Film Review Week 12 - Chris Godwin's First-Half Explosion

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of those teams who are capable of being both good and bad. Jameis Winston is the poster boy of this exact phenomenon. Just weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Winston play in London, and he threw not only an infamous 5 interceptions, but also 400 yards. Like I said, both good and bad. This season, one of the biggest bright spots in the team this year is the breakout of star wide receiver Chris Godwin.

Winston really is spoiled for choice, with already-established Mike Evans as his outside receiver, and now he has Godwin establishing himself as an elite slot. This week, facing the Atlanta Falcons he showed yet another massive performance, within just the first half alone.

When the Buccaneers took a knee and entered the locker room after two quarters, Godwin had already hauled in six of his eventual seven receptions, for an immense 151 yards and found the end zone twice.

6 for 151 and 2. In 30 minutes.

Now, for the record, I could have picked just about any week of the season to do this, because it feels like every Sunday either Mike Evans or Chris Godwin’s names pop up with 100+ yards and a score – they’re literally the wide receiver 3 and 2 in fantasy (half PPR) respectively – but we’re going for Week 12, because Godwin’s first half explosion was even more interesting than just the stat line.

The first target that Godwin saw in this game came on the second drive, when the Bucs came out with a play that was designed to target a specific defense – one which they themselves made famous – and it worked out pretty well for them.

Obviously the defense I’m referring to is Tampa 2 – which is a hybrid Cover 2 look in which the safeties are even less responsible than normal over the deep middle, as they drop a linebacker to help carry any deep routes that would expose the gap between the two-high defensive backs. It’s essentially a Cover 2 which has someone who will make it a Cover 3 when necessary.

There’s a problem with running a Tampa 2, which should seem obvious before I say it, but is the cause for inherent risk when you call it for your defense. For this coverage to work, your linebacker has to be athletically capable of carrying the route, and you need to trust that he will do so without needing any help.

As you can see from the diagram, the way in which they exposed this Tampa 2 was by going with max protection, and sending three routes vertical – one stretches the right safety wide, one stretches the left safety wide, and finally the killer third route is an aggressive seam route which aims right for the middle of the field.

Godwin is at the tip of the bunch to the right of the formation (which includes a tight end but he doesn’t release), and so he actually has to engage with Vic Beasley Jr. before he starts on his route, however, once he gets going, it’s a straight sprint beyond the linebackers.

This pass from Winston is ridiculous, both in its timing and ball placement. He throws it with anticipation, as he is about to get beyond Deion Jones – who, by the way, is literally one of the best fits in the league for this Tampa 2 role – and places it in the exact spot which is between Jones and the oncoming safety.

Now, what happened once Godwin caught the ball is just embarrassing on the Falcons’ part, but we’ll ignore the terrible attempt at tackling. Instead, just respect the concentration by Godwin to make the in traffic and hold onto the ball to spring himself for the long TD, and of course, the play call which attacked the coverage perfectly. 

This angle shows how good of a throw this was from Winston.

The Tampa Bay passing game is a very vertical scheme, and plays like this are not rare in the offense. They spread your defense thin, and have plays dialled up that force you to compete with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans one player at a time. Deion Jones put in a valiant effort on that first play, but to no avail.

The second play is yet another where Godwin has one person trying to stop him, and as you can imagine it didn’t work.

Here’s a quiz question for you: What type of coverage are the Falcons in here?

Spoiler alert, answer incoming.

This is so – almost frustratingly – obviously man coverage. The Tampa offense has come out lined up in a heavy set with a slot stack (Evans and Godwin) split to the field side.

There is one further problem that the Falcons face which is even more dangerous than being so obviously in a Cover 1 man, and that is that these two receivers have plenty of room to both the inside and towards the sideline. There is no limit to what these two wideouts can do.

I’m not a massive fan of the depth of the second defender over the stack, however I imagine the linebackers inside are primed for communication that might require them to get their heads to a crossing receiver.

As I would expect, thanks to some savvy manoeuvring from his QB to buy time, Godwin gets open against the man coverage and has an easy play for a nice gain, to keep his yardage ticking on.

Godwin and Evans run a pretty interesting combination, with a corner route over the top of a bench (or deep out) route. The alignments being so similar due to the stack makes this look a bit unusual, with two people running to near enough the same place, but once Godwin breaks to the sideline, he gets plenty of separation that takes him away from both his defender and teammate.

This second angle is a great one to show that Winston’s footwork and eyes were great on this play. He knows he has man coverage, and he just needs to avoid pressure for a second, because Godwin will get open on the break. As soon as his receiver is open, he gets the ball out there and moves the chains on the first play of the drive without breaking a sweat.

Just two plays later in the drive, Godwin popped up once again.

The Falcons try, once again, to run the Tampa 2 defense, here and get made pay in almost the same way as last time (and this isn’t even the last time), attacking the seam with an aggressive throw.

The Buccaneers line up in a more recognisable looking offense than they did on the first play we saw against the Tampa 2, but they use the same strategy to beat it. They have multiple people running vertically, one is widening the safety, and then one (almost always Godwin, as he is their slot) is finding space up the seam.

On the first play, Jones was able to make things difficult for Winston to find his receiver because the route was straight down the middle of the field, but this time the angle is way less forgiving, and Jones can’t get close. Also, because Godwin starts much wider, all he has to do is leave some space inside for Winston to place the ball.

This catch isn’t as contested, but Godwin still has to pull it in and prepare for a hit from a safety, again.
At least, this time the safety actually tackles him, not until he’s got a 30-yard gain, though.

And finally, when this drive comes to an end…

Guess who.

This is a nice play design to run on the goal line, and it worked well – even though Winston had to throw the ball behind to avoid a buzzed out fake-blitzing defender who was directly .

The Buccaneers line up with a slot stack to the right, and then a pretty standard spread alignment to the boundary side on the offensive left. Godwin is in the slot, and then he goes in motion across the formation to the stack side.

When number 12 goes in motion this play is all but over. When I was watching this game live, I said ‘Touchdown Godwin’ before the ball was even snapped.

As he starts to cross the formation, Kendall Sheffield, the defensive back lined up over him, follows, and that is how I (and Jameis) knew it was going to be money. Not only did this indicate man coverage on Chris Godwin, which is difficult to say the least, more importantly it meant I knew exactly what the two receivers on the right would be doing.

They run routes to create traffic, while Godwin runs a flat route to the goal line, and Winston gets it out so fast that Sheffield should have absolutely no chance, due to the rub concept. Now fair play to him, the pass wasn’t the best, but the fact that he actually hits Godwin here is impressive. Fortunately for Winston, his guy makes a fantastic catch anyway and scores his second TD of the game.

This seriously was an outrageous catch, and the second angle actually does a great job of demonstrating how awkward of a throw Winston had to make to actually get this ball to him.

This drive was all Godwin. 4 receptions (one wasn’t worth watching, for one yard) on a seven-play drive. 4 receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown.

After Godwin’s second scoring drive, you’d think that the Falcons would be on red alert (they probably were, to be fair, but it didn’t help) but Godwin still had one more big play in him in his monstrous first half performance.

Hilariously, once again, it came with yet another seam route. But there’s slightly more that I found interesting. So, let’s take a look at the play before, too.

Here the offense lines up five-wide and Jameis runs a QB draw from the empty backfield for a short gain.

Not that exciting? Well watch the next snap.

This is one snap later, and they come out five-wide again, with a very similar look.

Feel free to compare the two plays yourself, if you wish, but I’ll tell you what changes. The Falcons defense goes from running a two-high man coverage to a – you guessed it – Tampa 2 coverage.

They haven’t learned? Or, maybe, the Bucs outsmarted them.

On 2nd and 12, Winston rushed up the middle on a QB draw for just a three-yard gain.

Three yards seems a bit underwhelming – but it scares Atlanta out of man coverage, which doesn’t account for the QB in an empty backfield, and puts them back into the zone that they’ve been picking apart.

Tactical lesson aside, they got what they wanted, and once again Godwin got open.

This play art looks different to the previous two designs that we’ve seen picking apart the Tampa 2 so far, but they’re doing the same thing.

The furthest right route widens the right-side safety. The out route from the left slot widens the left-side safety. Now you’ve got a wide-open middle of the field with a backtracking linebacker trying to protect the most vulnerable area against a crosser/post hybrid from the number 3 receiver to the right, and Godwin’s deadly seam route from the 2.

Obviously, this poor linebacker – not even Jones this time – tries to stop the post, and Jameis Winston delivers an almost identical pass to his last seam route, and fits it in the gap between the Tampa 2 LB and the safety.

Just a couple of plays later the Buccaneers scored again, with a sneaky play to defensive tackle Vita Vea, to go into halftime up 19-10.

Chris Godwin absolutely dominated in the first half of the game against the Falcons, and I found it hilarious when I watched the film and realised that all of his biggest plays were basically the same.

When you comb through film like I do there is nothing better than finding a consistency or a repetition, and this was that in a nutshell.

This week we learned something.

Don’t run Tampa 2 against Tampa Bay.

Tyler Arthur

NFL Film and Prospect Analyst

A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL. 


Image credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports