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The Buccaneers are an explosive receiver away from offensive domination

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Around this time last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were preparing for free agency and the draft. The 2015 season revealed just how porous the defense was and it needed much help. General manager Jason Licht  shored up a defense tailored to new defensive coordinator's Mike Smith's style of play.

In free agency, the Bucs signed a pass rusher in Robert Ayers and a diminutive cornerback with speed in Brent Grimes. For the draft, Licht drafted another diminutive speed corner in Vernon Hargraves III as well as another pass rusher in Noah Spence.

The theme for last offseason was grabbing players who fit a specific scheme to improve a woeful side of the ball. All those moves paid dividends as the defense held seven teams under 20 points scoring.  According to Pro Football Reference, the league scoring average was 22.7 points. In those seven games where opposing offenses were held to below 20 points scoring, the Bucs won all the games.

Unfortunately, the Bucs' offense averaged 22.1 points per game. While it is an improvement in production by +0.7 points, this season proved to be quite erratic. Permit me to add context: In 2015, the offense did not score over 20 points six times, but in 2016, the offense failed to score over 20 points eight times.

To read more about the erratic behavior in 2016, click here:  Winning Determinant.

I concluded that the defense was the main proponent for most, if not all of the wins last year. That conclusion makes it easy for GM Licht on which side of the ball he needs to address in the offseason, just like he did in the 2015 offseason for the defense.

There's a lot of hoopla about explosiveness needed for the Bucs offense. This is true, but where should the explosiveness come from? The media choices are running back, wide receiver, or tight end.

I am in the minority of believing that explosiveness does not come from specialized offensive weapons such as running backs, wide receivers, or tight ends when. Part of the drop in explosiveness is due to the offensive line's run-blocking. Since I am in the minority, I tried to find a pattern based upon Dirk Koetter's preference and success without improving the offensive line. Koetter is the Bucs head coach and offensive play caller.

Koetter's Offensive System, 2012 -€ 2016

Dirk Koetter
Offensive System
2012 - 2016
Year Team PF Passing Rushing Playoffs Wins
Y/G Rank Y/G Rank
2012 Atlanta 419 281.8 6th 87.3 29th Yes 13
2013 Atlanta 353 265.2 7th 77.9 32nd No 4
2014 Atlanta 381 284.6 5th 93.6 24th No 6
2015 Tampa Bay 342 240.8 17th 135.1 5th No 6
2016 Tampa Bay 354 245.4 16th 101.8 24th No 9

While with Atlanta for three years, Koetter's lowest scoring output was similar to the Bucs' 2016 season. Now here is the odd part when comparing his tenure at Atlanta with Tampa Bay, Koetter's offense never relied on the rushing game in Atlanta.

Games won are not a great indicator of production from one side of the ball. We need to inspect both offensive and defensive production.

Dirk Koetter
Point Differential
2012 - 2016
Year Team PF PA Diff
2012 Atlanta 419 299 120
2013 Atlanta 353 443 -90
2014 Atlanta 381 417 -36
2015 Tampa Bay 342 417 -75
2016 Tampa Bay 354 369 -15

If you did not know already, Koetter was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. Dirk did not become a head coach until 2016, with Tampa. I preface this so that we can simply be cognizant that Koetter was just responsible for the offense.

It seems as though Koetter has been cursed with a few seasons of terrible defenses within that five year span. Yet despite his tenure in Atlanta of not producing well enough to get into the playoffs, Dirk nearly got there in 2014. A slightly better defense could have secured a playoff spot for Atlanta. Fortunately for the Bucs, that did not happen as both Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith have transplanted themselves to Tampa.

NFC South
2014
Team W L T PF PA Diff
Carolina - z 7 8 1 339 374 -35
New Orleans 7 9 0 401 424 -23
Atlanta 6 10 0 381 417 -36
Tampa Bay 2 14 0 277 410 -133
http://www.espn.com/nfl/standings/_/season/2014

Receiving Productions

We have already established that the rushing attack in Atlanta for all of Koetter's tenure was mediocre. The only year Dirk Koetter rushing offense ranked above 24th overall in the league was in Tampa. Instead of using resources to peer into running back productions, let us focus on receiving productions and try to find a pattern of what worked in Atlanta for 2012 and 2014. Then try to compare what we have in Tampa. 

Dirk Koetter
Offensive Receiving Top 2 Receiving Productions
2012 - 2016
Year Team Top Receiver 2nd Top Receiver
Pos Name Yards TDs Pos Name Yards TDs
2012 Atlanta WR White 1351 7 WR Jones 1198 10
2013 Atlanta WR Douglas 1067 2 TE Gonzalez 859 8
2014 Atlanta WR Jones 1593 6 WR White 921 7
2015 Tampa Bay WR Evans 1206 3 RB Sims 561 4
2016 Tampa Bay WR Evans 1321 12 TE Brate 660 8

2012 and 2014 were the most productive years in Koetter's recent five years in the league. Both of those seasons had two wide receivers as the top receiving targets. Notice in 2013 that both of them were not the top two receivers in production. Julio Jones only played in five games in 2013 and Roddy White played in 13 games. To give more insight to White's injury, here's a MMQB quote about the situation:

What happened to the Falcons? It was widely presumed entering the season that they would be spearheading the playoff race in late November, and yet, they're 2-8 after getting steamrolled by the lowly Buccaneers in Week 11. This was a team that narrowly lost the NFC championship to the 49ers last season and then upgraded its roster in key spots over the offseason. But look at them now: a last-place team in the same division they won by six games a year ago. What chance do they have Thursday night against the first-place Saints? Where did it all go wrong?

Injuries have hurt Atlanta in the worst way. Wideout Roddy White began the season severely hobbled by a high ankle sprain. Just when he started to look moderately healthy, Julio Jones—arguably the best receiver in the league not nicknamed Megatron—broke the three-year-old screw that was in his surgically repaired right foot. Shortly after Jones went on injured reserve, White hurt a hamstring.

An offense built around two superstar receivers was suddenly devoid of any.

Although White played 13 games, he was not playing at 100% for most of it.

Julio Jones stands at 6 foot, 4 inches. Roddy White notches in at 6 foot, 1 inch. Harry Douglas, the top receiver in 2013, tip toes in at 5 feet, 11 inches. That is the same height as the Bucs' slot receiver Adam Humphries.

Koetter's offense flourishes when he has two tall, talented receivers. That is what works in a Koetter offense that does not have a competent rushing attack. That is not what the Bucs have had in the past two years as the second best receiving option was RB Charles Sims in one year and TE Cameron Brate the following year.

Offensive Line Productions

Exactly how terrible was the offensive line production under Koetter in terms of run-blocking?

Offensive Line Block Rankings
Football Outsiders Metrics
2012 - 2016 (Dirk Koetter Offense)
Year Team Pass Blocking Run Blocking
Rank Line Adj Power Stuff 2nd Level Open Field
2012 Atlanta 8th 24th 32nd 27th 26th 21st
2013 Atlanta 7th 24th 18th 25th 25th 14th
2014 Atlanta 11th 14th 13th 20th 24th 17th
2015 Tampa Bay 14th 9th 8th 13th 13th 1st
2016 Tampa Bay 15th 21st 32nd 32nd 24th 28th

The Line Adjustment column is how Football Outsiders ranks teams on overall run blocking productions.  This means the ranking is graded on how many yards the offense gains on the ground per rushing attempt, with certain adjustments for situations like first and goal with the ball on the one yard line.

Atlanta's highest scoring output was in 2012 and it had the worst run blocking productions based upon Line Adjusted Yards of Koetter's recent five years under the Shield. This implies an offense can produce without a competent rushing attack in Koetter's system.

In the rushing attack, does the deficiency lie upon the running back or offensive line? Football outsiders states which is which from its metrics:

A team with a high ranking in Adjusted Line Yards, but a low ranking in Open Field yards is heavily dependent on its offensive line to make the running game work.  A team with a low ranking in Adjusted Line yards, but a high ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its running back breaking long runs to make the run game look good.

Atlanta

2012:  Line Adjusted Yards  less than  Open Field Yards,  Advantage: RB

2013:  Line Adjusted Yards  less than  Open Field Yards,  Advantage: RB

2014:  Line Adjusted Yards  more than  Open Field Yards,  Advantage: OL

Tampa Bay

2015:  Line Adjusted Yards  less than  Open Field Yards,  Advantage: RB

2016:  Line Adjusted Yards  more than  Open Field Yards,  Advantage: OL

Koetter's passing game is indifferent to the productions of the run game, apparently.

Conclusion

Looking at Atlanta's numbers, Koetter can produce points with a good running back situation or not provided he has his two top receivers as was the case in 2012 and 2014. The Bucs on paper did have two tall superstar receivers on its roster in both 2015 and 2016, but as was the case for the 2013 Falcons, injuries beset one of the two receivers -€Vincent Jackson. Jackson played five games in 2016 and 10 games in 2015. He was not healthy in all of those games in 2015.  SBNation's Fantasy writer Dan Ciarrocchi documented,

The move will officially end Jackson's season, although the veteran wide receiver has not appeared in a game since Week 14. After injuring his knee in Week 7's loss to Washington, Jackson has played sparingly and could also be in a different uniform in 2016 due to a steep cap value. Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins will continue to pace the receiving corps for Jameis Winston in Week 17.

If the Bucs want a more potent offense, then it needs a second top receiver. Not a short speedy receiver, but a tall receiver with some speed to replicate what Koetter produced in Atlanta in 2012 and 2014.

Here is a quote on Koetter about explosive plays in a article by Scott Smith from the official Bucs' website:

"We need more speed and when we say playmakers, playmakers and explosive plays are one in the same," said Koetter the day after the Bucs' 2017 season ended on a third-level playoff tiebreaker that went in the Detroit Lions' favor. "Guys that can make 'explosives,' guys that can catch a 10-yard pass, break one tackle and turn it into a 30-yard gain. Our run-after-the-catch is not where it needs to be."

Koetter wants a receiver or more who can catch the ball, break a tackle, and turn it into a 30 yard gain. He did not mince his words with a running back breaking through the line and taking it home. Dirk has his idea of playmakers. And seeing how Winston is allergic to dumping the ball off to his running backs, Koetter has visions of Atlanta dancing in his mind with Winston, Evans, and just one more playmaking wide receiver.

NFL Draft prospect Corey Davis is just that one prospect that makes me grin ear to ear, provided we shore up the run blocking as well as slightly improve the pass blocking for the offensive line. Pewter Report's Trevor Sikkema wrote a wonderful scouting profile of Davis that all Buc fans should read or re-read:  Cover 3 on Corey Davis.

After compiling all this information, I think GM Licht might consider trading up for Corey Davis if he starts to drop to the teens.  If Davis is there at the 17th spot, then I do hope Licht trades up and, thereby, cutting off receiver needy Tennessee, who selects at 18th overall.  The Bucs pick 19th overall.  Tampa has a very good defense, but they are lacking consistent offense.

While the media is scattered on what type of player the Bucs will be picking at 19th overall, they are doing so without context. The Bucs need offense. The Bucs need a playmaking wide receiver. They truly are one offensive weapon away on offense if GM Licht believes that Koetter wants his type of offense that Koetter had in Atlanta. Will Licht illuminate Koetter's path to success like he did for DC Mike Smith last offseason?