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September 24, 2013 @ 11:01 am
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PR Analysis: Bucs Offense Missing Tight End Production

Written by Mark
Mark Cook


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Trying to put a finger on why the Buccaneers offense is struggling is next to impossible. The issues are spread throughout with players and coaches equally to blame. But the tight end position that many questioned heading into the season has been nearly invisible and needs to become more productive for the offense to get on track.
When trying to determine why the Bucs offense has been such a disappointment as the team has struggled to a 0-3 start in 2013, the list of culprits is a mile long. From obvious quarterback issues, dropped passes, penalties, questionable play-calling and poor coaching, take your pick and chances are you wouldn’t be wrong.

Tampa Bay's offense ranks 31st in the league, averaging 282 yards per game – just ahead of the 0-3 Jacksonville Jaguars.

As head coach Greg Schiano says often when asked about turning things around, “If it were just one simple thing, we would do it, but it is a combination of things.”

That pretty much sums up the Bucs' season offensively through three games.

But after reviewing the film of the first three games, the lack of a pass catching tight end may be the biggest downfall of the offense through the first part of the season. The inability or unwillingness to acquire a proven tight end may be the most glaring blunder of the offseason and could prove to have enormous consequences if the Bucs finish below .500 on the year.

PewteReport.com and other media outlets have reported that a tight end isn’t an important part of Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s offensive scheme. And while that may be the case, the fact is another legitimate receiving option, particularly on third down and in the red zone – two areas that the Bucs have struggled in – would only help Freeman and the offense.

Through its three-game losing steak to start the season, the Buccaneers tight ends have managed to catch just four passes for 44 yards and no touchdowns. At this rate, Tampa Bay's tight ends are on pace to catch just 21 passes for 234 yards. Last season, Tampa Bay tight ends Dallas Clark, Luke Stocker and Nate Byham combined to total 66 catches for 628 yards and six scores.

Sunday against the Patriots, the tight ends were targeted just three times, with two receptions for nine yards. However, the one target that was an incompletion came in the first half when Tim Wright let a perfect pass from Josh Freeman sail through his hands in the back left corner of the end zone.

While the tight ends were targeted just three times there were some opportunities for Freeman to connect with both Wright and Byham, but he chose to go elsewhere with the ball. This may be a lack of confidence by Freeman in the tight ends, or Freeman’s inability to scan the field for other options, but the answer could also be in the philosophy of Sullivan.

PewterReport.com asked Sullivan before last week’s game against the Patriots if the struggles of the offense can partly be attributed to a lack of a receiving threat from the tight end position.

“That certainly can help as an added option, but right now there hasn’t been the commitment to taking away a Vincent Jackson – that’s why he’s got the number of catches he has and the production he has,” Sullivan said. “And ultimately, when teams, if they’re going to continue to allow that type of one-on-one match-up where they are going to allow you to run the football, then you’ve got two Pro Bowl players and the next thing is, ‘Why aren’t you using your two Pro Bowl players?’ So, I think that certainly has merit, we’re looking at that because there is that open end of the field ultimately and we saw a lot of it last year.

“Really it was about Week 4, Week 5, the Dallas Clark questions, the tight end questions coming to the forefront. So he was able to be a little bit more productive because again, it’s like a boxing match out there, kind of counter-punching, trying to adjust as the defense tries to take away certain weapons that you have. We’re continuing to work the guys that are there and hopefully Tom Crabtree comes back and he’s a part of the mix and we’re able to get the balance we want out of that position.”

Sullivan’s explanation makes sense. If teams are going to play single man coverage against the 6-foot-5 Jackson, it is a match-up one would expect the Bucs to win more times than not. But Freeman has been slow to come off his first pre-snap read and do much other than throw to his primary receiver.

Sunday, against the Patriots, the Bucs were facing a third-and-1 trailing 7-3 with less than five minutes left in the first half and Freeman locked on to Jackson on a go-route down the sideline. Freeman’s pass, while right on target and ultimately dropped, was still a low percentage play in that situation. Looking at the coaches tape on the play, tight end Nate Byham had beaten linebacker Brandon Spikes easily and was wide open down the seam. Yet Freeman never came off Jackson.

Sullivan is not without blame here, however. On third-and-1 why are there four vertical routes? The lack of adapting and changing to what opposing defenses are doing is something that is glaringly obvious through three games.

Earlier in the game, on a third-and-5 from the Patriots' 35, Freeman threw incomplete to Brian Leonard near the sideline, which set up one of the Bucs' failed fourth down attempts in the game. On the third-down play, Freeman never looked anywhere but to Leonard even though Wright was open as linebacker Jerod Mayo blitzed, leaving Wright a ton of space in front of the safety.

Just looking at these few plays it is easy to see that everyone has a hand in the mess. Freeman’s inability to scan the field and forcing the ball to his primary target is a problem.

Sullivan’s lack of imagination at times in the route combinations is also a problem. And the tight ends' inability to create separation at times, combined with not holding on to the balls is also a big problem.

And general manager Mark Dominik and Schiano are also not without blame. Allowing Clark to walk (Clark has 12 receptions for 112 yards in his three game with the Ravens) or at the very least drafting a pass catching tight end was a huge gamble, as was heading into the season with two injured unproven tight ends in Stocker and Crabtree.

The blame for the poor offense doesn’t fall only on the lack of tight end production. However, most would agree the tight end can be a safety valve, a red-zone and third-down weapon and a way to settle a shaky quarterback who needs to find a rhythm early in games. Tampa Bay needs to find a reliable option along with game planning a bit more to get the position involved in the offense. Drew Brees and Matt Ryan would agree that the tight end can be a quarterbacks best friend at times.
Last modified on Tuesday, 24 September 2013 13:24

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  • avatar

    Last thing Schiano... this micromanaging EVERYTHING just isn't woking! The proof is in the pudding. Make some changes dude or maybe you will find yourself back in college where you belong! Coaches coach and players play, that's why you hire your staff. If you have to constantly look over their shoulders, then perhaps you mishired! Lastly, why does everything look disorganized and like a fire drill?
  • avatar

    I think it is symptomatic of the entire coaching philosophy. This is how we do things and everybody must conform. Instead of evaluating your roster talent or lack of and scheming to the roster's strengths! They did it to Freeman by making him conform to a system instead of implementing some quick slants, QB rollouts, getting an NFL caliber TE on the roster. Whether on Offense or Defense, we can't seem to make adjustments like most good teams do??? No halftime adjustments yet I always see the skill players looking at printouts of plays and formations??? For what??? Sully is not an innovative play caller and I wonder how much Schiano imput has on Offense? Take what they give you and adapt... NFL 101. This staff seems incapable of making these adjustments! I'm just saying...
  • avatar

    Better title-" BUCS don't have a TE"....how we went this far without fixing this hole is mind numbing - guess coach doesn't see the importance of the position or there isn't a Rutgers player avail to do a decent job...makes me miss Dilger...
  • avatar

    @ Ronald: its amazing - day after day, there are comments on here that make me think "if we, the fans can see it, how the heck could the heads of OneBucPlace just be that stupid". Like you said: the Bucs hyped FB Lorig (but he is one-dimensional; just blocking good - or not used by our coaching staff properly); then there is no TE worth giving a start than Crabtree; not enough, as you said even Underwood is better than Ogletree. Why the hell did anyone think high about Ogletree?! He wasn´t anything near a good 3rd WR in Dallas too.. it goes on and on and it all can be summarized by saying: that "win-now" stuff was BS - the bucs werent a finished product (were still re-building). HC/GM went this road - and can keep on going, but without us, the Bucs. GoBucs!! lets find some good heads for the jobs, fine tune the ship, and keep the journey on to the big prize!!
  • avatar

    Year 5 and Free still can't go through the progressions and rated at the bottom for completions! Nuff said! Glennon couldn't do any worse.
  • avatar

    Hey Mark, I would have ended your article's title at "Bucs Offense Missing TE".
  • avatar

    Surferdude -- just saw your comment. Looks like we both saw that play the same. Good call.
  • avatar

    The pass to Wright may have been catchable, but in his defense it came in fast and low and he was at full stride and twisting, so it wasn't an easy catch by any means. That said, he snagged a roster spot and is expected to snag difficult catches. It is what it is. Mark, while I agree with everything you said above, the most glaring issue is still Freeman's inability to go through his progressions and make quick decisions. If Freeman makes faster reads and hits his open targets, the BUCs will score and everyone looks like geniuses. A lot has been said about how the older players will be upset if we change QBs because their clock is ticking on their careers and going with a rookie will be giving up on the season. How is that worse than staying with a tried and true loser with an inability to learn how to do his reads? Orlovsky works his progressions better than Freeman. Could Glennon be any worse? Even a rookie can't do much worse than tie an 0-3 record. Finally, for what it is worth, this weekend's game against the CARDS is definitely WINNABLE. Sure hope we aren't playing zone..............
  • avatar

    I keep saying that you cannot win in this league without a TE or a fullback. You also need a third receiver, not Ogletree. Underwood was better. Also, we have too many drops. The receivers are also about as inconsistent as Freeman. But, without a TE and a FB everyone else has to play perfect to win. That is not going to happen. Get ready for a long season.
  • avatar

    Again Owlykat calls # 19 Schiano's "pet TE." I believe you mean # 81, Tim Wright. It's Ogletree not Overstreet. Get a roster Owlykat!
  • avatar

    pinkstob, Dougie was a great pass catcher in Boise. Now he has a QB who throws late, behind him, or above him. And let's face it, when your QB is leading guys into big hits, even the toughest guys get shrinking arms. Thanks to Goldson and Freeman we may get to see a record number of dropped passes in one NFL season. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- That's Josh Freeman though, record setter... Against four or fewer pass-rushers Freeman has completed a league-worst 40.7 percent of his passes. The record lowest completion percentage by a quarterback against four or fewer pass-rushers for a full season was 51 percent by JaMarcus Russell in 2009. So we can maybe watch that record fall too. LOL.
  • avatar

    we need to win the competition with cleveland for the top pick in the draft ! switch to glennon now. even if he cannot play , we are still in contention for a good QB next year If he can play we can keep him. We know Josh will finally be gone next year and we are not going to the playoffs this year.
  • avatar

  • avatar

    Lets just wait until after this game when sound decisions can be made. We can't change these 3 losses, but we sure can control our own future. I expect players and coaches to do their very best and that's all that can be asked; the rest of it is out of their control at this moment. What us Fans can do right now is continue to support our team; we will win this game. Go Bucs! Try Harder!
  • avatar

    Well we have Davis and Wonstadt,maybe Jimmy Johnson will come back to and we can form the U north.LOL
  • avatar

    Great article Mark once again. Very insightful comments from the bloggers too. I think number 19 is Schiano's pet at tight end. However he is incompetent and probably couldn't make the roster for any other NFL team. He is Schiano's pet because he is from Rutgers. Perhaps the reason that Freeman has been declining since 2010 is because Schiano took away his tight end who Freeman had depended on. Shiano also threw away the talent of our thousand yard rusher, Blount, as well--who then ran the time out on us for New England. Schiano could not say he had a bad attitude or bad character--Schiano did not have a clue how to use him and let him rot on the bench. I kept saying at the time that other successful teams like the Giants, Saints, and even Carolina used multiple backs to keep fresh legs in the game and keep the defense off balance. But no, Schiano knew better. He just ran Doogie into the ground and that resulted in our ground game declining when Doogie slumped toward the end of the year and cost us victories last year because we became too one dimensional which kills the vertical game. Ever wonder if Doogie had been able to have the energy to catch those passes in the last game if he could have been spelled by Hollis, who Schiano has also thrown away? My view is the main culprit for this loss was Schiano himself! Schiano knew Overstreet did not win the competition to be the third receiver on our team but yet he let Garrett keep him anyway. Overstreet needs to be cut because we can use Page for that position. I have been saying for quite a while that Page should be playing that position yet it took to the last game before Schiano ever saw that. Why didn't he see it sooner if I could? Granted Freeman has some blame to bear but nothing compared to Schiano.
  • avatar

    Oh, I'd like to say something about Tim Wrights T.D. drop. That pass wasn't exactly as they say, "dropped in a bucket". Though it could've been caught, that ball came in at a low angle, hot. Better touch on the throw wouldn't have hurt.
  • avatar

    Can't say it enough: The GM is supposed to get 1, or even 2, GOOD TEs...& a GOOD third WR. He didn't do that...as many of us posted during free agency and draft periods. This is a QB league, & Freeman was never given the weapons he needed to be successful. Not saying that TEs & 3rd WR would have been the ultimate solution for our poor offense, but as has been pointed out here by other posters, Freeman used a TE extensively in previous years. Obviously, if a pass were called to the TE, Freeman would stare him down too. Finally, if a TE doesn't fit into the OC's system, he needs to change his system!! But the word "flexibility" doesn't seem to be in the vocabulary of ANY of these coaches.
  • avatar

    Mark, Brady lost two pro bowl T.E.'s, and a pro bowl wide receiver. I guess some people know how to make lemon aide with lemons!
  • avatar

    We knew before the draft during FA when we didn’t re-sign Dallas Clark that TE was a position of need. We also knew that whatever success Freeman has had the TE was a critical part of it. So why didn’t we address it? No serious football mind would believe that Tim Wright is the answer. Did we not see how Freeman used Preston Parker and Sammie Stroughter over the middle? Where is that slot receiver that we need so badly now? We had the #1 rush defense in the NFL. Why didn’t we address the secondary as we did and simply add an experienced DE to rush the passer? The draft could have been used as depth and development for future years. It all seems too simple now doesn’t it, but yet it was not done. As many times as I go back and forth looking for answers, I arrive back at the same place. Schiano is just not a qualified NFL-caliber coach. Now he’s between a rock and a hard place – a situation that he created on his own where he has to stick with an uninspired, unconfident, inconsistent Josh Freeman, or he has to wave the white flag on the season and start the inexperienced and unprepared Mike Glennon. Either way there are storm clouds on the horizon. If the novice can see what could have been, the Glazers cannot be happy with another 2 or 3 year outlook when they have spent a fortune to win now. I have been a Buc fan since their inception and I have never seen a 0-16 season for the simple reason that in 76-77, there were only 14 game seasons. I’ve been over this schedule two or three times and if we’re not careful, we’re going to make history – the kind that you never thought you’d see!
  • avatar

    @pewterreport I get that the tight-end has been invisible and getting production from the TE may be more important than most think. But why not just replace that production with a 3 WR set. Which leads us to the other glaring disappointment this year, Kevin Ogletree. Ogletree could help the team replace some of the TE production but he has been a huge dud so far. Even if he was to play better, it still does not replace all that a good TE can do. The main advantage of a TE over a 3 WR is it makes the play action more believable. There is more of a tendency to run out of a TE set than 3 WR set. Sullivan's offense is structured around the success of the run game, so having a good TE helps immensely. A good TE may not catch a lot of passes but the combination of the passes he does catch and the run threat makes it an essential cog. We should also remember that Kellen Winslow, a TE, was our leading receiver in 2010 and 2011. So, throwing to the TE is something that fits Freeman's game.
  • avatar

    PewterReportMC; you were right on with what you wrote. I agree completely. Pinstob, I believe you are too tough on Jackson as he has caught a lot more than he has dropped in that situation. Talib definitely was disruptive and I do agree, if he had brought it down it would have been a very good catch. Freeman does not have good field vision and is too slow in his 5 step drop back and that is the main problem other than coaching.
  • avatar

    Weapons? We have none at TE. With Freeman not being able to scan the field and find the open man it won't matter if we have two great TE's. This problem with no TE's and no slot receiver was a huge mistake by Dominik and Schiano.
  • avatar

    I'm I the only one who feels losing fleck has had disastrous results on receivers catching the ball? Garrett, like mcnulty is just not getting the job done and are seriously downgrades especially Garrett. Something needs to change ASAP! PR is there any evidence of free and the wideouts spending extra time working the route tree before and after practice? It works for brees why the hell aren't the bucs doing this? Also what about catching tennis balls before/after practice or at least working the jugs machine???? It's sickening watching the constant drops! Any word about page or demps working the 3rd receiver/slot? Ogeltree maybe Garret's pet but its about production and at least page catches the ball! The politics are sickening and production should trump loyalty when we are loosing like this! I thought we had a golden op to beat the pats and I'm convinced dropped passes are the underlying reason we lost. Please PR any insight?
  • avatar

    MC, I gave GA flak about this so it's only fair that I repeat it again here. There was nothing wrong with Sullivan's call on 3rd and 1. Why have 4 vertical routes? Because nobody is expecting it...and it worked because basically everyone got open. It's up to the players to execute at that point. Freeman did, V. Jackson didn't. I do completely agree though about TE being a big culprit in why the offense isn't running well. One last culprit is Dougie. He was suppossed to be the 3rd option because of his pass catching ability. I would guess he's leading the league in dropped passes by a RB since he entered the league last year.
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