Can Tom Brady and the Buccaneers Offense Rebound on Monday Night Football?

The Saints have given Tom Brady and the Buccaneers a lot of trouble over the past three years. Can Tampa Bay's offense get it together on Monday Night Football?

Tom Brady posted his best performance of the season in a Week 10 win over the Seattle Seahawks, but following a bye week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense returned to Earth in a surprising loss to the Cleveland Browns. With a Monday night matchup against the division rival Saints on tap, the Bucs need to get their offense in order as the postseason approaches.

Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Must Sort Out Their Offensive Issues

No Brady-led team has ever managed fewer than nine regular-season wins, but the Buccaneers might not top that threshold at their current pace. Luckily for them, the state of the NFC South means Tampa Bay is virtually assured of a playoff berth no matter how poorly they play down the stretch.

While the Bucs are just 5-6 heading into Week 13, the second-place Falcons are 5-8 following a two-game losing streak. FiveThirtyEight gives Tampa Bay a 78% chance to make the postseason, while DraftKings sets their odds of a playoff spot at -400. Barring a complete collapse, they’ll be in the tournament.

Still, the Buccaneers won’t be a legitimate Super Bowl threat unless they can display some offensive improvement, and they’ll face a stiff test against the Saints. Brady has a 2-4 record against New Orleans since joining Tampa Bay in 2020, and Dennis Allen’s defense has held the future Hall of Famer to three points or less on two occasions.

As the Bucs try to get back on track, there are a few problems they must try to solve.

Lean Into the Play-Action Game

Byron Leftwich may be an NFL head coach someday, but as of last month, he still believed in the debunked myth that teams need a flourishing rushing attack to facilitate a play-action game.

“We’ve got to do a better job of running it, right?” Leftwich said in November. “There’s no such thing as play-action pass without running it [well] enough for it to be true . . . [Play-actions] come off how well you’re running the ball — it’s always been. Or you’re just wasting time doing a [play-action] — it won’t do the job that you’re setting out for it to do.”

As Ben Baldwin explored for Football Outsiders in 2018, play-action success has little correlation with rushing success. Linebackers tend to bite on run fakes regardless of how well their opponent runs the ball.

That’s been true this season in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have the league’s worst rushing attack by EPA per play, but Brady has still been effective on play-action despite deploying run fakes on an NFL-low 16.1% of his dropbacks.

MORE: Monday Night Football NFL Inactives

Per Sports Info Solutions, Brady has generated 13.67 total EPA on play-action attempts, the 11th-best total in the league. Of those attempts, 52.7% have produced positive EPA, good for seventh best among qualifying quarterbacks.

Luckily, Leftwich might have learned this lesson over the past month, as Brady posted two of his three highest play-action rates of the season in Weeks 10 and 12, according to PFF. It could be a viable strategy to open up the passing game and create more deep attempts against a Saints defense that might be without Marshon Lattimore, who’s been out with an abdomen injury since Week 5 and is questionable for Monday Night Football.

Keep Involving Rachaad White

Everyone knows Brady loves his pass-catching running backs, and third-round rookie Rachaad White could become James White reincarnate. White’s nine receptions against the Browns last week tied for the second-most from a first-year RB over the past five seasons.

Coming out of Arizona State, White was viewed as perhaps the best receiving back in the 2022 draft. He’s a dynamic athlete in space and comes with much more juice than veteran Leonard Fournette, who may sit out for the second straight game thanks to a hip injury.

The Saints’ Demario Davis and Pete Werner are two of the NFL’s best coverage linebackers, and New Orleans ranks 12th in DVOA against running backs in the passing game. But an ankle issue has kept Werner off the field since Week 9, and he’s questionable for Monday.

If the Bucs can get White lined up on backup Saints LB Kaden Elliss, they could produce some explosive run-after-catch yardage.

Can Josh Wells Hold Up at Right Tackle?

Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been battered all season long, and they won’t have All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs for the next month or so after he suffered an ankle injury in Week 12. Josh Wells, who filled for Donovan Smith at left tackle earlier this year, will take over on the right side.

Thankfully for the Bucs, the Saints shouldn’t present that much of a challenge from a pass-protection standpoint. New Orleans ranks 31st with a 31% pass-rush win rate, and they generate pressure on just 17.8% of dropbacks, seventh worst in the NFL.

Tampa Bay could use its tight ends and running backs to pass protect, either as true blockers or via chip help. But they might not need to, given the Saints’ problems getting after opposing quarterbacks.

Brady also gets rid of the ball faster than any signal-caller in the league. If Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport don’t win immediately, it will likely be too late to affect the pocket.

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