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.

Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and Bucs Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Bucs Hall of Fame DT Warren Sapp – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and HC Bruce Arians
Bucs QB Tom Brady and HC Bruce Arians – Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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.

Bucs RB Leonard Fournette
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

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.

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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DT25

Think it’s definitely a combo of all of these. After watching the Chiefs yesterday, it’s becoming painfully clear that our system just isn’t modern enough to keep defenses guessing throughout a game. The passing game remains potent enough (but could be far more-so) due to the talent we have, but the running game seems to have issues creating confusion and scheming space to run. Most of our running plays are straight forward and easily diagnosed, and our OL isn’t talented enough at run blocking to consistently win and open up running lanes. And even when they do, there’s typically another… Read more »

chefboho

agreed.Watching the chiefs and all the motions before the snap were mind boggling and very creative. I’m not sold on Leftwich being that creative, but hopefully once the offense is more comfortable that they can come up with some wrinkles for this offense

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DT25

Sadly, I don’t either. Which is unfortunate, because even the most creative offensive minds have admitted to scouring film from around the league for new concepts to add to their play sheets. Using other coaches’ designs for inspiration should be encouraged as teams look for ways to gain advantages on both sides of the ball.

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drdneast

The only problem I have with the Bucs running game and how often it is used is there is very little deception going on. No fake hand offs going one way while the ball is going the other, only a couple of draw plays and no tosses. Can someone get an imagination out there. Must it always be a handoff to the RB hitting between the tackles. The reason the Bucs were able to end the game running the ball was because they had run it throughout the game and the Broncos defense was tired and demoralized and just wanted… Read more »

DT25

All this. Hell, use some fake jet sweeps, motion multiple guys in different directions, run counters with motion going one way and the ball going the other… there’s so much that really good rushing offenses are doing to create deception that we aren’t. Pre-snap manipulation isn’t being used nearly enough and it really limits what should be an insanely high ceiling for this offense.

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Naplesfan

The kind of trickeration you’re talking about works well in the college game, but NFL defenses are too talented, too fast, and too well coached – and too well distributed throughout the 32 teams in the league (as opposed to the 120 or so teams in Division 1 college ball) to fall for much misdirection and trickeration … which is one of the reasons NFL football isn’t nearly as entertaining as is college football.

The NFL game is all about high speed, power, stamina, and precision.

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DT25

The Chiefs would like to have a word lol. While I agree it doesn’t work AS WELL as it does in college, it’s not entirely about “tricking” the defense…it’s about keeping them honest. Exactly like what Ledyard wrote about in the article about play action forcing LBs to stay committed to their assignments before dropping in coverage, using deception requires defenses to ensure their reads are correct before reacting. That slight hesitation can be enough to allow our players to get in the positions they need to create running lanes/mismatches in coverage/etc. Too often the race to read/react favors defenses,… Read more »

Last edited 25 days ago by DT25
Naplesfan

The Chiefs live by being very good, not by tricks. Mismatches have zero to do with tricks.

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DT25

They live by doing all of it. Having elite talent and having elite play calling and design can, and do, exist separately from each another. The fact they have both is exactly why they are in a league of their own. And again, we’re not talking tricks…we are talking designing plays to directly influence mismatches. You can watch a Chiefs game and see it clear as day. Andy Reid is considered a mastermind play designer for a reason. They are regularly doing things nobody else in the league is even attempting to manipulate defenses and making their elite playmakers’ lives… Read more »

Last edited 25 days ago by DT25
chefboho

You obviously didnt watch last nights game then. Those WR’s and TE’s were motioning all over the place and after the snap misdirection everywhere. They even mentioned that being a reason its so hard to defend them.

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AlbJack65

College football entertaining? No. I haven’t watched that crap in at least 5 years. Nothing entertaining about telling half of the teams that they are “not allowed” to play for a championship before the season even starts. The individual games aren’t rigged, but the playoff system is. If only a small percentage of teams will be considered for the half-assed playoff charade they have before anybody plays a game then that same small percentage will always continue to dominate in recruiting the top talent. It’s a sham and a quasi-legal monopoly. NCAA needs to break up the conferences, realign and… Read more »

SufferingSince76

Bring in an exorcist or bone man or whatever it takes to get rid of the bad mojo around the Bucs!!! I’m kidding but something is going on when these issues continue regardless of the team make up or coaches.

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drdneast

sufferingSince76, it’s call a lack of concentration and discipline. There is no mojo or black magic involved in mental laziness.

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Naplesfan

“Bad mojo” for a team currently in first place with a winning record? And getting obviously better each week with a new offensive leader and crew? Listen, I get that fans and media writers feel compelled to say something critical all the time lest they sound like homers and pollyanas … but don’t get too carried away with all that fake sophistication. The Bucs are a winning team, with a winning attitude, and the wins are being delivered. They are a work in progress, imperfect (as all teams are), and can always get better. We have had no real adversity… Read more »

CrackerBall

I see play calling as part of this issue – we need to keep the pedal on the floor and stop getting too conservative. It’s the difference between playing to win – and playing to not lose.

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Last edited 25 days ago by CrackerBall
drdneast

Totally off topic, but if you look at the PAT that was blocked you can see the Broncos 31 push down the center to prevent him from rising up to block so 43 can hurdle over the pile. It was a planned play. This is illegal. I hope when the Bucs see the tape they report it to the league office so the move isn’t repeated. The refs should have seen it during the game.

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Naplesfan

The refs are in the same spot the teams are – no pre-season to work out the kinks before the games start to count. I do expect the Bucs to flag that play for the league and the league to flag that for the ref crews going forward.

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scubog

It was reminiscent of the “leaping” penalty against Simeon Rice in the 2003 debacle against Sombrero’s Colts.

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BigSombrero

So far, the Bucs statistics aren’t a true reflection of how good or bad this team will be in 2020. In the first game, the Bucs were behind the whole game which lead to more high risk passes and turnovers. The results were on par with the 2019 passing defense and Winston last year. In the following two games, the Bucs were up by a large margin early from impactful plays by the defense and special teams. Brady was then able to manage the game with low risk plays while mixing in occasional deep shots to backup players like Watson,… Read more »

Dave

In the last 2 games they built big first half leads because of impactful plays by the defense and special teams…..So Brady going 32-47(68%) for 364 yds with 4 of the Bucs 6 TD’s, and ZERO ints, had nothing to do with it? And I believe Brady had 5 pass plays of 30+ yards in those 2 first halfs. This is what happens when your QB isn’t going out there and single handedly keeping the other team in the game with backbreaking pick after backbreaking pick. Refreshing isn’t it? Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating+10 Rating: +1. From 1 vote.… Read more »

Last edited 24 days ago by Dave
Naplesfan

Combining all of the above factors into one, it’s called “ball control offense”. Teams that win a lot of games with strong defenses – as the Bucs now assuredly have – typically are good at ball control offense. In other words, they make first downs, they don’t get a lot of penalties, they run the ball effectively and do play action passing or RPO (the newer version from college ball) effectively. Such teams get an early lead, which the defense does a good job of protecting, and the offense doesn’t have to get aggressive in the second half, which leads… Read more »

thewbacca

I’d rather see holding than an injured Brady. Bring in 2TEs to block if needed. At the end though if you have to have your line commit a penalty to protect the QB, you do that every time and deal with the consequences.

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Spitfire

@MarkCook to your point, I have a joke with my Dad that the Bucs haven’t won the game until the players and refs have gotten dressed and left the parking lot so they can’t bring everybody back out, then we can stop holding our breath 😂. I almost suspect that there is a ghost of some Ex-Buc ghost that got screwed over by Culverhouse that chose as his unfinished business to hang over Bucs games and do everything he can as the game goes on to try and help us beat ourselves and hand the game away. It doesn’t matter… Read more »

Mark Cook

Haha, I tend to agree with you and Pops.

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bucballer

How do we prevent 2nd half letdown? How about some presnap movements. How about do things differently than u did in first half. Misdirection plays. Create movement and doubt in the minds of the defense. Quit being so vanilla with runs up the middle all the time. Quick slants. Use ur TEs for something besides blocking. Started to see some of that last game. We have multiple talents on offense, so use them. With all the weapons at Brady’s disposal someone should be open on just about every play even if it’s just man to man coverage. I think Byron… Read more »

DT25

Seriously…Chiefs were lining up Tyreek Hill in the backfield for a few plays. That’s just a matchup nightmare…and has the advantage of tipping the defense’s hand as to whether they’re running man or zone based on how they align against that formation. Imagine just throwing Scotty Miller in the backfield a few plays and using him on a quick swing pass or wheel route. Or like you said, why the hell don’t we EVER use both RoJo and Fournette in the game at once? Makes no sense. Hell, give me a formation with Shady in the slot, too…have him run… Read more »

Last edited 24 days ago by DT25
PatrioticChief

These are all great suggestions but I think we know the real answer is new hamstrings for every player.

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Charlie

How about, find a replacement for Donovan Smith? Dude is either mediocre or horrible…$14 million dollars wasted…

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PatrioticChief

You can say that again!

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Charlie

How about, find a replacement for Donovan Smith? Dude is either mediocre or terrible…$14 million wasted…

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PatrioticChief

And you did!

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peter benet

The commenters here have hit on the unfortunate fact that when the Bucs go to run clock all they have is three yards and a cloud of dust. It is creativity that is lacking. TB12 will realize this, and my guess is Leftwich is very open to the ideas he brings from the plenty creative McDaniels. BA will be the problem, being a crusty old curmudgeon. There is already tension there, as evidenced by Brady’s “death-stare” response about BA after the Saints game. Brady is an excellent diplomat, but first he needs to establish himself. I’m hoping after te first… Read more »