preseason isn’t really adding anything to your pool of data. It is true that Freeman looked out of synch – but the entire offense looked out of synch. That’s distressing, because it’s likely the final chance for the starters to get their rust off before opening day, but it’s more indictive of the level the entire offense is at right now, rather than Freeman’s skill. Using the fact that Glennon threw a touchdown as reason to have Freeman on a very short leash ignores how the touchdown was scored – four runs and a busted coverage.
Now, in two months, if the Buccaneers are 2-6, then maybe you take a look at the kid from NC State. But for now, they’re going with their guy.
It is the second touchdown in two weeks for Douglas, who’s likely battling for the last receiver slot after spending his rookie season bouncing around practice squads. Is two preseason touchdowns enough to vault him onto the last slot? Quite possibly, actually – he’s competing with a bunch of undrafted free agents, and big receptions in crunch time – even on busted plays like this one – can’t help but boost your status. First milestone is Tuesday – if he can avoid the big cutdown there, he’ll get one last chance to prove his spot on the bottom of the roster.