The Bucs offense stubbled with the Browns defense on Tuesday – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
After two straight games against 4-3 base defenses and mostly traditional offensive packages, Tampa Bay gets to see different looks on both sides of the ball against the same team this week.
The Cleveland Browns feature three down linemen on defense and utilize zone-read packages with new quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“Cleveland is a 3-4 defense and we’re going to see like eight 3-4 teams over the course of the year, so two extra days of working against a 3-4 are huge,” Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said this week. “And then they’re a zone-read team on offense. That’s not all they do, but over the first couple of games they’ve probably averaged, I’ll say, six or seven zone-read plays a game where the first two teams [we played], not so much. And we need to see zone-read for down the road when we play teams like San Francisco and Seattle and Carolina, of course. Each team is a little bit different, but just playing and working against different guys is good.”
Combined with the preseason, Koetter’s estimate of facing eight 3-4 opponents this year is spot-on. The Bucs wrap up their exhibitions schedule against the Washington Redskins, then face Arizona (Week 2), Denver (Week 4), San Francisco (Week 7), Chicago (Week 10), Kansas City (Week 11) and San Diego (Week 13).
The six regular season opponents utilizing a 3-4 base defense matches last year’s total: Tennessee, Houston, Washington, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Chicago. Quarterback Jameis Winston and the Bucs offense moved the ball well against those teams, averaging slightly more yardage both passing (244.3) and rushing (143.0) than against 4-3 base defenses (238.6 passing and 130.4 rushing).
What they couldn’t manage to do against those teams, however, was win often enough. Week 11’s 45-17 blowout in Philly represented the lone victory.
All teams in the NFL mix defensive packages depending on down, distance and an opponent’s personnel, and Koetter said that’s something the Browns do often.
“You have your even front rules and your odd front rules,” he said. “We are working a lot on our odd front rules on plays. One thing Cleveland does that makes it challenging they mix back and forth. Even within a series they will switch back to even and odd.
“That’s one of the problems a 3-4 does to an offense; they make you be on top of your communication. You’re not always blocking the same rules. Typically, the outside LB’s in 3-4 are really just big defensive ends. So in pass protection your trying to keep your backs from not having to block those guys. You want to make your calls so that your linemen are blocking those outside LB’s and your backs are responsible for those inside guys. In 4-3, you’re fine. Lavonte David is our outside LB. From a size standpoint we would be fine with our back blocking a [guy that size].”
If the first two weeks of preseason are any indication, Tampa Bay is catching a Cleveland defense still trying to find its footing. The Browns have surrendered the most yards from scrimmage (409.0) of any team in the NFL, including a league-worst 187.5 on the ground.
As for facing Griffin and zone-read looks, Bucs defenders said the more practice the better considering one of the league’s premier dual-threat quarterbacks resides in the NFC South.
“It’s very important because we have Cam Newton coming up, who’s going to pretty much run the same type of offense,” said Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. “It’s great to get a lot of work in early on what you’re going to see during the season, especially if somebody’s in your conference who’s been running the conference. So we’re trying to get it down pat so we can go ahead and take their place.”
I don’t really think we’re going to learn much from playing Cleveland (3-4, 4-3, heck they could put 15 guys out there) – I fully expect them to be drafting near the top of the board again next year. All I hope is we keep the starters limited in action and come out of this game with no significant injuries! GO BUCS!
Now I get it. We must have been playing the “odd” defense when we couldn’t stop slant passes last season.
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