One of Tampa Bay's biggest problems in 2008 was its red zone play, and that's one of the reasons why new head coach Raheem Morris dedicated a significant amount of time to play inside the 20-yard line at One Buc Place on Monday morning.
"Today we had a special emphasis on red zone," said Morris. "We're trying to score touchdowns down there 60 percent of the time. If we can do that we can be ranked somewhere in the top seven in the league. That would be a good start."
The Bucs offense ranked 14th overall in 2008, but ranked 30th in red zone efficiency, converting just 22-of-56 (39.3 percent) of its red zone possessions into touchdowns.
The Indianapolis Colts ranked No. 1 in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 68 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
Tampa Bay's defense, which ranked ninth overall, wasn't immune to the red zone problems, either. The Bucs defense suffered a late-season collapse, which resulted in the defense allowing opposing offenses to convert 20-of-36 (55.6 percent) of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns, which ranked 22nd in the NFL.
But the red zone problems were mostly on offense. The issue wasn't getting to the red zone. Only eight teams had more red zone visits than Tampa Bay's 56 last year, and the Bucs, who came away with points nearly 90 percent of the time they got inside the 20-yard line. The problem is the team settled for field goals too many times and had too many turnovers.
"It's either check-down or touchdown in the red zone," said Morris. "That's kind of what we've been saying, ‘Fearless, but not reckless. You have to come away with your three points, but to be great in this league you have to get the six. When you get the six it just creates a different aura for your team."
The Bucs offensive red zone issues also stemmed from not running the football effectively. Morris said the key to remedying Tampa Bay's red zone woes is establishing a dominant ground game.
"Offensively, you've got to run the ball effectively because if you run the ball effectively you make people play defenses they're not use to playing," said Morris. "When you get to the red zone, you're very limited to your package on defense. For the most part, defenses are all out, two high safeties or you're getting very limited coverage packages. Not a lot of zone dogs, zone pressure, things of that nature. There are a couple, but people don't want to major in that field. So you know what you're going to get, you're going to know what looks. If you look at tape long enough and go to that area of the field, you know what you're getting. You've got to dissect what you're getting and be able to throw on it, be able to run on it. So if you can run on it so they don't go two high safeties on you all day and stop your passing game, that's what'll make you effective. So we've got to be able to run the football. That's what the zone scheme is about. You've got to run the football in order to open up your passing game. Once you get people to start to guess, it's a long day and that's what you like."
Morris was fairly pleased with how his offense performed on Monday, which was encouraging since less than 24 hours earlier the head coach called out his offense, particularly the offensive line and quarterbacks, for sloppy play during Sunday's practice.
"A lot better," Morris said of the offensive play. "Those guys met last night and came together with a plan and I don't know if you noticed, but we came out with a new huddle, a new tempo, we had people back. The quarterbacks had control of the huddle. I like the organization, I like where we're going with that. That's all I ask for. People ask, ‘What are you going to do, coach the offense or the defense?' I'm going to look for things like that, that are going to make us better, get us better as a team, put an emphasis on it for our coaches, put an emphasis on it for our players. Those guys are riled up. Every quarterback, they don't like to be talked about. Whether you do it publicly or you do it one on one, it doesn't matter — they take that stuff personally, that's a sign of a good group and good coaches. They came today and responded. I was impressed."
Morris' message to the offense definitely got through to the players, including quarterback Luke McCown.
"I think we did, we kind of got together and had a heart-to-heart," said McCown. "It is early, it is only the fourth practice, but we got on the same page. We made sure we know what was at stake here and what was needed as an offense to come together and gel and I think it was a lot better today."
Quote of the Day Bucs head coach Raheem Morris when asked about linebacker Quincy Black's versatility. "Not to get off the subject, but it was a rookie mistake on my part – I forgot to go to the restroom before I came to do this [press conference]. But we're going to fight through this and power through it. I have to be mentally tough.
"It was great. We talked about that yesterday and having that type of player. When you talk about Quincy Black then you have to talk about a hybrid player and you're talking about a guy that can rush off the edge. We are talking about a guy that can stand up and play backer. We want to use what he does best. Right now what he does best is play fast."