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The Buccaneers need to run the ball more

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Against the Patriots, the Bucs abandoned the running game.

New England Patriots v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers once again struggled to produce points on offense against the New England Patriots, a defense that was terrible in the prior weeks.

Preview stats

What transpired

The Bucs threw for more yards against the Patriots defense, but could not rush as much nor score as much as the Pats usually conceded. But that is just by looking at the box score and not what actually occurred.

Pass Plays: 46 (69.7%)

Run Plays: 20 (30.3%)

At the half, it was only a 6 point lead for the Patriots. The Bucs ran on just 38% of its total offensive plays at the half. There seemed to be no need to be that imbalanced considering that the run game was generating 5.7 yards per rush between Martin and Rodgers. We will return to this idea later in the article.

Drive Chart

The Good:

Doug Martin runs for a touchdown and 74 yards on 13 carries, or 5.7 yards per carry.

The Bad:

Doug Martin only ran 13 times. Head Coach Koetter abandoned the run early in the first half. With 3:42 left in the half, Koetter did not play smart football. In running the ball, they could wind down the clock as well as play to their potent strength in the half. Instead, it was a passing three-and-out that gave an additional 3 points to New England.

Untimely penalties such as an illegal hands to the face with Winston running for a touchdown hurt the Bucs’ chances. Another occurrence was on the last drive of the game, RT Dotson had a false start penalty that also had a 10-second run off on the clock.

The Ugly:

Special teams unit is the easiest to identify as being ugly from the charts. Kicker Nick Folk missed three field goal attempts, but a 56-yard attempt into a strong wind before the half was not a feasible accomplishment and simply playing with house money on an opportunity that never should have come to fruition.

Winston was 8/16 passing for the first half, generating a measly 66 yards. To put this into perspective, Tom Brady went 18/22 for 159 yards passing in that same first half. Brady was accurate and took what the defense was willing to give. Both quarterbacks were facing similar defensive strategies: do not let the opposing QB beat you over top, but rather let them try to dink-and-dunk their way to score. Thursday Night football color analyst and former QB, Tony Romo, noted that in this style of defense, the QB needs to be accurate and the defense will give up yards to the run game in preventing the passing game.

Winston is Still Struggling

Offensive Drive Analysis Articles Links, 2017

Game 1, Chicago

Quick synopsis: Offense cannot finish long drives into TDs, Winston missing open receivers deep for TDs on three occasions.

Game 2, Minnesota

Quick synopsis: No run game lead to offensive being one-dimensional. Winston induced three turnovers, including under-throwing an interception on an open WR Jackson in the end zone in the first half.

Game 3, NY Giants

Quick synopsis: Offense has an increased pattern of 3-n-out drives, Winston has a 2-second rhythm, Winston refuses to use underneath, safer routes, and kicking game is shaky.

Winston finished with 319 yards passing, one TD, and no INTs. Those are amazing stats. In three games, Winston has a passing average of 331.3 yards per game with 6 TDs and 3 INTs. The average offensive scoring production in those same three games is 18.6 points per game, winning just one game. Obviously, something is matching up between Winston’s productions and the offense’s scoring productions.

With more offensive weapons at Winston’s disposal this season, the projections for the Bucs offense would be better than last year. So far the production has been as lackluster as last season with much fewer offensive weapons. In the Chicago game analysis linked above, I provide the pattern that you see today in the offense existing since last year. The more closely I track the offense, the more focus belongs to Winston and how he is actually holding the offense back due to his inconsistencies. I am not the only person to notice this. Pewter Report’d Trevor Sikkeman has denoted the inconsistencies in Winston’s play as well.

Cover 3: Bucs and Jags Pre-Season Review

I wanted to make sure I pointed out quarterback Jameis Winston’s decision making, because where I love how he managed the game for most of the first half, he still missed too many “gimmies.”

One of them was in the clip above. In it, I give some commentary like I did last week, so if you want to listen to that, you can hear me explain it frame-by-frame.

Winston has been performing very well in camp. With all the weapons he has to play with during practice, he’s constantly surrounded by safety valves and passes that, aren’t just little dump-off passes that gain no yards, but dump-off passes that are going to talented players that could go for 5-10 yards on any catch.

However, Winston still has some work to do when it comes to fully trusting his play designs. In the play above, he went for a very high-difficulty throw (which he almost hit) instead of making the little pass for an easy score. That’s how you turn three points into six. Just like he tried to throw a difficult fade pass to Mike Evans twice last week, there’s going to be an easy option on almost every play for this offense. Winston just has to find it.

Cover 3: Winston’s Deep Accuracy Issues

What’s the most important trait to playing quarterback in the National Football League?

Some would argue that it’s arm strength, or, more specifically, arm talent. Those emphasizing it would say the natural (mostly genetic) ability to not only push the ball down the field, but also zip passes in with high velocity is the trait worth coveting the most because it cannot be taught.

But, just because it can’t be taught (to an extent), does that make it the most vital?

I would argue no.

Everything starts upstairs with a quarterback. If you don’t have the proper mental processing or instincts, none of this matters. But, if you do, I would argue that there is a trait more important that natural arm talent (to an extent) and that is the trait of accuracy – more specifically, touch.

Cover 3: Winston’s Passing Mentality Like Thor before getting banished

There has always been this narrative around Winston that he was a player who not only *could* make all the throws, but *wanted* to make all the throws. This led to some incredible highlight reels and big-time plays during his time at Florida State, and even into his young career as a Buccaneer. But, this is also what has been the source of much of his trouble. When you try to make every throw, some of them aren’t going to go as planned. Best case scenario can’t be the basis for most decisions.

There has been the mention that Bucs’ HC Koetter does not include hot reads in his passing offense to help out young QB Winston. That is patently false. From NFL.com, Shaun O’Hara and Heath Evans look into Winston and his inability to pick up the blit,z as well as not look for the not read as Winston is intent on getting the ball to WR Evans deep. If these two plays exist in year three of Winston’s career, then it has always been a part of Winston’s career. This also supports the pattern that Winston has pre-determined which WR he wants to throw to as well as bypassing the underneath, safer route.

Koetter’s insistence of the offense going through Winston

The Patriots retaliated with a touchdown score to put them into the lead late in the second quarter, Pats 10, Bucs 7. In the Bucs’ previous offensive drive, RB Doug Martin produced 49 yards of the 68-yard drive that concluded with a Martin touchdown.

With only 3:42 left on the clock and New England having just marched 75 yards in nine plays that consumed 4:44 of the time, a thought of preventing the Patriots another offensive possession would be the best way to play complementary football for the offense. Winston was 5/12, or 31.25% on passing attempts for a total of 50 yards before this drive. The hot hand here is Doug Martin as he gained 49 yards in one drive, the previous offensive drive.

Rather than going back to the hot hand in running back Martin as well as the ability to run down the clock, Koetter chose to go back to Winston.

Drive 5

1st and 10 @ TB 25, with 3:42 left in the half

Winston sacked for five yards as he was looking down field, neglecting RB Sims in the flat to his right and WR Humphries as a dump option to his left. Jameis has already seen the Patriots’ defense in four previous drives, but he still is not willing to take what the defense will give him. Young Winston will not dink-and-dunk, but that cost him five yards.

2nd and 15 @ TB 20, with 3:08 left in the half

Winston passes short to WR Evans on the right side for 6 yards. It was an empty backfield set up and Winston took two seconds to throw the ball to WR Evans.

3rd and 9 @ TB 26, with 2:35 left in the half

Winston passes incomplete deep to WR Jackson on the left side. That ball was thrown into double coverage and was nearly intercepted. There was single coverage to the right side. Yet because it was third and long, the Pats defense made the Bucs offense one-dimensional.

4th and 9 @ TB 26, with 2:28 left in the half

Punt.

Things got worse for the Bucs. Bryan Anger booted a 56 yard punt to NE 18, but Danny Amendola ran the ball back for 40 yards to the TB 42 yard line. Then Bucs’ gunner Ryan Smith earned an unsportsmanlike conduct that added an additional 15 yards. Smith was forced out of bounds, but did not rush to get back inbounds as he continued to streak down the field. The Patriots started this drive on the Bucs’ 27 yard line after all the dust settled. This eventually led to a field goal, Pats 13, Bucs 7.

There was no need to rush Drive 5 for the Bucs because they were set to receive the ball after the half. If the Bucs were to have ridden the hot RB Martin, then there was a very good possibility the Patriots would not add onto their lead, regardless if the Bucs offense scored.

3rd Down Conversion and three-and-outs

At the half

3rd down conversion = 0/4

3-n-outs: 3

At the end of the game

3rd down conversion = 4/13

3-n-outs: 4

Ugly stats all around in this venue.

Conclusion

There were so many missed easy opportunities in the passing game. Former QB turned color analyst for Thursday Night Football, Tony Romo, noted the easy throws that Winston was missing for most of the game. To be fair, Cam Brate did drop a pass in the end zone in the second half, which is uncharacteristic of Brate. He made amends with a tougher catch later in the game for a touchdown.

During the game, a side line reporter noted that Nick Folk has missed five or six practice FG attempts before the game started. Koetter still trusted Nick Folk. That is just terrible decision making. The same decision making to still trust Winston in the first half. Bucs best weapon on offense, RB Martin, was underutilized.

I was ecstatic coming into this season with so many more receiving weapons for Winston that he can simply pick apart defenses. Koetter believing that Winston can be on the same level as Matt Ryan to carry the offense has faltered so far. Even with a competent run game, Koetter still favors the passing offense.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were seeing the same type of defensive strategy that Koetter-Winston were seeing – take away the potential big plays and see if the offense can beat the under coverage. Brady took what the defense gave. And despite giving up two turnovers, his team’s offense generated enough points to win, including the Bucs’ mishaps of time management and penalties at the end of the first half. On third and goal for the Patriots’ final drive of the first half, instead of throwing the ball for a possible interception or dropped ball that could stop the clock, QB Brady ran for one yard and kept the clock running. That mentality consumed an additional 40+ seconds of the clock; not leaving any time for the Bucs offense to take advantage.

Koetter needs to take the ball out of Winston’s hands and place it into Doug Martin’s hands. Winston is not Matt Ryan and Koetter needs to adjust until Winston can improve his mentality, throwing accuracy, and throwing touch. Also, Koetter needs better passing plays in the Red Zone.

Four games into the season and four not-so-good performances by the offense. Will Koetter continue to emphasize the passing game over the running game?

Looking back at the pre-season, only one offensive starter had scored a touchdown in the three pre-season games the starters played. That lone touchdown was delivered by Doug Martin. That is a total of seven games where the offense still looked shaky this season. As a Bucs fan, I expected much more from this offense after accruing so many explosive weapons this past off-season. Against a team willing to concede 32 points per game, the Bucs offense could only manage 14 points.