There was some outrage this week when Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter announced that he had resumed offensive play-calling duties.
To some, that was grounds for termination. Why change the one thing that was working?
The 16-3 loss to Washington on Sunday was baffling, even for Tony Dungy, who wrote on Twitter, “The Saints had 509 yards and scored 51 points. The Bucs had 501 yards and scored 3 points. How does that happen???”
The Saints has 509 yards and scored 51 points. The Bucs had 501 yards and scored 3 points. How does that happen??? Seems impossible to me that you could go up and down the field that many times and end up with one FG.— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) November 12, 2018
Good question, coach.
The answer might surprise you: The play-calling was fine. Would Koetter like to have a few calls back? No doubt. But he called a solid game, and it didn’t look significantly different from recent game plans, at least in terms of pass-run ratio.
One thing that stood out to me after reviewing the coaches film is that the Bucs’ passing offense used 11 personnel almost exclusively (11 personnel is code for one running back, one tight end and three receivers; it’s the most common personnel grouping in the NFL), which makes sense when you have receivers like Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries. In general, Ryan Fitzpatrick had success out of these formations, as he averaged almost 10 yards per pass, so it doesn’t seem as if predictability was an issue.
In fact, Fitzpatrick was one of the best passers in the league in Week 10 — until he and the Bucs offense reached the red zone. There, they promptly self-destructed. Everywhere else on the field, Fitzpatrick was money. He completed 80 percent of his passes, 22 of his 29 completions resulted in a first down and he averaged 11.3 yards per attempt. Inside the red zone, though, he didn’t complete a single pass (0-for-5), took two sacks, threw an interception and lost a fumble.
How does that happen??? Let’s run through each of the Bucs’ five red-zone (mis)adventures:
• Tampa Bay reaches the red zone for the first time five minutes into the first quarter. On the Bucs’ first play, Ryan Fitzpatrick throws an interception. It’s a well-designed play; running back Shaun Wilson is matched up against a linebacker and is open near the goal line, but Fitzpatrick simply overthrows him.
• On second and 8 from the Washington 16-yard line in the second quarter, Fitzpatrick scrambles, but as he approaches the first down marker, he inexplicably starts running west instead of north.
Worse, the run isn’t even necessary. Jackson runs a hitch route on the left side of the field and is open. He throws his hands up in disbelief as he watches Fitzpatrick do his Curtis Samuel impression. We are all DeSean Jackson.
On the next play, a pass to Cameron Brate slips through the tight end’s hands. Jackson gets a clean release off the line of scrimmage and is open again, though this time the window is much tighter.
Jackson again appears frustrated.
Chandler Catanzaro, whose name is not Dirk Koetter, misses the 30-yard field goal.
• Later in the second quarter, the Bucs reach the Washington 12. On first and 10, defensive end Matt Ioannidis blows past right guard Caleb Benenoch and sacks Fitzpatrick. Benenoch is called for holding, but Washington takes pity and declines the penalty. Jackson isn’t on the field, but if he were, he’d probably throw his hands up in disbelief again.
This offensive line … What is going on? The Bucs have been rebuilding this thing for years, and yet it remains as inconsistent as ever. There is one player — ONE — that this regime has acquired that has exceeded expectations, and that’s guard Ali Marpet. The list of linemen who have gotten to Tampa and flopped is a long one: Anthony Collins, Evan Smith, J.R. Sweezy, Ryan Jensen, Kadeem Edwards, Kevin Pamphile, Donovan Smith, Caleb Benenoch. General manager Jason Licht reminds me of the guy who spends half an hour sorting through the Walmart DVD bin, plucks Patch Adams, Fever Pitch and Bad Santa 2 and thinks he has scored a fantastic deal.
After two incomplete passes, Catanzaro makes a 33-yard field goal. FIRE THE CANNONS!!!
• On first and 10 from the Washington 19 in the third quarter, a certain receiver is open again. Fitzpatrick doesn’t see him again. He scrambles again. What does Jackson have to do? Set off flares after he finishes his route?
Two plays later, Jensen went full 2014 Garrett Gilkey and rolled a snap to Fitzpatrick. Gilkey had an excuse; it was his second career start. This was Jensen’s 34th.
Catanzaro finishes the drive with the Tampa Bay Special — a missed field goal.
• Down 16-3 late in fourth quarter, the Bucs drive all the way to the Washington 2. They need a touchdown to keep the game alive. Mike Evans runs a slant and is open. Fitzpatrick sees him. Evans’ hands turn to stone, and he drops the pass.
Donovan Smith to Mike Evans after the play: Hold my beer. On second and goal, Smith’s block of the oncoming edge rusher is less a block and more of an invitation to sack the quarterback. Linebacker Preston Smith spins Fitzpatrick around and knocks the ball loose. Washington recovers the fumble, essentially ending the game.
While Fitzpatrick ultimately is responsible for protecting the ball, the offensive line is responsible for protecting the quarterback, and it’s not getting the job done — regardless of who is taking the snaps. The Bucs have allowed 67 hits this season, which is fourth most. Not all are the line’s fault, but most are. Benenoch leads the team with a combined 10 sacks and hits allowed; Smith is second with nine.
The Bucs’ red-zone tally Sunday:
• two turnovers
• two missed field goals
• one dropped touchdown pass
• two sacks
• one penalty
• one bad snap
That’s on the players, not the coach. If they execute, they win.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @tometrics.