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Why are the Buccaneers not running the ball more?

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The Bucs haven’t been able to base their offense on the running game this season.

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Before Dirk Koetter came to Tampa, he was the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were a scoring machine for two of the three years Koetter was there. The one year his offense faltered was due to injuries to his top two receivers.

Then Dirk was hired in 2015 to the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A few months later, the Bucs drafted quarterback Jameis Winston. It looked like a match made in heaven. In 2017, Winston is showing improvement in completion percentage, interceptions, and yards thrown. There is one hitch to all that goodness. The offense is sporadic in its production from game to game as well as from half to half within the same game. This is different from the 2016 offense. Although the 2016 offense was weaker, it was at least consistent.

When the Bucs offense can put up double digit scoring in the first half, they have won the game. Scoring a lot in the second half usually equates to playing from behind, but not always. In game 6, the Bucs had a lead in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, costly mistakes on both sides of the ball led to a loss.

Play Call Breakdown, 2017

The two games the Bucs have won games also coincided with the two lowest passing percentages. That is a lot of volume passing. Yet looking at the run production in these games, it appears we did not utilize the run in a few of these games. Against the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, the rushing game was averaging over 4.5 yards per rush. The Bucs offense did not use that great output in either game. Against Carolina, they averaged nearly 4 yards per carry, but were limited to only 36.7% of the play calling. It was a very windy day and we kept on throwing.

The stats for the 2016 offense proved that Koetter can throw the ball without a good run blocking game. This harkens back to his days in Atlanta.

Looking at this chart based on Football Outsiders’ numbers, it appears as though the Bucs have a good pass blocking and run blocking unit for this season The pass and rush rank are in yards per game. I wonder why the rush rank is so low with a good run blocking unit.

The answer is simple. The run game does not have a lot of running opportunities. According to Football Outsiders, the Bucs ranked 31st in rushing opportunities with 133. I never recorded the running opportunities ranking because the Bucs were one full game behind everyone due to postponing the first game of the season. Yet I have been recording all the other rankings week by week, but mentally acknowledging we ranked last in rushing opportunities. The play calling breakdown chart reveals it is a 64.6% passing play to 35.4% running play for the 2017 season.

A major query is, “Why are the Bucs not running the ball more often with such a good run blocking unit?”

Sadly, I know the answer. Koetter wants to implement what he did in Atlanta here in Tampa.

Koetter’s Play Call Breakdown, 2012 – 2017

Even though the run game was putrid in 2016, Koetter did keep on running the ball. Koetter did prove to GM Jason Licht that the offensive line he has did provide well enough protection and that all Dirk needed for this offense to take off was to have more offensive weapons. Licht proceeded to give Koetter what he desired and more. In the offseason, Licht brought in talents of WR DeSean Jackson, WR Chris Godwin, and TE OJ Howard. All three players brought explosive play capabilities.

The offense has not taken off. In five out of the seven games, the offense has failed to scored in double digits. Koetter is truly hitching his offense on Winston, but that is what is making this offense inconsistent. He will not relent on this idea that his passing attack should be the identity of this offense, except it is for more negative than positive reasons.

An offensive series that epitomizes the offense was when the Bucs received the ball in the 2nd quarter against New England, after the Patriots just scored a 75-yard touchdown drive. There was 3:42 left in the half. RB Doug Martin had 49 yards in one drive compared to Winston’s total of 50 yards passing in four offensive possessions, the most common thought would be to give the ball back to Martin.

Koetter went to the passing game. It was a 3-n-out drive, all pass attempts. The Bucs punted, but New England had a great punt return for 40 yards. Then special teams had a penalty on that punt play, an unsportsmanlike conduct play on gunner Ryan Smith. That tacked on an additional 15 yards. After all was said and done, the Patriots line of scrimmage was the TB-27 yard line. The Bucs had started from the TB-25 yard line.

Complementary Football

The offense’s overall production wasn’t high in 2016, but it did play complementary football. It does seem quirky to see the team win five games when the offense scored below 20 points, but the offense did score just enough to win.

Here, the defense prevented opposing teams from scoring over 20 points on seven occasions. On all seven occasions, the Bucs offense scored enough to win.

This year, the Bucs offense has failed to play complementary football when the defense holds a team to under 20 points scoring.

Game 1: Bucs 29, Bear 7 … Win (under 20)

Game 2: Bucs 17, Vikings 34 … Loss

Game 3: Bucs 25, Giants 23 … Win

Game 4: Bucs 14, Patriots 19 … Loss (under 20)

Game 5: Bucs 33, Cardinals 38 … Loss

Game 6: Bucs 27, Bills 30 … Loss

Game 7: Bucs 3, Panthers 17 … Loss (under 20)

If the offense did play complementary football like it did for 2016, then the Bucs could be 4 – 3 with its defense still working through injuries.

Conclusion

Winston cannot connect to receivers that are open down the field in stride for an easy touchdown. He misses about two of such opportunities per game. Winston does not like short routes as he is always looking for the explosive play.

Winston does like the intermediate routes, though. And this is where the run game should come into play as Winston’s passing can be a compliment to the running game. This will force Winston to savor throwing the ball as opposed to being given free rein and voluminous opportunities to throw the ball. Koetter will not take the ball away from Winston. That is the problem.

The defense has been hit with several injuries and are continuing to be hit with injuries. Inconsistent play can probably be expected. On the other hand, the offense has been healthy all season. There should be no reason for inconsistent play seven games into the season.