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Dirk Koetter and The Big Miss

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Red zone struggles have followed Dirk Koetter throughout his career and have continued to plague the Bucs.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods’ former swing coach, Hank Haney, wrote a book entitled The Big Miss. If you play golf, you know all golfers have a shot they fear when the pressure is on and they have to hit a certain shot. In Tiger’s case, it’s the dreaded duck hook (huge miss to the left) that he’s fought hard to eliminate from his game over a number of swing changes. My personal big miss is a huge high slice off to the right. My hips turn too fast, my arms lag behind inside, I leave the club face wide open at impact and off the ball goes into some horrible trouble lurking on the course. I feel the pressure of the moment and don’t perform.

You might be asking yourself “why the heck am I reading about golf in a football article?” Well, in football, the red zone is where the pressure ramps up for offensive coordinators and the entire offense. Over the course of Koetter’s coaching career, the red zone has often been his big miss. If a team isn’t successful enough in scoring touchdowns in the red zone, there is a very high probability they’re not going to win enough games to reach the playoffs, unless their defense is an elite unit. This article is going to look at the red zone data for Koetter’s offenses over the last eleven seasons.

Now, let me be very clear that not everything wrong that happens in the red zone is the fault of play calling or scheme, and is not an attack on the Bucs play caller. Coach Koetter isn’t responsible for a fumbled snap, or missed blocking assignment, or dropped passes, or a misread by the QB, or any other crazy thing that can happen in football. So much has to go right in order to score touchdowns against eleven very large men trying to stop you in a compressed space. Coach Koetter can’t control anything once the ball is snapped. It’s on the players to make the play call work and get the ball across the goal line. But, over a large enough sample size of plays, it can’t all come down to lack of player execution and one can point to the struggles this particular offensive scheme has had in scoring touchdowns inside the red zone. The red zone numbers by year are from Team Rankings and the offensive and defensive line rankings are from Football Outsiders.

Jacksonville Jaguars 2007

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 57% conversion rate on 58 attempts. Ranked 8th
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game. 3.6 (rank 3rd)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 2.1 (rank 6th)
  • Offensive points per game: 23.8 (rank 5th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 18th run blocking. 17th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 15th

Jacksonville Jaguars 2008

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 55% conversion rate on 45 attempts. Ranked 15th.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 2.8 (rank 22nd)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.6 (ranked 20th)
  • Offensive points per game: 17.6 (rank 24th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 12 run blocking. 24th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 24th

Jacksonville Jaguars 2009

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 51% conversion rate on 47 attempts. Ranked 16th.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 2.9 (rank 20th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.5 (rank 19th)
  • Offensive points per game: 18.2 (rank 22nd)
  • Offensive line ranking: 11th run blocking. 29th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 28th

Jacksonville Jaguars 2010

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 63% conversion rate on 46 attempts. Ranked 3rd.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 2.9 (rank 20th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.8 (rank 13th)
  • Offensive points per game: 21.6 (rank 12th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 2nd run blocking. 24th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 32nd

Jacksonville Jaguars 2011

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 48% conversion rate on 35 attempts. Ranked 21st.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 2.2 (rank 30th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.1 (rank 27th)
  • Offensive points per game: 13.5 (rank 29th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 13th run blocking. 26th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 5th

Atlanta Falcons 2012

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 57% conversion rate on 63 attempts. Rank 10th.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 3.8 (rank 4th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 2.2 (rank 4th)
  • Offensive points per game: 25.6 (rank 4th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 24th run blocking. 8th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 12th

Atlanta Falcons 2013

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 51% conversion rate on 52 attempts. Ranked 22nd.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 3.2 (rank 14th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.7 (rank 17th)
  • Offensive points per game: 20.7 (rank 19th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 24th run blocking. 7th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 29th

Atlanta Falcons 2014

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 61% conversion on 44 attempts. Ranked 6th.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 2.8 (rank 26th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.7 (rank 16th)
  • Offensive points per game: 22.5 (rank 12th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 14th run blocking. 11th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 32nd

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2015

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 52% conversion rate on 51 attempts. Ranked 22nd.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 3.2 (rank 13th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.7 (rank 15th)
  • Offensive points per game: 20.3 (rank 19th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 9th run blocking. 14th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 18th

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2016

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 51% conversion rate on 54 attempts. Ranked 20th.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 3.4 (rank 11th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.8 (rank 16th)
  • Offensive points per game: 20.3 (rank 20th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 21st run blocking. 16th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 13th

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2017

  • Red zone touchdown scoring: 49% conversion rate on 53 attempts. Ranked 24th.
  • Red zone scoring attempts per game: 3.3 (rank 8th)
  • Red zone touchdowns per game: 1.6 (rank 13th)
  • Offensive points per game: 19.6 (rank 19th)
  • Offensive line ranking: 16th run blocking. 16th pass protection.
  • Defense ranking: 32nd

Whew. Still with me? If your eyes haven’t glazed over yet, let’s keep going. Koetter’s offense has only had a 2.0 or above, in red zone touchdowns per game twice in eleven seasons, despite being in the top fifteen in red zone attempts in six of those years. The Bucs have been in the top fifteen in attempts for three consecutive years. The most successful years he has had as a play caller, in terms of scoring, were the with the Falcons. A fifth, sixth and seventh year Matt Ryan had the experience, decision making, and accuracy to run Koetter’s offense the most efficiently it’s been run in eleven seasons. It is a tough scheme and often requires higher difficulty throws and tight window completions. Those throws and windows only get more difficult and smaller in the red zone.

Another thing the Falcons had that helped make this offensive scheme work more efficiently, was an offensive line that was in or just outside the top ten in pass protection every year. If the Bucs are going to crack the top ten in red zone touchdown scoring efficiency, having an offensive line in the top ten in pass protection would go a long way to accomplishing that feat. I hesitate to say necessity, but based on the data, it might be a necessity. It is a passing league and quarterbacks in this offense have thrown a combined 1,718 passes (572 avg) over the last three seasons. Even with an improved run blocking offensive line and addition of Ronald Jones, expect the ball to be in the air more than five hundred times and a lot in the red zone, which puts a bigger premium on play calling creativity AND execution.

A staple of Koetter’s offensive philosophy is the desire for explosive plays. Because of that, the offense can move the ball up and down the field on a pretty consistent basis. But, as the numbers show, once the field gets compressed inside the red zone, it can be more of a struggle to complete the drive with a touchdown. Some of that is player execution. Some of that is play design. The challenging part is determining which is the bigger cause for the red zone struggles attached to this scheme.

So does that mean the Bucs red zone struggles of the last three years are guaranteed to repeat itself? Of course not. As I wrote earlier, not everything bad that happens is Koetter’s fault. The Falcons had bad injury luck and lost Julio Jones in 2013. He had eventual first round bust Blaine Gabbert as his quarterback in 2011. While the data doesn’t look promising for a big red zone scoring turn around, anything can happen year to year, and as fellow Bucs Nation writer Jon Marchant wrote, the Bucs are experimenting with more run pass option plays in 2018. Using more of those in the red zone would be a positive step in the right direction to scoring more touchdowns. Ultimately, fixing the scoring woes will boil down to how much of a leap Jameis Winston makes going into his fourth year, Koetter breaking some play calling tendencies, and how much the offensive line can protect/open running lanes once the pressure is on inside the red zone.

The first preseason game is tonight. The Bucs struggled finishing off drives in last years preseason games and that struggle transferred into the regular season. It is now or never for the coaching staff and players.

Don’t miss.