The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were upset by the Pittsburgh Steelers this past Sunday, and there is only one question going through everyone’s mind right now. What is wrong with Tampa Bay’s offense?
To find an answer to that question, I had to take a deep dive into Tampa’s own offensive play calling issues and how defenses around the league are limiting the passing offense as a whole.
Many of the NFL’s top offenses from last year have taken a noticeable dip in production this season, and Tampa Bay has not been exempt from this trend. The only two teams that have managed to keep their offense humming are the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. But, those advantages can be chalked up largely to having quarterbacks who can buy themselves time with their legs and make throws downfield when it matters most. Simply replicating what the Buccaneers have done over the past few years is no longer a viable recipe for success.
The primary cause of this decline in offenses is that defenses are using a “bend don’t break” strategy. They’re protecting against deep passes by putting two-high safeties on the field, which leaves room for offenses to succeed underneath. When a quarterback can’t take deep shots downfield, they have to wait longer for an opening to appear. When an offensive line is struggling as much as the Buccaneers’, Tom Brady doesn’t have enough time – or mobility—to wait around patiently for a receiver to get open.
There are two obvious solutions to deal with defenses giving a two-high look, but the Buccaneers don’t seem to have the ability to execute either.
The simplest solution would be to focus on establishing the running game. If the Buccaneers could manage a good run, it would force the defense to employ a single-high safety, thus opening up opportunities for passes. The Buccaneers are currently near the bottom of both rushing attempts and yards among all teams in the entire league. Tampa Bay needs to establish themselves as able runners if they want defenses to respect the threat and not see it as an easy mark. Football is a ground-and-air game; when you don’t have one aspect working well, it makes defending much simpler against even the best quarterbacks.
The solution is not as simple as just having more rushing attempts because it also requires the Buccaneers to have better play calling and execution. The offensive line is simply not up to the task, and it’s evident in both their rushing and passing plays. In Sunday’s game, there were several instances where Leonard Fournette was hit early behind the line because no one blocked a rusher coming through the middle. This problem also extends to the passing game, where Brady’s lack of time in the pocket is leading to pressure and forcing Bray to check down.
According to Next Gen Stats, Tom Brady has the lowest time to throw in the league at 2.42 seconds. To me, the Buccaneers troubles come from a poor offensive line and poor play calling that will not mitigate that weakness’.
It’s not just on individual players to improve, but also on coaches and play callers to make sure they are putting the team in positions to succeed.
With a poor offensive line, the other solution seems more ideal, which would be to throw short passes that are designed to generate yards after the catch. According to NBC Sports, the Buccaneers are 10th in the league when it comes to YAC. This is as good of a stat as it seems because 35.3% of those yards belong to Fournette on check-downs rather than plays designed to generate yards after the catch. If I assume that 50% of Fournette’s yards are Brady checking down to him and take those yards away from the Buccaneers total because they are not plays that are supposed to generate YAC, but rather Brady having no other option to check down, it brings the Buccaneers to 21st in the league in the stat.
The problem can be solved by more short throws to the receiver, so they have a chance to make a play after the catch, and then run established plays. If those two things happen, the deep passing game will open up. However, I’m not very confident because of how Tampa’s offensive line is performing. In conclusion, coaches’, players’, and Tom Brady’s faults are to blame for this loss and the Buccaneers’ struggles on offense. But there is always room for improvement with better execution of plays.