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Jon Gruden: Genius of the Game Manager Quarterback

This is a brief look at Tampa's offense. We'll talk Monte Kiffen's still very Tampa 2 defense tomorrow. I know the Bucs have diverged a bit from the Dungy-era regimented Tampa 2 (Gasp! A blitz), but the foundation is still there and the underpinnings of Chuck Knoll, Bud Carson, Tony Dungy and Monty Kiffen's brainchild are still intact. This is brief because I'm blasted tired, apologies.

Midway through the 2007 season I internally rooted for two things: Mike Holmgren to retire, and the Bucs to crumble. Am I a "hater"? Well maybe, but I have no beef against that other pirate themed NFL team.  I wanted Jon Gruden to be fired, and Seattle to scoop up the man I think is the best coach in the NFL. He eludes the veneration of Bill Belicheck or Tony Dungy, but Gruden was never gifted a Tom  Brady or Peyton Manning. In fact, Gruden is the genius of game manager quarterbacks. Under him they are granted wisdom, accuracy and out of nowhere great seasons. Well not great, but great for the likes of Johnson, Johnson, Gannon, Griese, Simms and Garcia.

It's the offense baby. The current Nth version of the West Coast excels at taking steak`ums and making steak. In a way, Tampa's offense looks a bit like Seattle's was supposed to, modest but serviceable and supporting a great defense. The skill of the skill positions is concentrated in the running backs, but Tampa has a steady possession receiver with serious first down props. Ike Hilliard's 17 first downs in 23 receptions recall the Bobby Engram of 2001-2002.

The key is clever play calling and an offensive line that buys time even when allowing sacks. Under Jon Gruden, you may get sacked like Naples, but you will throw for an over 60% completion percentage. It's a curious system within which Brian Griese once completed almost 70% of his passes, and only blunderbuss-armed Jeff George truly defied its completion percentage boosting methodology. It's a curious system that creates statistical anomalies like 5.1 yards after the catch for a receiver that averages just 10.2 yards per catch. It's a curious system that creates statistical anomalies like a 70% reception percentage coupled with a -12.4 DVOA. Both anomalies belong to the notorious Michael Clayton. Howdeydodat? Routes that involve about 15 cuts over five yards. The receiver gets open; from there it's anyone's guess. That maximization of the receiver is a huge part of why Gruden's system works. The quarterback's aren't playing better, the receivers are, as evidenced by the high RAC.

Personally, I think it's kind of cool. Another mark of Gruden's system is multiple tight end formations. Of 46 tight ends with nine or more targets, Tampa Bay has three. Gruden passes early, 61% of all first half play calls in 2007, but runs late, passing on only 31% of all plays when holding the lead in the second half. Those runs are decidedly "powerful", featuring fullbacks and multiple tight ends. That need for a fullback, a full 64% of runs were from two back sets, has pushed 10 Million dollar man Earnest Graham to the position. Gruden rushes without bullshit, but passes with the bullshit and chicanery cranked to...7. Running formations result in passes, but passing formations rarely result in runs. Gruden ran on just 17% of all three WR single back sets, but passed on 69% of all two tight end, single back sets, last in the NFL. On the other end of the spectrum is ultra-orthodox play caller Dick Jauron, who passed on just 27% of all two tight end, single back sets.

The good news is that Seattle won't get smoked by Tampa's receiver and the Buc's closing strategy, a hotshot of runnin' the ball plays into Seattle's greatest defensive strength. Barring disaster, that should keep Seattle in it. Of course, that's assuming the Hawks escape Charlie Frye's Fangoria centerfold of sacks, picks and scrotal fistulas.