Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Offensive Coordinator, 2015 and Head Coach, 2016-Present)
Buccaneer fans are familiar with this part, of course. Koetter joined Lovie Smith‘s staff in 2015 as the offensive coordinator before being promoted to head coach before the 2016 campaign. In his first season, Doug Martin saw a career resurgence. He ran for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns on 288 carries (4.9 YPC), while Charles Sims had his best year (529 yards on 107 carries). The success on the ground helped rookie quarterback Jameis Winston to a record-breaking year. He threw for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns to fifteen interceptions in his first year as a pro. Tampa Bay finished 6-10, but that was still a four-win improvement helped greatly by an offense that finished fifth in the league in points per game.
Since Koetter took over the head coaching job in 2016, he has dealt with constant backfield issues. Martin’s career with the Bucs went south fast, as he dealt with injuries and a suspension in addition to simple inconsistency on the field. The team finished 2016 with the 24th-most rushing yards and the offense dipped to eighteenth in points per game. Sure, the 9-7 finish looked nice for a franchise that has struggled to be competitive for over ten years. But the defense had a lot to do with that late-season surge and it’s no stretch to say that a better run game might have opened the offense enough to earn one more win and a playoff berth.
Most recently, Tampa Bay finished 5-11 in 2017. Peyton Barber emerged as the leading rusher with 423 yards and three touchdowns on 108 carries (3.9 YPC). Martin’s time in Tampa ended with a thud, as he ran for just 406 yards on 138 attempts (2.9 YPC). Winston’s injury was a lasting issue throughout the season, but his absence might have been a little more bearable if the team had a productive rushing attack. It didn’t, which led to a last place finish in the division.
Thoughts on Tampa Bay tenure
Considering the fact that we’ve seen Koetter’s time with the Bucs up close, we know what has unfolded. 2015 gave everyone a glimpse of how effective a Tampa Bay offense could be with Winston, Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and a successful backfield. The balance displayed by the offense that year was something that the Bucs hadn’t really seen before. The next two years obviously left a lot to be desired, which led to the changes we saw this offseason. Martin is out and rookie Ronald Jones II is in.
Jones and Barber are expected to make up Tampa Bay’s 1-2 punch this season. The NFL has seen a shift to more two-headed backfields in recent years, but that concept is something that Dirk Koetter’s offenses have thrived on since 2007. First came Taylor and Jones-Drew in Jacksonville. Turner and Rodgers were next in Atlanta, to a lesser extent. Could Jones and Barber be next in the line of successful two-headed rushing attacks for Koetter?
If they are, it should open up a lot more for the passing game. Winston could use the help from his running backs. If he can cut down on his turnovers and use his seemingly endless supply of weapons effectively, he will be able to take the next step in 2018. A step forward for Winston, as well as some balance provided by a strong run game, could allow the Buccaneer offense to finally live up to its potential.