Exploring Arrelious Benn's role in Buccaneers offense
One of the mystifying aspects of last Sunday's Buccaneers loss to the Bears was the very minimal use of receiver Arrelious Benn. The 2010 second-round pick finished without a catch for the first time in 19 games and was targeted just one time in the 24-18 loss in London.
That was largely because he simply wasn't on the field much, surprising given his big-play ability. Dezmon Briscoe instead took the majority of the reps at flanker, with Mike Williams -- per usual -- playing split end on the opposite side.
So, what is going on here? Let me attempt to offer some insight. I asked Benn this week how the reps at flanker were being divided. He offered the following explanation:
"When Earnest (Graham) went down, we only had one back," he said. "Then (fullback Erik) Lorig got hurt. So, then our base personnel was kind of out of the question. We had to go with our three-wide receiver set. Briscoe is the starting Z (that's the flanker) in that (lineup). You put the best guys on the field and try to come away with the win. We left a couple of plays out there on the field. But we have to regroup and take this bye week to take a rest and start all over again."
That was pretty much all he had to say on the subject, so I'll take it from here. The Bucs, like every team, use a number of different personnel groupings on offense and defense. When the defense, for example, goes to a nickel package, its defensive-line combination is different than the lineup used in the base defense.
The same concept applies here. The Bucs, when using a three-wide receiver set, use Briscoe as the starting flanker. When they're in their base package, which they use most often, it's Benn. As Benn said, however, Sunday's injuries forced the Bucs to move away from their base personnel because they did not have the ability to use their two-back sets.
And to explain the rationale further, Briscoe is installed as the flanker in three-wide sets because the Bucs are looking for opportunities to get him on the field. That's a worthy endeavor because Briscoe clearly has talent and is an asset to the offense. The Bucs also want to promote competition, also a healthy thing.
But here's where the questions arise: On Sunday, when the Bucs were forced to use the three-wide set so extensively, they opted not to make an exception to get Benn -- and his play-making ability -- on the field. This decision came in spite of Benn making the Bucs' longest play from scrimmage this season in the previous game, a 65-yard touchdown against the Saints.
In fact, since arriving last season, Benn has made plays of 53, 64 and 65 yards. He has established himself as arguably the most explosive player on Tampa Bay's offense, and you have to think the Bucs could have used his spark against Chicago.
All this highlights a season-long question: Should Benn get more touches? As Bucs coaches spend this bye week evaluating the first half of the season, one of the things I think they'll discover is that he's, perhaps, underutilized. Because Williams and tight end Kellen Winslow often are the first options on play calls, and because quarterback Josh Freeman appears to be locking onto his first options, Benn has gotten far fewer footballs.
But it's hard to argue that he doesn't make the most of his opportunities. He leads the team in receiving average with 16.2 yards per reception. For a team that ranks 26th in yards per catch (6.3 yards), getting the ball in the hands of a guy who can pick up yards after the catch can't hurt.
So, in short, keep an eye on Benn as the second half of the season gets underway. It'll be interesting to see whether his role is expanded and, if so, what that does for the Bucs' offense.