Lack of balance has hamstrung Buccaneers offense

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 14: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passes the ball during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 14: Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passes the ball during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 14, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have put up extraordinary passing numbers this season, but being one-dimensional is a recipe for disaster, no matter how strong that one dimension is.

You’ve heard it on all the NFL shows. “The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their number one offense!”

Ever since their passing explosion behind Ryan Fitzpatrick to begin the season the Bucs have been at or near the top of the total-yardage rankings in the NFL; as it stands today, they’re second with 5591 yards, behind the Chiefs with 5687. While it’s always nice to hear the Buccaneers talked about in glowing terms, it’s remarkable how misleading this statistic is.

For one, it’s hard to make any sense of the numbers. How can one of the worst rushing teams in the league still be second in the league in total yardage? How can a team that has changed quarterbacks three times throughout the season manage to put up 400 yards every game consistently? Further, how can an offensive coordinator/head coach be squarely on the hot-seat when their offense is putting up astronomical statistics?

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The answer: a perfect storm of unbalanced football. The Buccaneers are jam-packed with talented pass-catchers, perhaps more so than any other team in the league.

Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, DeSean Jackson, Adam Humphries, Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard creates chunk yardage with ease, and all of them seem to make a big play every time they touch the ball.

Combine that deep receiving corps with an utter lack of a running game, an offense designed to create big plays downfield, and a league-worst defense putting the team in early holes and giving the offense plenty of opportunities to rack up yardage, and you have 5591 yards of losing offense.

So, how do you go about fixing an offense that is second in the league in total yardage?

The very first move is to find a new head coach and offensive philosophy. This pedal-to-the-metal, uber-aggressive approach from head coach Dirk Koetter and offensive coordinator Todd Monken is not a winning style of football, as we’ve seen over the last three seasons. Throwing low-percentage passes the majority of the time will yield a ton of yards for an elite group of pass-catchers like the Bucs have, but it also invites turnovers and red-zone issues, which the Bucs have struggled mightily with. Quarterback Jameis Winston consistently doesn’t have a check-down option, which brings to surface his tendency for dangerous hero ball.

Ideally, a new offensive philosophy will allow the Buccaneers to be more strategic in their approach.

If a defense is shutting down deep routes and opening up the short to intermediate game, then the Bucs can adjust their plan of attack. Vice versa, if the defense is packing the box to slow down the run and short passing game, they’ll adapt mid-game and get aggressive downfield.

In this league you can be the Saints, who adjusted at halftime of last weeks’ game and smashed their way to a second-half comeback; or you can be the Buccaneers, who do not seem to make adjustments to their opponent and consistently blow leads.

Once a new, more consistent offensive philosophy is in place, the new-look Bucs will need to focus on getting tougher up front. As it stands today, the Bucs are one of the softest short-yardage teams in the league. They have no power run game thanks to the worst right guard play in all of football, and inconsistency on other parts of the line has left the Bucs once again struggling to finish in the red zone and close out games in general.

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The Bucs will also more than likely pursue a running back to help fix one of the league’s worst rushing games. The team has too many elite pass-catchers to turn into a run-first team, so this player doesn’t need to be particularly dynamic, just tough and capable of playing on third down (Chris Carson, anyone?).

Fortunately for the Buccaneers, most of the personnel pieces are already in place. For next season they’ll likely lose DeSean Jackson, but the rest of the passing offense will remain. On the offensive line, they’ll probably need to find a new right guard and right tackle, but they’re set at center and left guard for at least 2019. Winston will be in his last season under contract with the Bucs, so they’ll have a capable signal caller in place as well.

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Whether or not Jason Licht will be here to make these moves is anyone’s guess, but the formula is straightforward for whoever is calling the shots. Find a head coach with an adaptive, balanced mindset for attacking defenses. Strengthen the right side of your offensive line, and find a running back who you can rely on in short-yardage situations and in the red zone. To put it shortly: the Buccaneers need to find balance.