The Buccaneers played outstanding defense for most of the second half on Sunday against the Redskins at Raymond James Stadium, which gave the offense, once it finally found a groove, a chance to climb out of an 18-point hole. Unfortunately, after the Bucs’ comeback was complete and Connor Barth’s field goal with 102 seconds left had given the home team a 22-21 lead, the defense wasn’t able to get that one last stop it needed. The Redskins drove 56 yards in 99 seconds to set up Billy Cundiff for the 42-yard game-winning kick.
The most damaging moments during that quick drive were a 20-yard catch-and-run by TE Fred Davis and, two plays later, a 15-yard scramble by QB Robert Griffin III down to the Bucs’ 26. On both plays, the ballcarrier found himself with a wide expanse of green in front of him after initially catching the pass, in Davis’ case, or breaking the pocket, in Griffin’s. Considering how well the Bucs’ defense had performed for the 29 game minutes leading up to those two plays, these big gains appeared to be some sort of lapse.
On Tuesday, Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan talked about the defensive playcalling during those final crucial moments Sunday and suggested the problem on this occasion lay in communication, not the specific plays that were run. The problem in both cases was that different levels of the Bucs’ defense ended up with different information. Sheridan stressed that he was not pinning the breakdowns on any specific player and that the coaches were working to avoid such issues in the future. That could involve calling plays with fewer options in rushed moments such as these.
“In two of the plays, the pressures that were called, there was a fragmentation in it,” said Sheridan. “There weren’t 11 man doing the exact same thing. As often happens, in a critical time in the game there, one was a guy got turned loose in coverage and the other was because of the direction that they had called the pressure. For lack of a better way to describe it I’ll call it miscommunication at the line of scrimmage. We didn’t have the pocket contained in the other one. So it ends up being very blatant and severe issues in the most critical point in the game. So that is what it was. We didn’t have all 11 guys on the same page in regards to an at the line of scrimmage communication.”
On the Griffin run in particular, the miscommunication was evident on the game tape. Griffin broke containment around the right edge of the line and found no defenders anywhere in the general vicinity. As it turned out, the correct play call had all the defensive linemen slanting in that direction, which would have provided the necessary containment. Instead, all of the linemen went the other way, to the same direction from which the second level of pressure was also coming.
“The huddle call would have actually put them angling towards where [Griffin] actually broke out,” explained Sheridan. “Yes there was a miscommunication. We don’t point the blame at any one individual player because ironically all four of the down guys went in the same direction. They were anticipating a second-level guy coming off the edge. The call had been made from the back end guys off the formation to actually come from the other side. If you get a chance or look back at the film, we are angling the front in the same direction that that guy is coming off the edge. So like I said it was a severe fragmentation of the defense and he just walked right out of the pocket.”