Tampa Bay Bucs 2021 Team Study

Part 23 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 22 here: New Orleans Saints. Part 24 now available: Carolina Panthers.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
5.47 +0.55 4th


Offensive Eff. Rating (red) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
3rd 4th 1st


The ageless Tom Brady extended his legacy in 2021 with another great season. He didn’t win his eighth Super Bowl, but he led one of the NFL’s top offenses yet again. The Bucs executed efficiently in both the run and pass game, but leaned more heavily on the pass than any team in the NFL. When you do both well and lean into the pass, you’ll have an effective offense every time.

This success began up front. The Bucs’ offensive line excelled in both pass blocking and run blocking. But I also think Brady himself (and, arguably, the coaches) deserve credit for the offensive line success because he executed a quick-hitting passing game that did not allow pressure to get to him on most plays. The Bucs gave up the lowest rate of pressures in the NFL because of this symbiotic relationship between the line and the scheme. Brady’s anticipation and quick decision-making made it possible.

This led to the greatest success in high-leverage situations. They had the 3rd-best conversion rate on third and fourth down and the 2nd-best red zone efficiency. They were at their best against the blitz and high-pressure teams because their short time to throw negated the impact of pressure completely. Chart A shows the Bucs’ Adjusted Effectiveness against each defense ranked by its pressure rate on the season. Almost all of the Bucs' strongest relative performances came against teams in the top 8 in pressure rate, who tended to fluster less experienced quarterbacks or dominate weaker offensive lines. The Bucs handled them well.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent pressure rate on the season.

This whole thing worked because the Bucs could win against coverage with Godwin, Evans, Antonio Brown (for part of the season), Gronkowski, and even Fournette and the other tight ends. Brady is accurate and makes good decisions, but a quick-hitting passing game does not work if the receivers do not get open. So as long as Brady has these weapons, this whole system works. Brady is one of the NFL’s best orchestrators, but he still relies on talent around him because he is not the type of quarterback to create everything by himself.

We saw what can happen to this offense when the Bucs were not able to win on routes. Against New Orleans, after Antonio Brown had quit and Mike Evans and Chris Godwin got hurt after fewer than 20 snaps, Brady was forced to play with Scottie Miller, Tyler Johnson, and Jaelon Darden at receiver. Losing top receivers hurts any team. But the Bucs were completely discombobulated and got shutout in an embarrassing 9-0 loss. It helped that the Saints were able to exert natural pressure of course, but this was a window into what the Brady-led offense could look like without talent around him.

The offensive line has lost some key pieces in Ali Marpet (retired) and Alex Cappa (Bengals). Given how effective Brady has been at limiting time in the pocket, this should not be a disaster. But it is a slight cause for concern. Last year I would not have called the offense fragile, with depth at every key position. But this year, especially with Godwin likely not ready at the start of the season off an ACL injury, it feels like they are one or two injuries away from potentially struggling on this side of the ball, at least relative to the lofty expectations. Leonard Fournette was fantastic last year but looked much worse earlier in his career behind a weaker offensive line.

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