Well, the Buccaneers are 3-7 and can all but kiss the playoffs bye-bye. No surprise there. There’s no doubt that turnovers and poor defensive play are the biggest reasons for their losing record. However, I feel like some questionable coaching decisions have contributed to the losses as well.
When this new coaching staff came in, we were promised a balanced, run-first, downfield passing offense and an aggressive, attacking defense. Yet here we are, 10 games into the season, and we’re still waiting for both of those things to happen. Although they possess the 6th ranked offense in the league, averaging 27.7 points and 380.4 yards per game, they rank 4th in passing offense with 285.6 yards per game and 21st in rushing with just 94.8 yards per game. The defense is even more unbalanced. They have the 23rd ranked defense in the NFL, averaging 371.8 yards per game, but they’re giving up a league-high 31.3 points per game as well. They are now 2nd in rushing defense, allowing just 80.9 yards per game, but they’re also 31st in passing defense, allowing 65.3% completions, and 290.9 yards per game. They have 22 sacks and 6 interceptions this season. There are only five teams with fewer in each category.
So what do these stats tell us about this team?
First, they are getting behind early in games because of turnovers, which forces them to abandon their run game. Second, only seven teams have fewer rushing attempts against them, which means opposing teams have been smart enough to attack their secondary, instead of trying to run on them. Those are the two main reasons for the lack of balance on both sides of the ball.
So what’s the solution to these problems?
Well, since this enormous coaching staff full of teachers with years of wisdom can’t figure it out, I have come up with the answers. Ready for this?
SIMPLIFY THE PLAYBOOKS!
Bruce Arians has said that he doesn’t like running the same pass play twice in a game. Never has, never will. A typical NFL playbook has around 100 plays, about 75 passes, and 25 runs. Arians’ playbook has to be even bigger than that. Not only is that playbook probably bigger, but it’s also full of plays that call for deep, downfield routes and tight-window throws to the sidelines. It requires Jameis Winston to hold on to the ball longer to let those routes develop, which requires the offensive line to hold their blocks longer. That increases the chances of Winston getting sacked or pressured, leading to interceptions and fumbles. Even though the Bucs big uglies up front have given up 36 sacks so far this season, they’re still actually ranked about 15th in pass protection somehow according to Pro Football Focus.
As for the turnovers, it’s a problem that’s plagued Jameis Winston throughout his entire pro career. Since he came into the league in 2015, he leads the NFL in them with 94 total (76 interceptions, 18 fumbles). Dirk Koetter’s offense was very similar, which could explain why he’s had these issues over his first 5 seasons. Maybe if he wasn’t asked to hold the ball for so long or make so many deep and tight windowed throws, he might be able to cut down on those turnovers a bit. He would still throw his fair share of picks. because he has a gunslinger’s mentality and feels like he can fit the ball in wherever he wants. But I think it would definitely decrease the frequency of them.
So what is my offensive solution?
Part One: GET THE BALL OUT OF WINSTON’S HANDS!
More quick throws. More short routes in the middle of the field. More passes to their running backs out of the backfield. More slant drags and crossing routes by the wide receivers. More screens and passes to the flats to Ronald Jones. More seam routes by OJ Howard and Cam Brate. Take last week’s game against the Saints as an example. Both of the touchdowns scored by the Bucs offense were, passes to the middle of the field. One to Chris Godwin on a 10-yard crossing route and the other on a quick slant to Peyton Barber in the end zone. It’s essentially the same concepts that other teams use to torch the Bucs secondary each and every week, and it’s the same style of offense that limits Tom Brady’s interceptions every year. Dink and dunk passes with the occasional throw downfield, not the exact opposite like the Bucs run now.
I saw a play on Sunday against the Saints, where the Bucs were four-wide (4 receivers) with an in-line tight end to help block and an empty backfield. All four receivers ran downfield routes that were well covered. The middle of the field was wide open, but Winston had nobody to check the ball down to, and he was sacked. I don’t understand this concept at all. Why would you put your quarterback in a situation like that? Give him more options than a 40-yard bomb to Evans or a 20-yard out-route to Godwin on the sideline, and for God’s sake, get the ball out of his hands faster!
Part Two: POUND THE ROCK!
Run the football more often. Unfortunately, the Bucs have been in the situation where they’ve gotten behind early in a few games and had to abandon the run game to play catch up. It happened last week against the Saints. They were losing 20-0 in the second quarter and started trying to throw the ball on every down. They ended up with 8 run plays and 51 pass attempts. You can’t win games with that kind of disparity, and you should just expect turnovers when you ask Jameis Winston to throw the ball that many times in a game. They have to have a better balance on offense.
Part three: GO WITH ROJO!
I liked the idea of having a two-headed rushing attack with Jones and Barber at the beginning of the season. Barber was the proven vet, and Jones was coming off of an unimpressive rookie season. However, Jones has proven to be the better all-around back throughout the first 10 games. He has more rushing yards than Barber (423 to 320), averages more yards per carry than Barber (4.0 to 3.4), and has the same number of rushing touchdowns (4). He also has more receiving yards (202 to 48) and averages more yards per catch (11.2 to 4.8).
Sure Jones was named the “starter” a couple of weeks ago, but the two backs are still sharing the bulk of the workload. Now Arians has added more of Dare Ogunbowale in there on third downs as well because “he’s better at picking up blitzes” than them. Jones only played 31% of the snaps against the Saints. After getting 8 catches for 77 yards against the Cardinals, he had ZERO TARGETS versus New Orleans. SCREW THAT! If Jones is your best dual-threat back, then he should be your workhorse in this offense. Period. No more of this alternating series between him and Barber. He has to be the guy.
Towards the end of the Saints game, the Bucs made it down to the New Orleans 1-yard line and had a chance to cut the lead to ten with 5 minutes left. On 1st & goal from the one, the Bucs ran Dare Ogunbowale up the middle on two straight plays with no gain. Then on third down, Winston tried to throw a back-shoulder pass to Evans in the endzone, and it was intercepted. My question is, why is Ogunbowale in there in a goal-line situation when he’s averaging .2 yards per carry for this season while Ronald Jones is on the bench, averaging 4.0 yards per carry? Put Jones in there and hammer away with him for four straight plays. They needed those points right there, and instead, all they got was another turnover on Winston’s tab. Poor execution, yes. But we can also blame poor coaching decisions and poor play calling here too.
Most Bucs fans were excited when we heard that Todd Bowles was going to be the new defensive coordinator. We were sold on the idea that he would be bringing his in your face, aggressive, blitzing style to Tampa with him and revive what was once a great defense. That hasn’t happened. They started the season out strong against the run. They’ve been the only defense all season that’s been able to slow down Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey. They didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher until Seattle’s Chris Carson in Week 9. However, they haven’t been quite as stingy upfront since then. They also haven’t been as effective sacking the quarterback as of late. After 11 sacks in their first 4 games, they’ve only had 11 more sacks in their last 6 games. They have had some injuries over the last couple of weeks with Carl Nassib and Anthony Nelson both missing games; however, they did get Jason Pierre-Paul back as well.
They are blitzing, just not effectively. In fact, they blitz on 47.7% of their snaps. The only team in the league that blitzes more are the Ravens (49.9%). The problem is that the blitzes aren’t getting home. A big reason why the blitzes aren’t working is because they’re playing so soft in coverage. Instead of playing physical, press-man coverage, they’ve been playing more off-man or zone coverage. Rookie cornerback Jamel Dean was the highest-rated defensive player in the NFL in his second career start for Week 10 against the Cardinals. For Week 11 versus the Saints, he never played a defensive snap. Instead of him starting opposite Carlton Davis, it was Sean Murphy-Bunting who got the start with safety Mike Edwards as the starting nickel because Arians said that Dean was better at man coverage, and they wanted to play more zone against the Saints. Another questionable coaching decision, in my opinion. Why in the hell would you want to play more zone against Drew Brees? Even Arians said after the game that it wouldn’t happen again and that Dean would be on the field from now on.
So what’s my solution?
Part One: GET DEAN ON THE FIELD!
I predicted over a month ago that Davis and Dean would be the starting outside corners before this season was over. I was right. Now let the young fella play! He had an interception in the preseason. He had what was probably a game-saving interception in the Red Zone against the Cardinals. He’s got the height, the length, the speed, the physicality, and the ball skills to be a really good corner. He just needs the reps. So give them to him and let’s watch him blossom.
Part Two: KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!
One of the biggest contributing factors to the Bucs secondary issues has been miscommunication. Part of the reason for that is how young this group is and the lack of veteran presence back there. But another reason is the complexity of Todd Bowles coverage schemes. He often tries to disguise certain coverages or change up coverages pre-snap, which can cause some confusion with a young group like this. So, simplify the playbook for them. Instead of all that, why not just let these kids go out there and play physical, man-to-man defense. Carlton Davis is 6’1″/206lbs. Jamel Dean is 6’1″/206lbs. Sean Murphy-Bunting is 6’/195lbs. Let these guys use their size to their advantage. Put them on the line of scrimmage and tell them to play bump n’ run coverage. Tell them not to let any of those receivers off the line without getting hit first. These guys are getting beat anyway. If they’re gonna go down, why not let them go down fighting?
Part Three: BLITZ AWAY!
The Bucs have the second-highest blitz rate in the NFL, so I’m not sure they can blitz much more than they already do. Just keep it up. They have two fast linebackers who are good blitzers in Lavonte David and Devin White, so use them. They have three physical safeties that are good blitzers in MJ Stewart, Jordan Whitehead, and Mike Edwards, so use them. Blitz, blitz, then blitz some more. With their big corners playing more man outside, the Bucs might be able to blitz a little more or maybe even bring more guys on blitzes than they were before. Part of the reason this secondary is getting shredded is that opposing quarterbacks have been able to sit back there comfortably, survey the field, go through their progressions, have a cup of coffee, and throw the ball without anyone in their face. All they need to do is send one more guy than the offense can block. It seems simple enough, right?
GO BACK TO THE BASICS!
All summer long, Bruce Arians talked about how they were going to put the best eleven players on the field and design their schemes around those guys. That is not what’s been happening this season. If that was the case, Ronald Jones would’ve played more last week. If that was the case, Jamel Dean would’ve started last week. If that was the case, Scotty Miller would be the #3 receiver instead of Breshad Perriman. If that was the case, this coaching staff would be trying to figure out how to get the football into OJ Howard’s hands more often. If that was the case, then Mike Evans would never go another half without a catch.
I’ll admit it sounds like a good concept. Take your best players and put them in the best position to make plays and be successful. Maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. So why aren’t they doing it? Is it purposeful? Are they trying to win games; or not? Are they trying to tank the season? I don’t know, but they’re definitely making some unusual coaching decisions as of late.
Look, I’m no expert. I’m just a fan who played a little football and knows a little about the game. I’m no coach. I’m no guru. I’m no “whisperer”. I’m just your typical armchair quarterback. A couch GM, if you will. But I think that the “experts” can sometimes overcomplicate things that should be simple. No matter what level you’re playing at, it’s still just a game. Look at Tiger Woods with his golf swing: He’s always tweaking it, and always fine-tuning it. However, I also feel like he overthinks it as well. Why make it so complicated? He’s been playing golf since he was 2 years old, so he knows how to swing a golf club. Just go back to the basics.
Maybe I’m the one oversimplifying things. Maybe these schemes have to be this complex at this level. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What they’re currently doing isn’t working. So why not go back to the basics? If that doesn’t work, then try something else. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Right now, what this coaching staff is doing every week is insane.
Maybe going back to basic fundamental football is just what this team needs right now. They seem to have issues with fundamentals anyway. Tackling, blocking, catching, and covering are all things that you learn early on at the peewee level of football. Yet these “pros” are still having trouble doing those basic things. This is the second youngest team in the NFL right now. They’re all learning as they go. Just make it easier on them and simplify the game. Hopefully, this coaching staff comes to its senses and tries this, on Sunday, against the Falcons. They can’t do much worse.
Until then, as always, GO BUCS!!!