Pass (On First Down) To Win

July 20th, 2022

Sling it!

Warren Sharp has become a believer in Byron Leftwich. Or Tom Brady. Or former Super Bowl-winning coach Bucco Bruce Arians. Or whoever was calling the shots on the offense.

And as a result, renowned handicapper and stathead Sharp is now a big believer in the Bucs’ offense being able to adjust with new personnel. Because Sharp believes the Bucs (you pick who) have seen the light.

Sharp used to rail on Twitter about how much the Bucs ran on first downs. He thought this was terrible not just from a predictability standpoint, but running on first downs handcuffs your offense.

Sharp typed in his Warren Sharp’s 2022 Football Preview how the Bucs threw more on first downs last year. This gave the Bucs fewer yards to convert on third downs, which increased the team’s first-down conversions and greased the wheels of the offense as a whole.

This adjustment gives Sharp comfort that the Bucs will be able to adjust to life after furniture-tossing, bicycle-throwing, V-card-forging quitter Antonio Brown and foot-rubbing Rob Gronkowski.

It was a long dissertation in which Sharp detailed how the offense shifted from run-heavy on first downs to throwing more. Below is an excerpt:

There was nothing more frustrating than watching a team with Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and Antonio Brown take the ball out of Brady’s hands, make these receivers run block, and just stick the ball into Leonard Fournette’s or Ronald Jones’s belly over and over and over with terrible results.

In the playoffs, heading into the Super Bowl, the Bucs went 65% run on first downs in the first quarter. These runs delivered 3.2 YPC, -0.13 EPA/att, and a 46% success rate. The Bucs went 58% run on first downs in the game’s first three quarters in the playoffs. I couldn’t believe it. It’s one thing to be well above average in run rate with Jameis Winston at quarterback, but this team added Tom Brady. With the modern rules as they are, and offenses evolved to adapt, literally, the only thing that can stop an average offense against an average defense is predictability. What the Bucs had become was very predictable on offense. …

I tell a lot of teams and coaches that I work with: “If you want to have a great third down conversion rate, focus on early down efficiency to reduce your yards-to-go on third down.” Seems simple, but far too many teams just try to focus on building up a great catalog of plays for third down instead of trying to be efficient on early downs.

And despite injuries to critical players (Playoff Lenny (hamstring), Chris Godwin (knee), Gronk (ribs and lung) Brown (empty head) the Bucs offense was humming last year.

Sharp said the answer is easy to find: Run less on first down; throw on first down to win.

17 Responses to “Pass (On First Down) To Win”

  1. Onetrickpony Says:

    Yes it was run on 1st downs so much that you knew what was coming with hardly any mixing it up.

  2. Defense Rules Says:

    Sharp … ‘What the Bucs had become was very predictable on offense.’

    Yea verily, but not just on 1st down. Bucs’ play-calling was constantly predictable. Look at just the 1st half of the Rams playoff game.

    Bucs’ 1st drive. Bucs’ Play 1: Fournette run off right tackle – 11 yards. FIRST DOWN. Bucs’ Play 2: Fournette run off left guard – 10 yards. FIRST DOWN. Bucs’ Play 3: Fournette run up the middle – 2 yards. SECOND DOWN AND 8, followed by 2 INCOMPLETE short passes and a punt. Rams countered with a FG … Rams 3, Bucs 0.

    Was the 1st run predictable? Nah. The 2nd one? Possibly not. The 3rd one, against a stout defense like the Rams? I’m guessing yes.

    Bucs’ 2nd drive wasn’t any better. Bucs’ Play 1: Fournette run off right tackle – 1 yard. SECOND DOWN AND 9, followed by 2 INCOMPLETE short passes and a punt. Sound familiar? Rams countered with a TD … Rams 10, Bucs 0.

    Bucs’ 3rd drive became less predictable. Bucs’ Play 1: Brady PASS to Fournette – 13 yards. FIRST DOWN. Bucs’ Play 2: Brady PASS to Gronk – 29 yards. FIRST DOWN. Bucs’ Play 3: Fournette run up the middle – 1 yard. SECOND DOWN AND 9, followed by a 5-yard pass to Miller & an incomplete pass on 3rd down to Brate, then a 45-yard FG by Succop … Rams – 10, Bucs – 3.

    Thus ends the 1st quarter after the Bucs’ kickoff & 1 run play by the Rams. After Vea sacks Stafford to open the 2nd qtr to force a 3RD DOWN AND 20, Stafford hits Kupp for a 70-yard TD … Rams 17, Bucs 3. Bummer.

    So how do we respond to get back into it? Bucs’ 4th drive, Play 1: Fournette off right tackle again – 3 yards. 2ND DOWN AND 7. Followed by 2 INCOMPLETE passes then a punt. Rams countered with a very long 12-play, 41-yard drive resulting in a FG … Rams 20, Bucs 3.

    Bucs got it one more time … resulting in a sack of Brady, followed by an interception returned to the Tampa 31. Thankfully the Bucs’ defense forced a fumble that kept the Rams from scoring again, or it might’ve gotta out of hand right there.

    Predictable play-calling? Bucs had 6 rushes, all by Fournette. ALL ON 1st DOWN … 11, 10, 2, 1, 1, 3 yards. THREE over right tackle … substitute Josh Wells. Tom Brady threw for less than 50% in that half (10-for-22) … all of them short except for the last one (which was intercepted).

    And BTW, Tom Brady was 3 for his first 11 passes (that didn’t help). He threw on 1st down SIX times in that 1st half … completed FIVE.

  3. SB~LV Says:

    Yawn…. Scratching…. Fart… good morning folks
    Are we there yet?

  4. Bob in valrico Says:

    Another thing that slowed our offense down in Rams playoff game was too many throws into a lot of multiple
    coverages to Gronk early on. Brady was 4 for 11 when he targeted Gronk in the game. IMO, Evans was not involved enough until the second half of the game.

  5. geno711 Says:

    We are a better team when passing the ball, even on 1st down.

    Brady faced the least amount of heat among quarterbacks in terms of pressure percentage on drop backs in ANY of the past three seasons last year at only 20 percent.

  6. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Use play action on 1st downs……it will work best there because defenses are expecting the run.
    And…..on 2nd and 2….that’s when you throw the bomb….
    Use fewer empty backfields…..

  7. #8 Says:

    Seems NFLPA would be ok with an extra week of rookie/UDFA underwear practice or something like that to at least trickle something better than nothing in there? Give us some excitement over random dudes we’ll never speak of again once actual camp starts.

    Split the draft into two weekends (1st round weekend #1, the rest weekend #2).

    That’d be two less weeks of pain.


  8. Alanbucsfan Says:

    I prefer the NFL to Arena football

  9. Ausgust 1976 Buc Says:

    Rod Munch has been singing this tune for years on here.
    Why take the Ball out of the greatest QB to ever play and go neanderthal. 3yards and a cloud of dust/ turf. Yes you have to run to keep teams somewhat off balance, and if you no huddle the whole game, you wear out your defense, because they get back on the field quick whether it is a score or a punt.

    But like sharp said, set up easy yardage.

    I mean think about Golf, you make a lot more 2 foot birdie putts then 7-10 yard birdie attempts.

    Just makes sense. No need to go Brain Scientist and try to cute, just make simple plays.
    I have heard a lot the last couple of years about going up against Brady, death by a thousand paper cuts. Time for more paper cuts on 1st down.

    GO BUCS!!!!!

  10. Vinny from Vermont Says:


  11. lambeau Says:

    The offense evolved as Brady took it over from BA.

  12. Goatfarmer Says:

    DR just triggered my Rams game PTSD.

    Dammit. Argh. (Throwing things. Smashing head against wall. Drinking early.)

  13. Craig Says:

    Way too many runs on first down last season.

    Brady needs have an option on all downs. He can feel what the defense is aiming for and avoid it, most of the time. Let him have his head and see where it goes, he is more in touch with what the defense will give than BL is.

    Shaking it up does not seem to be a BL MO.

  14. Defense Rules Says:

    Sorry Goatfarmer. But it was an appropriate illustration. (And you can thank me later for giving you an excuse to start drinking early).

  15. SPARKY Says:

    I know what you mean Goatman. I keep trying the Quadom Leap thing and going back in time to tell Bowles not to blitz, and put 2 guys on Kupp on that last play. Put a little Pendelton whiskey in your goat milk and try to forget.

  16. Rod Munch Says:

    Nah, you need to run up the gut vs 9-man fronts, that’s what Leftwich has done since he’s got here.

  17. Coburn Says:

    Don’t have to swing for the fences either. Just a nice short completion gives you tons options for 2nd and 3rd. Getting stuffed predictably running on 1st means you’re kind of one dimensional after