The Detroit Lions are traveling to Florida in Week 6, facing off against the NFC South division-leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Lions opened the week as three-point favorites and you can check out the updated odds for this game courtesy of the folks over at DraftKings Sportsbook.
“Tampa playing good football right now, 3-1,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said of the Buccaneers. “I’ve coached with (Buccaneers coach) Todd Bowles at Miami, known him a long time. I think he’s an excellent coach. He’s doing a great job out there. Playing good defense, they’re committed to the run on offense. (Buccaneers QB) Baker (Mayfield)’s playing good football. They’re plus-seven in the turnover ratio, which has been big for them. They’re converting on third down. Defensively, they’re stingy in the red zone, so we’ve got our hands full. This is a damn good opponent, so. But we’re looking forward to it, we’re looking forward to it. Our guys will be ready to go and this is day one.”
If the Lions want to keep their winning streak alive, they’ll need to follow the keys to victory laid out in this week’s Honolulu Blueprint.
Buccaneers’ base schemes
Buccaneers West Coast offense:
After moving on from Byron Leftwich this offseason, the Bucs hired first-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales as a replacement. Canalas joined Pete Carroll the USC coaching staff in 2009 and followed him to the Seahawks, where he had coached the previous 13 seasons.
While Carroll is unsurprisingly Canales’ biggest influencer as a leader/coach, Canales draws most of his scheme inspiration from Seattle’s offensive coordinator Shane Waldron—who learned under Sean McVay during his time with the Rams. Like Waldron, Canales deploys a West Coast offense that leans on multiple receivers, play-action, pre-snap motion, and a zone-blocking run scheme.
One of the biggest wrinkles that Canales incorporated into the Bucs’ scheme is a lot of play designs that require mobility from the quarterback position. That plays to Baker Mayfield’s strengths and is a significant reason why he is having a career resurgence in Tampa.
“I think what they’re asking (Mayfield) to do and the scheme really suits him well,” Campbell said. “They’re making a true commitment to the run. There’s a lot of boots that are involved, play-action pass and when you’re playing good defense too, man that’s right in his wheelhouse. He’s very competitive, like he’s always been and he’s finding ways to make plays if it’s not there. He’s able to move in the pocket, eyes downfield finds a throw, he breaks contain, and then he’s not going down. [...] He is a competitive sucker, man.”
Buccaneers run a 2-4-5 out of a 34 base defense:
The Bucs technically have two defensive coordinators, Larry Foote and Kacy Rodgers, but the reality is that their scheme and play calling are all conceptualized and performed by head coach Todd Bowles. Bowles has been coaching in the NFL for 23 seasons and has a decade's worth of experience calling plays on defense.
During his time calling plays, Bowles has always operated out of a 34 base scheme, but he has been able to successfully adapt his scheme to adjust to players and the ever-changing NFL offensive preferences. For example, while the Bucs still lean on 34 concepts—like standup pass rushing outside linebackers—, they only use a true 34 base personnel on a third of their defensive snaps, instead spending the majority of their time in subpackage looks, and adjusting to a 2-4-5 scheme (pictured below).
The Bucs have always been a heavy blitzing defense under Bowles and this year is no different, as they’re currently blitzing on 39% of their defensive snaps, fourth most in the NFL. But a new wrinkle for the Bucs this season is their ability to successfully drop edge rushers Joe Tyron-Shoyinka or Shaquil Barrett into coverage, allowing them to blitz off-the-ball linebacker Devon White, and in turn, causing problems for offensive lines in picking up their blocking assignments.
Despite its evolution, the Lions should have a firm grasp on Bowles’ scheme, as they know the coach very well. Not only did he coach on the same staff in Miami as Campbell (2010-11), but he was also Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s position coach in 2000 (Jets) and in 2005-6 (Cowboys). Campbell was also a player for the Cowboys in 2005. These coaches go way back.
Key 1: Keep the Bucs run game under wraps
“I do know they’re committed to (the run) and usually when you’re committed to it, that’s a really good sign for play-action,” Glenn said of the Bucs rushing attack. “So, I think they’re doing a really good job with, ‘Listen, it’s not working. We’re going to get away from it now.’ This head coach and this coordinator is sticking with it, what I think is a really good plan on offense.”
The Bucs “commitment” to the run was a constant theme from Lions coaches this week. And when you look at the numbers, it’s a very true statement. Through four games, the Bucs have attempted 126 passes and run the ball 117 times. That is certainly a balanced offensive play distribution.
So what’s the problem? The Bucs are only averaging 3.0 yards per carry, dead last in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Lions are only allowing 3.3 yards per rush on defense, good for the third-best mark in the League.
If the Lions can lock down the Bucs run game, as they’ve been doing to teams all season, they’ll make Tampa one-dimensional, and force Mayfield to beat them.
Key 2: Stop the passing game at the source
Now, Mayfield has some serious weapons on offense. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are two of the best in the game, and if Evans returns to full health for this game, they will present the biggest problems for the Lions defense.
“We’re going to have to be able to challenge these guys,” Campbell said of Evans and Godwin. “We can’t just let them run down the field. But our guys are competitive, man. Cam (Sutton) and Jerry (Jacobs) on him, I like it, I do. But I think it’s all-encompassing. Got a challenge there, but we’ve got to continue to do what we’ve been doing. We have to close this pocket in on Baker, and because there’s so much play pass, we’ve got to transition into rush from run quickly because this ball gets out quick.”
The Lions will have a hard time shutting down the Bucs wide receivers, so their approach should be to eliminate big plays and try and stop the passing game at the source.
“Very impressed with how he’s looking on tape,” Glenn said of Mayfield. “Played against him our first year, I think we had two INTs but it was a sloppy game. I think it was raining that game. But I’ll tell you what, he is a big-time competitor. That can hurt you and that can help you, right, in his case? [...] And they’re doing a good job with him allowing him to manage the game. When he can get a chance to take his shots, he’s going to take his shots because he has those two big guys out there. He trusts those guys, he’ll throw it up to them.”
Pressure will be key to forcing Mayfield’s hand, as pressure can turn his aggressiveness into sloppiness really fast. And it surely helps to have the league’s top pressure generator coming off the edge.
Key 3: Introduce Aidan Hutchinson to Luke Goedeke
“I mean, there’s elite pass rushers all over this league,” Tampa Bay right tackle Luke Goedeke said to the Pewter Report about his upcoming matchup with Lions edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson. “I’ve already faced Danielle Hunter (Vikings), and I would put him above Aidan Hutchinson, to be honest, and Cam Jordan (Saints).”
Not totally center of the bulletin board material, but you can guarantee that this message ended up finding its way to Hutchinson.
Goedeke was drafted in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft and started seven games at left guard and one at right tackle as a rookie, earning a 46.7 overall grade from PFF. This past season, he shifted back outside to right tackle and has looked considerably more comfortable, earning a 70.0 overall grade from PFF through four games, good for 26th amongst tackles.
Jordan and Hunter are certainly terrific edge rushers, and their resumes are certainly longer than Hutchinson’s, but it’s hard to argue that many edge rushers are playing as well as the Lions’ second-year edge rusher.
Through five games, Hutchinson leads the NFL in pressures with 35 and has registered four sacks, one fumble recovery, and one interception to his name. His PFF grade of 91.4 overall puts him fourth-best amongst this year’s edge rushers.
In his last game against the Panthers, he squared off with Taylor Moton, who has never surrendered more than five pressures in any one game... Until last week, when he gave up eight to Hutchinson. This was Hutchinson’s second week in a row registering eight pressures, and his PFF pass rush win rate is 21.5%, good for ninth highest in the league.
Hutchinson has been able to elevate his game so quickly due to two main factors. First, his tireless work ethic, and second, his offseason transition of adding more power to his frame.
As a junior at Michigan, Hutchinson broke his leg, and that recovery process took a toll on his lower half. Now over two years removed from that injury, it was noticeable that Hutchinson had finally regained significant mass and muscle in his legs. It was a theme all training camp that Hutchinson looked significantly bigger in his lower half and he had a new level of power that was generated from his legs.
That power has completely caught offensive linemen off-guard this season, specifically with his bull rush, and he has been able to embarrass offensive tackles who haven’t properly prepared themselves.
Look for Hutchinson to use his speed to power skills early against Goedeke and try and throw him off his game, and in turn, setting him up for more advanced pass rushing moves throughout the game. It’s basically the same game plan he has deployed all season, and so far, no one has been able to stop him.
Key 4: Ground and Pound
The Lions have made a significant investment in establishing the run and they have been one of the most efficient running teams in the league, as illustrated by their No. 5 DVOA ranking in rushing offense.
Last week the Lions averaged 5.3 yards per carry, but the more impressive stat is that they gained an average of 3.2 yards per rush before contact, a credit to the dominance of their offensive line.
Standing in their way this week is Bucs nose tackle Vita Vea.
“Yeah, Vita Vea is something else in there,” Campbell said. “He’s a big powerful man. He’s hard to move. He can push the pocket. I think just in the run game, it starts there with him.”
By using two stand-up pass rushing outside linebackers, the Bucs try to funnel runs back inside to Vea, thus clogging up the middle. But the Lions gap scheme can counter that philosophy from the Bucs. the pin-and-pull concepts are designed to disrupt outside contain, and the Lions have a talented running back who understands fully when the blocking scheme calls for him to do.
“He’s a stud,” quarterback Jared Goff said of running back David Montgomery. “He’s fit in just perfectly with us and does such a great job every day. And obviously, you guys see him on gameday, the stuff he does. But his leadership, his ability both in the run and the pass, his attention to detail in protection I think is pretty special. Not all running backs typically care about that, they want the ball, they want to run. He’s very adamant on making sure I’m protected and making sure he’s doing his responsibility which is nice to have a guy back there like that. It makes me feel good.”
Can Montgomery make it three 100+ rushing yard games in a row? The Lions may need him to get close.
Key 5: Keep stacking explosive plays
“Calculated,” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said of the word that best describes his playcalling. “I guess that’s one way to say it. Like I said, we put a lot of time as a staff into building a good plan, putting our guys in the right spots.”
One significant result of getting playmakers into the “right spots” is that the results have been an increased number of big plays.
Most big plays through Week 5: pic.twitter.com/oCykjEZJph— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 12, 2023
The Bucs have a stingy passing defense, but if the Lions can suck the linebackers down further into the box, the opportunities for big plays will be there, and Goff needs to take his shots.
As we saw on the first drive in Week 5, aggressive shots downfield lead to explosive plays, and explosive plays lead to points.