TAMPA – OK, enough about the kicker. That situation will be sorted out soon enough. Besides, Nick Folk’s struggles are not the only cause for concern for the Buccaneers right now.
In case you haven’t noticed, the offense still isn’t humming quite the way everyone thought it would. That’s why all those missed field goals are such a big deal.
That bottom line here is that the Bucs wouldn’t be so reliant on their kicker if they were doing a better job of finishing their potential scoring drives as they currently rank 17th in the league in red-zone efficiency.
The Bucs have so far scored a touchdown on just seven of 14 drives (50-percent) inside the 20 yard line, this after making that a new point of emphasis after they scored a TD on just 51.9-percent of their red-zone chances last year.
The issue seems to largely be one of continuity, because it’s clear that the Bucs are actually excelling in one area of play that many thought would once again be an area of weakness this year.
Little was expected of a Bucs line that was ranked 23rd overall by Pro Football Focus last year, but that unit continues to excel, particularly when it comes to protecting quarterback Jameis Winston.
We noted here last week how much of a better job the Bucs are doing of keeping Winston clean this year, and that trend continued through the loss to the Patriots.
Winston was sacked twice and hit six times on 46 drop backs in that game, but he was also given more than 2.6 seconds to find a receiver on 67.3-percent of those drop backs, per PFF.
Against a zone defense the Bucs didn’t necessarily expect to see for some reason, that extra time is what allowed Winston to complete 26 passes, throw for 334 yards and keep the Bucs in the game until the end.
Winston completed 18-of-29 passes and produced a passer rating of 86.9 when he had more than 2.6 seconds to find a receiver and when he didn’t face any pressure, which was often, he completed 23-of-38 throws for 303 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 94.5.
“And, depending on who’s counting, there were somewhere between six and eight drops in there,’’ Bucs coach Dirk Koetter added. “Drops are always a little bit debatable but there were some obvious ones.
“But our O-line protected well. That’s one of the things we did a good job on. I mean, neither of the sacks were really on the offensive line. So we had high grades across the board for our O-line.’’
At least as far protection goes, the grades have been relatively high all year. After being hit 109 times each of the past two seasons, Winston has been hit just 17 times so far this year.
That represents a sizable improvement. Now all the Bucs have to do is find a way to take better advantage of the fact they’re giving their quarterback a better chance to make plays.