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Offensive insights with Byron Leftwich as he prepares for the Chargers

He’s been trying to teach through the penalties without stopping guys from being aggressive

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Training Camp
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich looks on during training camp
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich sat down with the media via Zoom on Thursday and answered some tough questions about the stalling offensive production in the second half, getting Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard more involved, and how they’re struggling with penalties.

We also got into story time talking about his interactions with Tom Brady when he played against him 17 years ago. He capped off the presser with a response about setting the game plan against another defense decimated by injuries.

The penalties have absolutely been the weakest link for this offense. Leftwich says some of those penalties are earned and they’re coming about because they’re playing so aggressively.

Some of them were earned, to be honest with you. When you play football, sometimes there are penalties, especially post-snap penalties. The ones that really kill you are the pre-snap penalties.

We’ve got to do a better job of just not having pre-snap penalties and trying to limit as many post-snap penalties as possible. What I do like about our guys [is that] our guys are being aggressive and they’re playing in an aggressive way.

Sometimes those penalties come about, so you try to teach through those penalties without stopping the guys from being aggressive.

Aggressive or not, penalties are killing this squad right now and they’re losing critical yardage at critical points in the game. They are the second worst team in pre-snap penalties with 10, slightly behind the Chargers who have 11. They have 27 total flags against them tied for fourth, and the Bucs have lost a total of 211 yards through 3 weeks of play.

It boils down to player discipline and accountability. Brady’s former team only has 10 flags for 92 total yards heading into week 4, if that’s worth any comparison. The Bucs have a real chance to clean the mental mistakes up and get down to playing some smart football in the week’s ahead. They have the staff to make that happen.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Leftwich seemed to dodge a question about getting Gronk and Howard involved. He shifted the focus more on Evans instead. He was asked if it was his job as a play caller to get Gronkowski and Howard more involved.

Yeah, but you can’t control what the defense does. If they want to put three [defenders] on Mike Evans, they’re going to put three on Mike. If they want to do what they want to do, they’re going to do what they feel they have to do.

Not sure how the call to get his tight ends more involved has to do with Mike Evans, however, I can see a point there. If Brady sees that defenses are going to double up and play tight on any of his receivers, of course the call goes the other way.

I think we’ve seen a lot of one-on-one matchups with Howard and Gronkowski though. Leftwich even addressed this is a structure of their offense, but he still didn’t circle back to how he gets his tight ends involved.

We have to be structured in a way that the guy who gets the one-on-one matchup [and] the guy that the ball does go to makes the play. I think that’s what we’re trying to develop.

As he wrapped up his response, he acknowledged Gronk’s involvement last week. He was the top receiving option after all. But, still no mention of Howard. Both tight ends have 8 receptions a piece for the season. Howard has 96 total yards over Gronkowski’s 59.

Like I tell you – don’t force feed it. We’ll get guys the ball. I’m always trying to put these guys in positions, so everything is thought out all the time. Sometimes the ball doesn’t come his way, but obviously it came [their] way last week and we’ll see.

NFL: SEP 20 Panthers at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As some of you may remember, Byron Leftwich was actually a quarterback once. When he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars he frequently played the New England Patriots being from the same conference.

His first game against Tom Brady was back in 2003, when the Jags faced the Patriots in week 15 of the 2003-2004 season. This was the same season Brady and Belichick began their illustrious Super Bowl career together.

Leftwich was asked if he remembers when he faced Tom Brady as a rookie quarterback.

I remember it being extremely cold. That’s what I really remember about that. They were a good football team. At the time, we had no idea he would be who he became at the time.

He was then asked about any interactions he remembered having with Brady.

I remember us talking after the game [and] I remember us talking after a playoff game where we lost to those guys. We had great conversations when we saw each other all the time – even 20 [or] 17 years ago.

We’ve always been in a good spot when we saw each other. We always communicated and we just so happen to be working with each other.

The communication between the play caller and quarterback is critical. It’s the offensive coordinator’s job to send in the right call or series. Then it’s the quarterback’s job to go out and translate that the best way possible.

Many of you are reading this saying, “no really?” But honestly, if the coordinator and quarterback are not effectively on the same page, and not mutually working well with each other on the game plan, then it would be even more disastrous than the penalties they’ve incurred. Given how well they’ve improved overall through 3 weeks, I’d say they’re working out really well and this is turning out to be a nice marriage.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Commonly implemented in west-coast offenses, the play-action pass has been widely adopted across the league. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers all listed as the best play-action quarterbacks of our generation.

Tom Brady has undoubtedly been one of the best play-action quarterbacks during his time in New England. With as effective as the Bucs running back corp is, you would think you could draw in a few defenses with some really well executed play-action passes, but he just hasn’t been given the call.

Leftwich was asked why that is.

I don’t really know. I don’t know what percentage we were at first and where we should really be at from a percentage standpoint. I’m fine where we’re at as an offense and what we’re doing.

We’re doing things that are putting us in position to be successful. Everything we try to do, we try to do to have success. We’ll do the right things that we feel as though we need to do to win each individual ballgame.

Which ever ballgame that is, whatever game plan that is, we’ll try to execute it to the best of our ability to be successful.

Leftwich was later asked about Brady taking extra time with players who haven’t gotten many reps like Johnson, Watson and Mickens to try and get them up to speed.

I think he’s always done that. He’s done that now for months now. That’s who he is [and] that’s how he operates. That won’t be [any] different from that standpoint because that’s something that he’s continuously done since he’s been here.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Chargers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The final question for Leftwich was about the Chargers defense and the game plan. The Chargers are a bit banged up in the middle without their star defensive end Melvin Ingram III currently on IR. They’re also without Chris Harris Jr., Derwin James and Justin Jones, all on the IR.

If you look at it though, the Broncos weren’t much different. In fact, the Broncos were much worse. The Broncos have 8 players on IR, and 5 more are listed as out.

The media asked Leftwich if the Chargers missing key defensive players changes his game plan.

Not really. You cut the tape on it and you see how well they’re playing [and] you know they’re well coached by who’s there coaching them. This is a well-coached team [and] this is a team that plays hard. They play hard, they play physical [and] they show up on tape all the time, constantly.

Leftwich then compared the Chargers to the way him and the rest of the Bucs staff prep their guys.

This is the National Football League. We preach all the time ‘Next man up’ here. We believe in it, so we assume everybody else believes in it, too. We’ll give everybody their due respect. This is the National Football League [and] this is players [who are] the best in the world.

There’s a lot of guys out here who know how to play the game of football and can play the game at a high level. We respect all those guys [and] we don’t care who they are. We understand that they’re good enough to have success in this league, so we prepare that way.

We’ll see how this translates on the field on Sunday as the Bucs prepare to take on the Los Angeles Chargers in front of limited fans on their home turf at Raymond James Stadium. Game time is 1:00 PM ET, being aired on CBS.