Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggling to find offensive identity

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 11: Kellen Winslow #82 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on during the season opener against the Detroit Lions at Raymond James Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

At the end of last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew what they were trying to do on offense. They were going to hand the ball off to Legarrette Blount up the gut, then run a play-action based passing game. And they did that pretty well. Freeman often had a lot of time on those play action passes, while Legarrette Blount was effective at steamrolling defenses. 

But yesterday, that offensive identity was missing and replaced by...nothing. I'm not sure what the Bucs were trying to do on offense, but it wasn't based on Legarrette Blount running the ball. Blount touched the ball five times all game, and just four times in the first half. Watching that first half again, I can't figure out what Greg Olson was trying to do on offense. 

Josh Freeman mentioned yesterday that the Bucs script their first 15 plays, except for third downs. This is not unusual: most teams script their first 15 or so plays. It's something that Bill Walsh started in the late '70s, and it's still present today. These scripts aren't simple, they usually involve a lot of checks. If the Bucs find themselves in second-and-ten on the second play of the game they will run a different play than if they find themselves in second-and-two. 

But that doesn't change a simple fact: there was no attempt to establish an identity on offense. Or at least, there was no attempt to establish a run-based offense the way we've seen in the past. That's not necessarily a problem, though. The Bucs could move to a spread-based offense quite successfully. Just look at the Lions' performance to see how that's done. 

But then, that's not what I saw out of the team either. They could have easily attacked this Detroit defense with spread sets and an aggressive passing game - but instead they ran predominantly 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) and made no attempt to spread out the defense. In addition, their tempo was much too low for an aggressive spread offense. 

And of course, there's Raheem Morris saying that's not how he wants to play football: "We want to win games with Blount bludgeoning you for 130 yards, and us having a couple of play-action bombs and being efficient with [Josh Freeman]." 

I could question that approach - because personally, I think the spread offense the way Green Bay and Detroit run it is the future of the NFL. But this team may need a little more time to be able to run that kind of offense efficiently anyway. And the Bucs can certainly make a run-based, play-action passing game work - they've already shown they can. 

But to do so, they need to fully commit to that kind of attack. They need to show that they are going to run the ball early and often, and then work their passing game off that. It's something they completely failed to do on Sunday. To beat the Minnesota Vikings, they need to establish an identity and stick to it. We'll see how they do next Sunday. 

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