NFC North Reporter
The Buccaneers are stagnant.
Thursday night’s 27-22 loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens was yet another frustrating example of a team that can’t seem to pull things together — and eight games have already been played.
Offensively, nothing is working, which is in turn affecting the other side of the ball. By the time the fourth quarter came around in Tampa, the defense had already been on the field for 59 plays. The final time of possession tally: Baltimore had possession for 38:23, Tampa Bay for 21:37.
Even Ryan Fitzpatrick, a former quarterback of the Bucs (and eight other NFL teams) had no answers in his postgame comments. The Buccaneers themselves could not muster any. It’s the first time Tom Brady has lost three consecutive games since 2002. It’s the first time in his career he’s been below .500 through eight weeks. And there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. This is what the Bucs have looked like all season, save for Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys. Even their other two wins haven’t come in convincing fashion.
“I think we’ve struggled pretty much at everything,” said quarterback Tom Brady after the game. “Struggled in (the) red area, struggled on third down, struggled in the run game, two-point plays, short yardage, backed up, start of the first quarter, start of the third quarter. Not very good offensive football.”
So what exactly needs to be fixed?
The offense itself is painfully one-dimensional. The only time it wasn’t was on the first couple drives of the game, both of which ended in points. And keep in mind, those first few are usually scripted ahead of time. The opening series for the Bucs’ offense was balanced, too, containing four passes and five runs, including the one-yard score from running back Leonard Fournette.
Then the second drive, though they got a field goal out of it, stalled behind five consecutive passes. Though they had a 10-3 lead, the Bucs inexplicably all but completely abandoned the run. They ended the night with just 44 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
Meanwhile, Brady attempted 44 passes and completed 26 of them for 325 yards and a touchdown. Receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin caught just six of 11 targets apiece. Essentially, Tampa is only doing one thing offensively — and not particularly well.
Perhaps the most curious thing is how much the chemistry between Brady and his receivers has seemingly regressed. Those aforementioned two are in their third year with Brady so there is absolutely no reason they all shouldn’t be on the same page. Julio Jones, who got his first touchdown as a Buccaneer Thursday night, is a consummate pro no matter who he’s playing for, so he shouldn’t need half a season to get on script with Brady. It’s more evident than ever how much the 23-year veteran is missing his safety net in Rob Gronkowski, who retired prior to the season. Brady didn’t even have tight end Cam Brate, who has stood in for Gronk this season, because of injury.
Either way, the timing throws Brady loves so much aren’t there. But why they aren’t there is still a mystery. Is Brady’s internal clock speeding up because he doesn’t trust his protection? Is he holding the ball too long? Are his throws off target? Are his receivers just simply off their spots?
Or have defenses figured them out because they don’t have to worry about the Bucs running the ball?
Maybe it’s all of the above.
It’s what makes it even more puzzling that the Bucs can’t or won’t run the ball. If the passing game isn’t working, switch it up. They are dead-last in rushing offense this season and it isn’t because they lack the backs to do it. The team drafted Rachaad White in the third round to complement Fournette, who is supposed to be one of the most complete backs in the league.
Given the Bucs’ ineffectiveness even when they try to run, it’s almost understandable that they revert back to passing. That’s what this offense was built on, after all. But Tampa was just four-for-13 on third down. They rank 26th in third-down conversion rate in the league at just 36.11%.
And then there’s the red zone.
Even when the Bucs manage to move the ball down the field, most of the time they end up settling for a field goal. They are converting just 47.37% of their red zone trips into touchdowns, which is tied for 27th in the league. They rank 22nd in goal-to-go situations, converting just 63.6% of situations inside the 10-yard line into six points.
This may fall on the offensive line and how much it’s struggled this season without its leader in center Ryan Jensen. Though Robert Hainsey has filled in admirably, the impact of losing a tone-setter like Jensen cannot be overstated. The offensive line affects everything and provides one explanation for an offense that simply isn’t working across all facets.
If it’s not the offensive line, then perhaps we need to revisit the fact that the first few offensive drives of a game are often scripted. It means the team knows exactly what it’s going to run regardless of what the opponent’s defense is doing. It’s a period of being able to evaluate and adjust. You see what works and what doesn’t and then you stick to the former. Only, we haven’t seen those adjustments within games take place.
The Ravens, conversely, did exactly that. They got away from themselves in the first half, passing the ball 32 times and running it just seven. But injuries to their top receivers in tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Rashod Bateman forced them back to the ground in the second half. It could just have been the best thing to happen to them. Baltimore outscored the home team 17-6 in the second half.
The Bucs now have a 10-day break before the Los Angeles Rams come to town. Maybe that will be enough time to make some serious adjustments.
“I think we’re going to try to figure out everything,” said Brady following the game. “I think we’re going to try to evaluate. We’re going to have a little extra time to see what we’re doing and how we can do better moving forward.”
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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