Bucs' Key Improvement Area: Red Zone Offense

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 16: Receiver Preston Parker #87 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scores a second quarter touchdown as defender Tracy Porter #22 of the New Orleans Saints cannot catch him during the game at Raymond James Stadium on October 16, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

If there's one thing the Bucs have to improve upon, it's their red zone performance on offense. All year Josh Freeman has struggled to convert field goal drives into touchdown drives, and it has been a major element of the Bucs' struggles on defense. The endzone interceptions thrown by Freeman have been a theme, but the struggles in the red zone are wider than just those interceptions. 

This problem is evident once we look at the Bucs' drive stats. While the Bucs rank 13th in yards gained per drive with 31.03, they rank just 22nd in points per drive, and an abysmal 27th in touchdowns per drive. Compare that to the Detroit Lions' offense, which gets fewer yards per drive than the Bucs do, but converts almost one in four offensive drives to touchdowns, which ranks seventh in the league. The Bucs can consistently gain yards, but they fail to convert those yards into points. 

 

So why is this a problem and what can the Bucs do to solve it? The problem is that once you come closer to the goalline, the field becomes more compressed. The opposing secondary doesn't need to be concerned with deep balls, because there is no deep element to be afraid of: deep balls go out the endzone. 

This compressed field calls for quicker decisions and throws into tight windows. Freeman certainly has the arm strength and accuracy to make those tight throws, but he also seems to suffer from Jay Cutler disease: when there's pressure in his face, he tries to make throws off his back foot. This leads to inaccurate throws lacking any real velocity - and that in turn leads to interceptions. Teams have been taking advantage of this by blitzing Freeman in the red zone, and so far that has worked. 

The Bucs also lack a clear red zone threat. They don't have a Calvin Johnson who can pluck the ball out of the sky. While the Bucs have Kellen Winslow, he is often heavily guarded in the red zone and not available as an option. Mike Williams was the Bucs remedy for this problem last year, catching many jump balls, but a sophomore slump seems to have eliminated him as a viable option. And, of course, Freeman's end zone interceptions don't help. 

Instead, the Bucs are relying on short throws to get the ball into the endzone. Preston Parker leads the Bucs' receivers with two touchdowns - and both of those came on short throws, and runs after the catch. As Football Outsiders details, this isn't a very good way to get touchdowns: throws into the endzone turn into touchdowns 42.6% of the time, while throws short of the endzone turn into touchdowns just 20.7% of the time. 

The importance of the red zone was apparent past Sunday. The Buccaneers held Drew Brees to two field goal, an interception and just one touchdown in the red zone. Meanwhile the Bucs made two trips into the actual red zone, ending with one touchdown and one field goal. They added a touchdown and several field goals from further out. 

Red zone performance was key to a close win, and the Bucs have to make that a focus for the rest of the season: get touchdowns instead of field goals - or turnovers. 


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