Bruce Arians, Tom Brady And Play-Action Passes

July 12th, 2021

So what happened to the Bucs offense that made it go from mediocre with exceptional talent to juggernaut in the last few weeks of the 2020 season?

Super Bowl-winning coach Bucco Bruce Arians and his quarterback will have you know that the playbook finally clicked late in the regular season loss to the Chiefs when the Bucs mounted a valiant comeback.

Noted NFL Films X’s and O’s guru Greg Cosell recently stated there is no question the offense, specifically Tom Brady, began humming after the bye week (first game after the Chiefs loss). And Cosell’s comments seemed to back up the claims of playbook absorption by Arians and park-violating, home-invading, NFLPA-ignoring, down-forgetting, handshake-stiffing, jet-ski-losing, biscuit-baking, tequila-shooting, smartphone-phobic, waffle-grilling, trophy-throwing, roller-coaster-scared, numbers-rules-peeved, Bucs-Super-Bowl-winning quarterback Brady .

A guy who used to cover the Bucs locally and now types for Football Outsiders suggests the change was much deeper than Cosell believes. The Bucs fully changed how they called and ran plays, per Thomas Bassinger, and this directly led to a major production spike.

When they used play-action or motion, their efficiency improved dramatically. On non-play-action passes, they averaged 6.3 yards (17th); on play-action passes, they averaged 9.3 yards (second). On non-motion plays, they averaged 4.9 yards (30th); on motion plays, they averaged 6.5 yards (third).

… [A]nd after the bye week, the offense’s play-action and motion rates spiked. Over the final four weeks of the season, the play-action rate rose 7 percentage points—the fourth-largest increase in that span—and the motion rate rose 10 percentage points. Tampa Bay’s efficiency didn’t suffer, either. In fact, no team averaged more yards on play-action passes or motion plays. And in the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers relied on play-action and motion even more, using play-action on nearly half of Brady’s dropbacks and motion on about three-quarters of all plays.

The Buccaneers didn’t go from inconsistent to invincible because “things just clicked.” They went from inconsistent to invincible because they leaned into their strengths. So, rest of the NFL, there’s your winning formula: Sign Tom Brady and do more of the things you do well.

Using more play-action was a subject of discussion early in the season, but the Bucs sort of blew it off. Joe vividly remembers Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, when asked why he doesn’t call more play-action because positive results of these types of plays were so clear.

Leftwich’s response? He said he didn’t know. (And this from a guy allegedly in charge of the Bucs offense.)

Now feel free to concoct your own conspiracy theory here (if you believe there is one). Did Brady really not fully know the Arians’ playbook until the Chiefs game? It’s possible. Or did Arians capitulate to Brady and radically decide to start crafting the offense more toward what Brady wanted? Or was Brady checking out of play-action calls?

Joe isn’t sure there is an exact answer.

What Joe does know is the Bucs were a different team after the loss to the Chiefs and are still undefeated since that day.

If that is the type of offense we can now expect, this is going to be an especially fun season.

28 Responses to “Bruce Arians, Tom Brady And Play-Action Passes”

  1. Medicated Pete Says:

    Brady went from looking frustrated w/ the offense to happy. That’s all i know

  2. Cannon Says:

    Admit it… every time you saw Brady pop out with a play action, you knew good things were about to happen.

  3. SB Says:

    Byron Leftwich has the easiest Job in the NFL.
    Just watch Tom work.

  4. Mike Says:

    Less predictable plays where the defense must hesitate to discover the nature of the play vs. predictable playcalling make a huge difference. Kudos to the Bucs for putting together a better gameplan.

  5. AKicknTheBucNuts Says:

    Let’s hope BL reads this article and now knows what made the difference and sticks to it.

  6. TSmitty3000 Says:

    One thing people miss is Brady is the first QB Arians had who could check him. Arians had rookies or QBs at a career crossroads. Brady is a made man and he had the clout to check a rigid Arians. Glad it worked out for the Bucs.

  7. PSL Bob Says:

    And now this year with Brady understanding his receivers better and knowing they too can read defenses, play action will kill our opponents. TB12 threw quite a few bad passes in 2020 because he wasn’t sure of the routes his receivers would run. Not this year. Great time to be a Bucs fan.

  8. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Perhaps it was that 98 yard run from Rojo that started to open up our play-action.

  9. Bucshot Says:

    After 4th down debacle in Chicago…… everyone turned it up a notch. GO BUCS!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    It’s weird then to revisit the comment by one of the coaches that they were about 8 games away from clicking with 4 regular season games left.

    I wonder if he took into account the play action and motion plays going up?

    I would agree if we start the season off with Brady and AB knowing the playbook, and we aren’t trying to save some plays for the playoffs, we should cover Dallas rather handily.

    I really thought Todd Bowles had the team play a ton of off coverage through-out the season and that was because he knew what he wanted to do against the Mahomes and Allen teams. Press Man teams like NO and Green Bay. What a clever coach man.

  11. Listnfrmafar Says:

    The ability to recognize what is and what isn’t working is the key. KC failed to adjust in the SB and it cost them. They thought Mahomes could beat the Bucs with the same game plan as earlier in the year.

  12. Chris@Apple Roof Cleaning Tampa Says:

    I agree that it was that 98 yard run from Rojo that started to open up our play-action.
    Just the THREAT of a running game freezes the defenders on play action passes.
    LOL, we would have won that Chiefs game we lost, we just ran out of time.
    We never lost, after that game.

  13. TomBrady_converted bucs fan Says:

    This isn’t rocket science. As a die hard unabashed Tom Brady fan boy who has watched every game of his pro career… I was so frustrated by the terrible unimaginative offensive play calling the first 8-10 games.

    Brady’s best strength is his ability to read defenses and find the open man…doing paly action and motion plays allows him to do exactly that. I understand why folks considered bowles again for HC but leftwich has no business being a HC. Admitting he “doesn’t know” why not call more play action infuriated me back when he said it and shows he isn’t ready.

    Hopefully we start off the season doing it.. also it perfectly playa well into Antonio browns skillset. He is amazing in motion. It’s no coindince Brady played better was brown was in the mix.

  14. Youngbucs Says:

    😂 the Bucs were 1 of the top offenses in yds and scoring the first 8 gms 🛑. But no doubt the got even better !!!!

  15. Winny Testaverde Says:

    An article like this reminds me how many people Brady has made look good/great throughout his career. Leftwich’s answer may be all we need to know about his lack of head coaching opportunities ( although Marshall may have wanted him ). Tom came out of the bye week looking for blood. It truly was the best 8 game stretch in Buccaneer history after that.

  16. unbelievable Says:

    They said the same thing about pre-snap motion…

    Then they started doing it more and- voila! 30+ ppg.

  17. Rod Munch Says:

    Same thing was true with Jameis. Then they used the playaction pass, the Bucs were dramatically more productive. Under Dirk it was even worse since he’d spend the whole 1st half running up the gut on every first down, then in the 2nd half, he’d come out in shotgun on 1st down — completely eliminating the threat of the run. It was infuriating and stupid. You spend an entire half setting up the playaction pass, only to go to an obvious passing formation when you wanted to pass. Idiot.

  18. SOEbuc Says:

    “Leftwich’s response? He said he didn’t know. (And this from a guy allegedly in charge of the Bucs offense.)”

    “Oh wait, now I remember. We couldn’t use PA because I never put my RB that averaged 5.1 YPC on the field.”-BL


  19. SOEbuc Says:

    Teams is gonna be gettin the bad motion sickness from Brady and Godwin this year.

  20. Steve Burke Says:

    We ain’t seen nothin’ yet…..wait ’til you see Brady start running a full blown “hurry-up” with this amount of talent

  21. Oneilbuc Says:

    I thought they didn’t change the offense 🤔 lol 😆🤣 !! I told yall they did and it was the right move !! The no risk it no biscuit offense does not work facts !!!

  22. Oneilbuc Says:

    Rob Munch stop lieing I didn’t see a play action pass in 2019 and you know it lol 😆😂!!! How you going to run a play action play and teams knew you ain’t running the ball 🤣 !! That’s why I feel sorry for Kyle Trask!! I hope he don’t become the scapegoat of this team!! That no risk it no biscuit offense is trash !!

  23. Ohta Says:

    Was pretty obvious Leftwhich was the core problem with the offense early in the season. No one really believes Brady was ok was throwing 40 yard bombs on 3 and 1 lol

  24. Natural Selection Says:

    2 of Tom’s first 3 picks of the season were on play action calls in the first couple games. Tom also got blown up at least once on a missed play action blocking assignment. It should be noted that play action and motion would require practice to run properly. I think we wanted to blend more of “Tom’s stuff” from the start and got pandemiced. People point to they bye, and Scotty confirmed we installed additional line checks at that time. I don’t think the offensive staff was resistive to changing nearly as much as the team didn’t have time to practice the stuff Tom knew but was new to them. Then we got she’ll shocked by some disastrous results early, injuries to the receivers piled up, and we had to tread water until the reps could get stacked in practice.

  25. PassingThru Says:

    The early interceptions had nothing to do with play action. They resulted from poor chemistry between Brady and his receivers. Receivers run option routes which depend upon what the QB and receivers see on the field in post-snap coverage. They weren’t on the same page. The INTs improved for the most part from improved chemistry as the season progressed, which is to be expected.

    Play action was used during practice, I think the offense stagnating made them flip the switch during the first Atlanta game and start using it. This isn’t a criticism of BA or Leftwich, at the very least you have to praise them for being flexible enough to listen, let the guys integrate it into practice and morph the offense.

  26. DavidBigBucFan99 Says:

    THIS is what I been saying for so long! Arians is the reason the offense took so long to click. Nobody should have been surprised being that he has no big use for tight ends nor really thinks as much of the running backs as most coaches do. He didn’t make use of motion or pre snap reads. He even said it himself before but he placed the blame on Brady. He shoves his No Riskit No Biskit down peoples throats no matter how many interceptions his qbs threw. Look at Jameis 1st year in his system, yeah most of them were on ATM but some were on BA’s play calling and his refusal to adjust. Our offense did not start to click until he changed.

  27. DalvinCookRules Says:

    BA and BL had Tom Brady looking like a spitting image of Winston after the first few games in terms of throwing questionable passes and forcing turnovers. Kudos to Brady, having much more experience, knowledge, and clout than Winston for forcing BL and BA to abandon the insanity of that ridiculously stupid offense and do things The Brady Way. THAT is what changed the offense. The fact that BL is being mentioned for HC jobs is just further evidence of how insane this world has become.

  28. BucEmUp Says:

    Leftwich is not a good OC. He is sub par at best. I’m sure he is a great dude and nothing bad to say about him as a person, but it took influence to start game planning on offense. Leftwich saidf it himself in. a post game presser years ago that the opponent they face week in/week out had absolutley nothing to do with his weekly game plan, and that as long as things were executed properly the points would come.

    This is why I am still high on Winston. I’m glad we have Brady, but I am also glad to see Jameis getting an hosest shot to start on an already well established, and well coached complete football team. The offense design and planning was night and day different later in the season. Someone finally thought of making the change and his name wasnt Bryron.