The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs.
This week’s topic: How Do The Bucs Avoid Second Half Letdowns?
Scott Reynolds: Fewer Penalties
The first rule in football is: Don’t beat yourself. Over the last decade the Bucs have mastered the art of beating themselves with turnovers and penalties, which are the top self-inflicted wounds at any level of football. Despite a roster that keeps getting more and more talented, the Bucs have not been able to get out of their own way by making mistakes. The case in point is that the Bucs led the league in both turnovers and penalties in Bruce Arians’ first season in Tampa Bay last year.
The Bucs have done a better job this year in terms of winning the turnover battle with a plus-1 through three weeks after being minus-13 in 2019, and Tampa Bay didn’t have a single turnover on offense in Sunday’s 28-10 win at Denver. However, penalties remain an issue. After ranking dead last in the league with 134 penalties for 1,111 penalty yards in 2019, the Bucs are the fourth-most penalized team in the league through three weeks with 23 penalties for 211 yards.
What’s been problematic for Tampa Bay this year, and how it relates to this PR Roundtable topic, is that most of the Bucs’ penalties occur after halftime. Tampa Bay was penalized nine times for 103 yards at New Orleans in Week 1 and five of those infractions occurred in the second half for 50 yards. In a Week 2 win against Carolina, the Bucs only had five penalties for 37 yards, but four of those happened in the second half for 27 yards. In Tampa Bay’s Week 3 triumph at Denver, the team had nine penalties for 71 yards with six of those flags flying in the second half for 50 yards. Simply put, the Bucs need to play with more discipline over the final two quarters to play to avoid any more letdowns in the second half.
Mark Cook: Develop A Killer Instinct To Put Teams Away
Part of being a good football team is believing you will win every time you step onto the field. For years the Buccaneers thought they might win. For years they thought if things go right they could win. Now in 2020 they have a team of talent that can win every game on its schedule, and not by some fluke or bit of luck, because it has the talent to do so. Now Tampa Bay must develop that attitude that they will win. And part of that will be come once they learn to put teams away, especially inferior teams.
Yes, the Buccaneers won convincingly against the Panthers, 31-17, and also against the Broncos, 28-10 – two teams they knew they should beat. But as a Bucs fan, don’t tell me you didn’t get a little nervous midway through the third quarter as the Panthers were beginning to mount a comeback. Don’t tell me you didn’t have flashbacks to the Giants game in 2019 when the Buccaneers squandered an 18-point halftime lead to Daniel Jones, who was making his first career start. And don’t tell me you have flashbacks to backup quarterbacks beating the Buccaneers with career games through the years. I know I did.
Scott Reynolds and I talk about it all the time. In the late 1990s on teams led by Hall of Famers Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks we went to Raymond James Stadium on game day not wondering if the Bucs would win, but instead how much would they would win by. Yet those were Tampa Bay teams that didn’t have nearly the offensive firepower this one does – not to mention the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. The good news is, this team is still trying to find its footing. They should only get better. And part of not letting teams get back into games in the second half is to develop a killer instinct, one that is suffocating and one that has supreme confidence before kickoff that they be victorious win three hours later after four quarters of battle – not just two.
Jon Ledyard: Quit Dropping The Football
Drops have not been the only thing keeping the Bucs from second half offensive success (or just offensive success in general), but they are by far the biggest thing. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bucs lead the NFL in dropped passes with 10, including three by Mike Evans.
That’s an unacceptable number for a team built around talent in the passing game, especially considering how many have cost the Bucs touchdowns or at least potential scoring drives. Some had questions surrounding Tom Brady’s remaining talent level entering the season, but his receiving corps has been the group that has struggled to open the 2020 campaign.
We talked at length about the numerous drops against the Panthers in Week 2, which changed the entire complexion of a second half the Bucs should have absolutely run away with. There were more drops on Sunday, including Evans dropping an easy quick pass for a would-be first down on 3rd-and-short just inside Denver territory to open the third quarter. If those drives can be sustained and start ending in points, the Bucs would have two big-time blowouts on their resume heading into Week 4. It’s a very fixable issue, but they better get it rectified with better opponents on the horizon.
Matt Matera: Sustain Longer Drives In The Third Quarter
The Bucs’ second half letdowns have come from a combination of bad drops, too many penalties, questionable play calling and poor execution. But the sum total of it all is that the Tampa Bay offense hasn’t been able to hold onto the ball for long in the start of the second half. One of the trademarks of Tom Brady is being able to engineer long, sustaining drives over the years, and we haven’t seen that yet so far.
Bruce Arians alluded to in Sunday’s post game press conference that the Bucs aren’t playing scared in the second half, but they’re playing to not mess up rather than go out and add to their lead. Take a look at the Bucs’ first three drives in the second half of their win against Carolina. It went one play (an interception), then a seven-play, 11-yard drive due to penalties, followed by four plays for seven yards. The offense was unable to move the ball much and immediately put Carolina back in the game with the pressure turned up at the end of the game.
The story was similar on Sunday in the 28-10 win over Denver. The Bucs’ mustered five points in the second half in a game that should have been finished earlier. All of those points were either scored or set up by the defense. The first three drives for the offense went six plays, four plays and a three-and-out. Luckily, the defense was on point and didn’t let the Broncos back in the game. In each win the Bucs had the opponent on the ropes, but couldn’t land the knockout blow until much later than expected. The offense hasn’t moved the ball down the field, or its given the ball back right away to the other team. Tampa Bay doesn’t have to score on every second half drive, but it does have to control the flow of the game more than it’s been able to.
Taylor Jenkins: Run The Ball More Effectively, Less Predictably
In my perfect world, the Bucs would be more aggressive in the second half. They would throw more frequently on first down and in general, but this team has a commitment to running the ball in the second half with a lead – and I understand it. The problem being, the running game just hasn’t been effective for the most part. Last week against Denver, the Bucs punted on just one of their five first half drives, not including the one-play drive to end the first half, but punted on four of their six drives in the second half. In addition, this led to just three points scored by Tampa Bay’s offense in the second half.
Running the ball is a great way to keep your defense off the field and wear the opposing team’s defense down, and it’s generally a good way to avoid turnovers and giving the ball back if you can keep the chains moving. The problem is, despite an additional year together for most of the offensive line, a new right tackle in Tristan Wirfs, and two new running backs on the field for Tampa Bay, the Bucs currently rank 27th in the league in rushing yards per game with a 92 yards per game average, and rank 26th in the league at 3.8 yards per carry. That’s including a 46-yard touchdown run by Leonard Fournette in Week 2 that inflates the average with such a small sample size to work with.
Perhaps it’s when Tampa Bay times its runs and how it balances the passing attack to avoid running the ball into an eight-man box. Perhaps it’s finding what has worked for Tampa Bay and sticking to it. Maybe it’s running more on second down after a first down pass, than a predictable run on first down followed by a predictable pass on second down. And there is no excuse to run the ball on first-and-20 following a holding call, as Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich opted for in the third quarter of Sunday’s 28-10 win over Denver. If the Bucs want to make a legitimate playoff run they have to be able to run the ball effectively in the second half of games and it would serve them best to be less predictable.