When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell short against the New York Jets on Sunday, many fans were looking for someone or something to blame for the embarrassing and frustrating loss.
And while blaming Lavonte David seems obvious given his mistake that gave the Jets the chance to kick a game-winning field goal, he actually had quite the impressive game. In fact, the entire defense did well, holding the Jets in check for most of the game, especially considering the poor field position they were put in due to the inefficiency of the Bucs’ offense.
Since the defense was effective and consistent, they clearly shouldn’t take the blame for the loss. That changes the focus to the offense, and everyone’s favorite scapegoat, Josh Freeman. And while Freeman was partially to blame, the Buccaneers offense was failed by three different but connected inefficiencies.
The Offensive Players Did Not “Do Their Jobs”
Yes, Josh Freeman did not have his best game. He showed inaccuracy and made a mistake under pressure, airmailing a deep throw over the middle.
But the offensive line was worse than Freeman, giving no room for Doug Martin to run, and often given Freeman a collapsed pocket or quick pressure off the edges. Guards Davin Joseph and Gabe Carimi in particular were weak, which absolutely killed all hope for a running game.
And Freeman did make multiple accurate throws which were dropped, notably by Doug Martin and Kevin Ogletree. When the offense isn’t running at 100%, drops compound the problem and make a bad day on offense that much worse.
The Playcalling Set the Team Up to Fail
Josh Freeman is better when he throws the ball quickly, and makes quicker decisions. But that’s when he also has good enough protection to cleanly step up into the throw, and has viable options at receiver who are open early in the play.
Many of the Buccaneers’ biggest pass plays came on short, quick throws to Vincent Jackson. Freeman delivered accurate throws to an open receiver shortly after the snap.
But let’s take a look at some of the plays that show how the Bucs set their offense up to fail.
As you can see, the Buccaneers have four receivers heading out on similar routes, with Vincent Jackson presenting the clear primary target out of the slot.
But let’s see how the play develops just two seconds after Josh Freeman takes the snap.
Freeman is already under pressure, and two of his receivers might as well not even be on the field, as the bottom two options are well covered, and appear to be running a route designed only to take a defender down the field.
The thick black line in the backfield represents the multiple defenders closing on Josh Freeman, preventing him from stepping into and making a throw to the one receiver who is open on the play.
Did Freeman even know that receiver was open? It’s unlikely. But he had no chance of getting him the ball anyways.
So Jackson is the only viable option, and Freeman had the choice of throwing the ball, or taking a sack. So he forces the ball to Jackson, despite three defenders in his area.
This is the state of the play from Freeman’s point of view. Notices that both tackles are chasing their responsibilities, while three interior linemen are all occupied with one defender. Gabe Carimi (circled in red, standing on his own blocking nothing) might as well not even be on the field on the play.
But Brian Leonard has wound up in pass block duty, and he’s not picked up his blitzer well enough to keep him out of Josh Freeman’s lap. You can see Freeman stepping to his left as he throws, which ruins his already questionable delivery.
Freeman probably could have taken off to run behind Carimi, and considering that both linebackers in coverage don’t have their eyes on the Bucs’ quarterback. But it’s clear that Freeman is no longer able to run the football in this offense, so it’s clear why he didn’t do that.
Here is another example of a play where Freeman didn’t have viable options to throw to in the time it took for the play to develop.
As you can see, Freeman has three Jets defenders closing on him within two seconds of the snap.
And with only three receivers out on the route, that means there should have been enough protection to keep Freeman clean to get the ball deep down the field.
Look at all of the blockers outside of the red circle, who have allowed the three Jets to get past.
Likewise, look at the receivers. There are no options for Freeman if he’s under trouble. Everyone is simply running straight down the field.
What options does Freeman have? He’s forced to take a sack, because all of his receivers are running routes that take more than two full seconds to even start to get open.
Likewise, with his back to his own endzone once again in this game, Freeman was force to try to throw with only three options available, and all three options are running deep, straight routes.
It’s no wonder the Jets could stop the Buccaneers, they ran virtually the same play over and over, and it’s a play that gives Josh Freeman and his offensive line absolutely no margin for error.
The team was successful on short quick passes all afternoon. Yet in key situations, the playcall was usually some ridiculous attempt to gain 30 yards on one play like in the images shown above.
The Offense Was in Awful Situations All Game Long
For this point, I’ll refer to an excellent article from GurSamuel at BucsNation. You can check it out here.
The short version of Gur’s article is that the Buccaneers had a tremendously high “yards-to-go” average on third downs. This is a direct result of point one from this article, which was the players failing to execute on first and second downs and gain yards to make third down easier.
The Buccaneers managed to convert a decent amount of their insanely long third down attempts, because Josh Freeman and his two best receivers have excellent chemistry and tons of ability. But putting the team in those situations over and over again sets the team up for failure.
A third and 12 is going to call for a pass play where everyone runs down the field for two to three seconds. And as we saw above, the Buccaneers run those plays fairly often, and it’s not always a positive result.
Likewise, when the Buccaneers do line up for these plays, they’re only sending three receivers out on routes. That means the defense can send 6-8 players after the quarterback, and Josh Freeman becomes a sitting duck.
Freeman has never been good under pressure, yet the offensive system continues to put him in a position to sit in a max protect pocket and wait for someone to come open. That couldn’t be farther from his strength.
As I mentioned in my article about the shortcomings of the Buccaneers’ coaching staff, their inability to adapt to their best players and allow for creativity and excellent play is holding the offense back. Continually placing the team in third and long and expecting Josh Freeman to deliver a perfect back shoulder throw isn’t even a viable strategy in a video game, much less in the NFL.
So the players, the playcalling, and the situations all formed a perfect storm to keep the Buccaneers offense out of the game for a majority of the contest on Sunday. But the good news is that these things can all improve together.
If Doug Martin has more running room, the playcalling can improve.
If the playcalling is better, it keeps the defense honest and helps the team get into better situations.
When the team isn’t in third and long as often, short, quick throws become more of an option.
If the Buccaneers can start putting these things together, the offense can reach its potential. But that means the players and coaches will need to improve, and that improvement must come quickly. 0-1 can turn into 0-3 very quickly, and the NFC playoff picture won’t allow for that kind of slow start.
And frankly, a slow start like that doesn’t bode well for the general manager, coach, or quarterback’s future in Tampa Bay.