As the Bucs get ready to battle another NFC South opponent on the road Sunday, their overall struggles have dropped them to a 3 – 7 record. And while their pass defense is the worst in the NFL, increasing criticism is growing of their offense and specifically, play-calling. And that’s where head coach, Bruce Arians, may come into play.
For the first time in his NFL career, since he became a play-calling offensive coordinator and then a head coach, Arians has given way on the play-calling on game day this season to offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich.
Now on the surface, the Buccaneers have been scoring a bunch of points. In fact they are seventh in the NFL at 27.7 ppg and have scored at least 23 points or more in every game since week two.
However, a deeper examination shows that the Buccaneers are lacking seriously in balance on offense. That includes Sunday against the Saints, where they only ran the ball eight total times and just six times from their running backs.
This included a first-quarter, where the Bucs only possessed the ball twice and ran a total of 5 plays, as they fell behind New Orleans 13 – 0. Then, as the Saints lead grew to 20 – 0, obviously, the Bucs were going to become much more of a passing team to try to get back in the game.
But, even when they did get a touchdown and then eventually a third-quarter field goal to cut the lead to 20-10, Leftwich did not mix in run plays, as the second half unfolded.
Yes, the Buccaneers used screen passes to Ronald Jones and also receiver Scotty Miller to try to offset the Saints pass rush, but the lack of commitment to the run was glaring Sunday. And the other component is: this nullified any play-action threat from the Buccaneers, which they’ve had success earlier in this season.
Since Jones became the starting running back four games ago, he’s only carried the ball more than 11 times in one game, and that was 18 carries in the 40-34 OT loss at Seattle three weeks ago. He carried four times Sunday.
As for Leftwich, he did call the plays for second half of last season in Arizona and has been very familiar with Arians’ offense. This is because he previously played with Arians and Ben Roethlisberger in the same offense in Pittsburgh.
Still, when you’re the guy responsible not only for the gamenplan, but for what to call and when, the pressure turns up.
Again, the Buccaneers have scored a bunch of touchdowns, but some of them have been late in games, while the team has been trailing by two or more scores and that can skew the overall offensive stats and scoring, too.
The reality is Tampa Bay does not have an identity with their run game right, now and with six games to go they need to try to figure out, if they can get one back.
And, it may be that Arians who had tremendous success in Pittsburgh and in Indianapolis prior to becoming the Cardinals coach by calling plays, takes those reins back over at least for a game or two to see if it makes a difference.
Bucs win fourth straight whipping hapless Lions Sunday
For the fourth consecutive game, the Tampa Bay Bucs put together four full quarters and this time, beat a struggling Detroit team 38-17 in the Motor City Sunday.
Quarterback Jameis Winston once again through an early interception, but then, also once again, played brilliantly afterwards, throwing for 458 yards and four touchdowns as the Bucs led 21 – 0 in the first half.
Showing no ill effects from a tiny thumb fracture on his throwing hand, Winston hooked up with Breshad Perriman (above) on the first of two first half scores for a 7 – 0 lead. Then, after a franchise record 99-yard drive, found rookie Scottie Miller on an 33 yard touchdown and it was 14 – 0.
Winston’s third score of the first half was also to Perriman wide open from 25 yards and he topped 300 yards in passing in half number one.
Tampa Bay took a 24 – 3 early in the third, but then the Lions behind rookie free agent quarterback David Blough made a bit of a rally. Blough led two scoring drives that were capped by fellow rookie Wes Hills taking them in from a yard out for TDs and it was 24 – 17 early in the fourth quarter
The Lions actually got the ball back and looked like they might have a chance to go tie the game but that’s when, Buccaneers rookie defensive back Sean Murphy-Bunting jumped in front of a Blough pass on the Lions sideline and raced 70 yards untouched for what turned out to be the clinching score. Winston added a third touchdown pass to Perriman in the final three minutes to provide the final margin.
In the win Winston made NFL history, as the first quarterback to ever throw for 450 yards or more in back-to-back games. And, he has all but solidified that he will be brought back as the quarterback for 2020 with the way that he has played down the stretch the season.
Despite throwing his lead reading 24th interception in the first quarter, Winston is in the top free in touchdown passes and yardage, and the Bucs are coming on strong late.
It’s the first time they’ve won four times in a row, since the end of the 2016 season, when they won five straight games. And, Tampa Bay has now levelled their record to 7 – 7. It is only the second time in the last 7 seasons the Bucs have won at least seven games. The Lions loss is their seventh straight and 10th in 11 games.
The Buccaneers will come back home for a special Saturday afternoon game with the AFC South leading Houston Texans. Houston was victorious in Nashville Sunday and will be looking for a win trying to secure a playoff spot.
Bucs in Detroit leads our NFL primer
Three weeks to go in the NFL regular season and all three state NFL teams are in action in winnable situations.
First, the Buccaneers try to level their record at 7 – 7 and win their fourth game in a row, as they travel to take on the lowly Detroit Lions. All eyes will be on quarterback Jameis Winston, who suffered a tiny fracture in his throwing thumb late in the first half of last week’s 38-35 win over the Colts.
After initially missing the first series of the second half while having a thumb x-rayed, Winston came back and led the Buccaneers to a 17-point rally, including throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman the final 5 minutes. Coach Bruce Arians declared Winston ready to go after he was able to throw the ball in Friday practice.
Tampa Bay will be without star wide receiver Mike Evans with a pulled hamstring suffered in the win last week and maybe, without starting left tackle Donovan Smith, who suffered a knee injury Sunday and could not practice this week. Smith is listed as doubtful for the game.
Meanwhile, the Lions are struggling mightily having lost six games in a row and are down to 3rd string quarterback David Blough and backup running backs. This is a very winnable game for the Buccaneers inside of Ford Field.
As for the Dolphins, they’re back in the Meadowlands for the second consecutive week in a scheduling quirk. Seven days after losing in heartbreaking fashion 22 – 21 to the Jets on a last-second field goal, they will play MetLife Stadium’s other tenant, the New York Giants.
The Dolphins have played much better football down the stretch of the season and had they taken advantage of the five red-zone opportunities last week with something other than Jason Sanders field goals, we would probably be talking about a fourth win in five games for them.
Miami gave wide receiver DeVante Parker a lucrative contract extension on Friday, but he is questionable to play after suffering a concussion last week and will be a game-time decision. As for the Giants, they have gone back to veteran QB Eli Manning, who was benched earlier in the year in favor of rookie QB Daniel Jones.
Manning lead the Giants out to a 17 – 3 lead in Philadelphia on Monday Night Football only to see the offense stall and the Eagles rally to win in overtime.
This is also one of several teams that Miami is competing with for a better draft position next April, but you get the sense that Brian Flores’ team is not worried about that right now.
Finally, the Jacksonville Jaguars stumble into Oakland for an historic final game for the Raiders at their home for the last 60 years.
The Jags have lost five straight games and Coach Doug Marrone acknowledged this week that he and everyone in the front office and on the field is on notice that they may be out of a job. The Jaguars benched Nick Foles after the first half of the loss two weeks ago to Tampa Bay, but QB Gardner Minshew got very little going on offense last week in their blowout loss at home to the Chargers.
It would not be surprising if Minshew struggles again this afternoon, that Marrone turns back to Foles try to spark the team.
As for the Raiders that they were looking good in the AFC playoff picture at 6 – 4, but have now lost three straight games including a blowout loss to Tennessee at home last week, which has all but eliminated them
Derek Carr and the Raider offense will look to take advantage of a poor and banged up Jacksonville defense that has been surrendering over 25 points a game each of the last five weeks.
The Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas next year and this is their final scheduled game to be played in the nostalgic Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. So the Jags will be the answer to a trivia question, as well.
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