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Some say stats are for losers, but Pewter Report has identified five eye-opening stats and areas that have contributed to Tampa Bay losing three of its last four games after an impressive 5-1 start.

As you’ll see below, the Bucs will be hard pressed to win another game if they don’t significantly improve in each of these areas.

Starting Field Position
Why is Tampa Bay’s 21st-ranked offense struggling to sustain drives and score points (17.5 avg. per game) this season? Well, the Bucs’ problems are starting before the offense even comes onto the field.

Tampa Bay’s average starting field position has been horrific this season. In fact, the Bucs are ranked dead last in this category.

The Bucs have been starting drives at the 23-yard line on average, which means Tampa Bay’s kickoff return unit isn’t doing a good enough job.

Cornerback Torrie Cox, who finished last season with an impressive 26.2-yard kickoff return average, has struggled, averaging just 19.2 yards per attempt this year.

Now, it’s not all Cox’s fault. The Bucs have been penalized entirely too much on special teams, especially in the return game, and the fact that the team has not went out in free agency to sign a proven return man like former Bucs WR Frank Murphy suggests the woeful return game has more to do with the blockers and penalties than it does the return man.

Tampa Bay’s young offense is a work in progress and will be hard pressed to put together 77-yard drives on a consistent basis. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden tends to get more conservative the further back the offense is in its own territory.

Part of the reason for that conservative approach as of late is Tampa Bay’s youth and inexperience in two key areas – the offensive line and quarterback. The other reason is the play of Tampa Bay’s defense, which currently ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL. Gruden would rather be safe than sorry when his offense is backed up deep in its own territory.

Needless to say, the Bucs need better starting field position if their offense is going to get back on track.

“We’re last in the league or second-to-last in the league in drive starts on the opposite side of the 50-yard line,” Gruden said. “We’ve got a long way to go the rest of the season through eight games.

“We’ve got to eliminate the penalties on special teams. We’ve got to create something there in field position also. Our drive starts have been horrific this year, and statistics don’t lie.”

Average Gain On First Down
Once Tampa Bay gets the ball on offense, it hasn’t been doing much with it, especially on first down, where the Bucs are currently ranked 31st in the NFL in average yardage gained on first down plays this season.

The Bucs’ average first down plays have gone for 3.80 yards. The only team that is worse in this particular category is the Houston Texans (3.62). And oh, by the way, the Texans have the 31st-ranked offense in the league.

To put these numbers in perspective, the Seattle Seahawks have the No. 1-ranked average gain on first downs with a whopping 6.84-yard average. The Seahawks, of course, also have the NFL’s No. 1-ranked offense.

Tampa Bay’s running game, or lack thereof, has contributed mightily to the offense’s poor gains on first down plays. Through the first quarter of the season when the Bucs had a potent ground attack, their offense was converting nearly 49 percent of its third down plays. However, through eight games, the Bucs’ production on third downs has dropped off dramatically, and the team is now converting just 39.2 percent of their third down tries on the year.

“It dictates a lot,” Gruden said of Tampa Bay’s average gain on first down plays. “We’ve had seven possessions start on the other side of the 50-yard line in eight games. Earlier in the season, particularly the first six weeks, we were a very heavy running the ball on first down. That’s something we felt we needed to do. We need to pick it up. We’ve dropped some passes, we’ve had some false starts and penalties. It’s a problem, a big problem.”

Establish The Running Game
If Tampa Bay can get its ground game going again it will stand a great chance of winning more games.

The Bucs are 4-0 this season when they rush for over 100 yards. The team is just 1-3 when it doesn’t eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark.

Rookie running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams got off to a great start, rushing for 447 yards (4.5 avg.) and two touchdowns through the bye week. However, Williams’ success has been halted over the past month due to his foot/hamstring injury and the fact that defenses are daring QB Chris Simms to beat them with his arm, which means the box is often times stacked.

A potent running game will help improve Tampa Bay’s production on first downs as well as the offensive line’s attempt to protect Simms, who has been sacked 10 times over the past two games.

The Bucs have surrendered 24 sacks through eight games, which has them on pace to allow 48 quarterback takedowns this season. A better running game will allow Cadillac to get back on track and Simms to drop back to throw less. It all starts with Tampa Bay’s offensive line and their ability to win the battles in the trenches.

Sacks/Turnovers On Defense
Gruden has called on his defense to help Tampa Bay’s struggling offense, but this unit has yet to deliver.

Sure, the Bucs have the No.1-ranked defense in the league and are playing great against the run, but they’re struggling in a few areas, too.

Tampa Bay needs to get after the quarterback more. The Bucs have recorded just 16 sacks through eight games, which has them on pace to notch 32 quarterback takedowns for the season. That would be far less than the 44 sacks they recorded in 2004 or the 41 quarterback takedowns they posted during their Super Bowl run in ’02.

Getting to the quarterback has been a real challenge for Tampa Bay’s front four, especially under tackle Anthony McFarland, who has notched just one sack through eight games and sackless over the last seven.

The lack of pressure produced by Tampa Bay’s front four has hindered the defense’s ability to create turnovers. The Bucs haven’t recorded a turnover in two straight games, and because of the offense’s seven turnovers in that two-game span, the team’s overall turnover ratio has plunged to minus-1 on the season.

During Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run, the defense produced a whopping nine touchdowns. This year, the defense once again has the No. 1 overall ranking, but its only two scores came in Week 2 when linebacker Shelton Quarles forced Buffalo QB J.P. Losman out of the end zone for a safety, and in Week 3 when free safety recovered a fumble for a touchdown vs. Miami.

Getting to the quarterback and creating more turnovers will go a long way for Tampa Bay’s offense, which is struggling to score points of their own.

“Turnovers and splash plays on defense have been a characteristic of ours around here and we’d like to return to that,” Gruden said.

Eliminate The Penalties
Penalties have absolutely killed Tampa Bay this season. The Bucs have been penalized 78 times for 615 yards. Those infractions have the Bucs on pace to record 156 penalties for 1,230 yards, which would shatter franchise records in both of those categories.

The scary part is that the Bucs have acknowledged the penalty all year problem and attempted to remedy it, but the false start, personal foul and illegal block to the back penalties keep coming.

The 5-3 Bucs can’t continue to commit an average of 10 penalties per game and expect to win enough contests to get themselves in the playoffs. They have yet to prove they can play close to a penalty-free football game this season.

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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