PewterReport.com is beginning a new feature off an an old one this week called the PR Roundtable. In the new edition of the Roundtable the staff will take just one topic each week and share some brief thoughts. Take a look and tell us what you think, and share your feelings on the topic in the comment section.
Pewter Report Publisher Scott Reynolds
Yes, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter should have gone for it on fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter with his team trailing Atlanta by a touchdown. It was absolutely the right call. Koetter correctly sensed that Tampa Bay had momentum, and with his defense failing to contain Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones, the Bucs needed a touchdown and not a field goal to stay in the game against the Falcons. Atlanta ended up gaining over 500 yards of offense and converting a ridiculous 79 percent (11-of-14) on third down.
Going for it on fourth down was the right call, but it wasn’t the right play call by Koetter. The one thing that has driven me nuts about Koetter’s play-calling and offensive philosophy this year is that he always talks about wanting to get into third-and-short situations – yet he almost always opts to pass the ball. A lot of teams view third-and-2 as a running down. The Bucs seldom do.
I understand that Tampa Bay has struggled to run the ball this year, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. But do you know what? The Bucs needed just two yards to get a first down from the Atlanta 19. That’s well within Tampa Bay’s average. Koetter’s lack of faith in the running game is disturbing. Teams work so hard to get into third-and-short because of the run-pass option it presents for offensive play-callers. Yet too often Koetter elects for a pass on third-and-2, and will even telegraph it by putting his quarterback in shotgun with an empty backfield. It might as well be third-and-6 or third-and-10 for the Bucs in that case because Koetter plays those down and distances like he does third-and-2.
Isn’t third-and-2 what Peyton Barber is for? Barber, who had a 2-yard touchdown run and a 1-yard touchdown plunge in the second half, should have been given two cracks at picking up the first down. It makes no sense to throw the ball on third-and-2 to Adam Humphries on a route that was essentially run down the line of scrimmage for a gain of one yard. Koetter doesn’t even have to telegraph it with a two tight-end set. He could go four wide receivers with Barber as a single back to keep some defenders out of the box.
And then on fourth-and-1 from the Atlanta 18, Koetter elects to have Ryan Fitzpatrick throw the ball down the field instead of something quick and short that would … you know … pick up the necessary one yard to keep the chains moving. Running the ball would also have been acceptable.
In my 24 years of covering the Buccaneers I am really beginning to believe that oftentimes NFL coaches needlessly overthink things. A prime example of this was Seattle opting to throw a quick slant from the New England 1-yard line in the Super Bowl a few years ago against the Patriots instead of running Marshawn “Beastmode” Lynch up the gut. You’ll recall that pass was intercepted at the goal line and cost the Seahawks a Super Bowl championship.
Pewter Report Editor Mark Cook
I give Dirk Koetter credit for having the guts to attempt the fourth down play. With the way the defense had been playing, who thought they would even get the ball back for the offense, and the Bucs offense did have momentum at that point and was moving the ball well in the second half. So, I don’t necessarily disagree with the decision.
I do however question the two play calls to try and get the first down. Go back to the third down prior to the incomplete pass. Coming out of the timeout and you call a pass play where the primary receiver doesn’t even get past the first down marker? All you need is two yards and the receiver, Adam Humphries, doesn’t run the route with the proper depth? Koetter confirmed on Monday that Humphries could have gotten more depth. That is inexcusable. Then on fourth down you line up in a run formation with three tight ends to the right on the line of scrimmage and attempt a 15 yard pass downfield? Perhaps if Kevin Pamphile actually blocked his man and not allowed the Falcons defensive tackle to get in Fitzpatrick’s face, the result might have been different.
Following the game Koetter told the media in Atlanta he doesn’t regret going for it, however he said he called the wrong play because it didn’t work. Unfortunately for Koetter, he will be second guessed more for the play calls than the decision.
Pewter Report Buccaneers Beat Reporter Trevor Sikkema
OK, let’s break this bad boy down.
The Bucs started this drive at their own 42 yard line down 27-20 with 11:04 left in the 4th quarter. They were down a score, but it was only a score, and starting from the 42 was pretty good field position. The first pass of that drive was a 19-yard catch and run by receiver Adam Humphries, which immediately got them on the edge of field goal range. Following a 13-yard Mike Evans catch after that, the Bucs were looking at 1st-and-10 on Atlanta’s 27-yard line with 8:31 left in the game.
On first down, the Bucs ran the ball with Jacquizz Rodgers for eight yards. Love it. That set up a 2nd-and-short, which, if you don’t know the intricacies of situational football, 2nd-and-short means that you can pretty much call any play in your playbook and the defense is at your mercy. As a result, the Bucs took a shot to the end zone, which they missed – that was all fine.
Following the miss it was 3rd-and-2. OK, fine, still a good situation to be in. They called a shotgun formation with bunch receivers on the left side. But, they didn’t like what the Falcons defense showed, so they called a timeout. After the timeout, they came out in the same formation, maybe just a different play (we don’t really know). On a 3rd-and-2, Humphries ran a hesitation out route but didn’t get deep enough and only got a yard after the catch. The design of the play also didn’t help them as Crate and the guys guarding him were right there to make a tackle, too.
OK, then things didn’t look good.
On 4th-and-1, the team dialed up a verticals concept from a 13 personnel formation (one running back and three tight ends) and that worked about as well as you figured it would have – it didn’t at all.
I don’t mind the call to go for it on fourth down. Knowing that Atlanta’s offense was firing off the way it was, they figured they’d likely have to score again to keep pace, even if they tied it up there. But the process to get there just wasn’t what it needed to be. In reality, the Bucs should be a team that can look at 3rd-and-2 and can be committed to run the ball two times, if needed, to pick up what they need to convert (there was plenty of time on the clock). But, the Bucs don’t do that. They don’t run out of the shotgun and they don’t run on third down.
Going for it was the right call. The process of how they got there is what failed them.
PewterReport.com Intern Austin DeWitt
I don’t disagree with the call to go for it on fourth down. I understand the reasoning. Even if you kick the field goal you are down four and relying on the defense to get a stop and put the ball back in the hands of the offense. Anyone who watched the game knows that stopping the Falcon’s offense wasn’t in the game plan on Sunday. It seems like Mike Smith and the defense didn’t have time to watch any film on Julio Jones, who averages 123 yards per game through eleven career games against the Buccaneers.
So, I get it. Your defense gives you no reason to believe they will get you the stop you need. So go ahead and go for it. The problem isn’t with the call to go for it. It’s with the calls that put them in the fourth down situation in the first place and ultimately the call on fourth down to throw downfield when you need one yard.
Chris Godwin had clutch back to back catches last week that allowed the Bucs to win the game, but instead of trying to get the ball in the hands of the rookie, you throw behind the sticks to a struggling Adam Humphries on 3rd down.
The very next call to throw downfield on fourth and 1 perfectly sums up this season in one play. Too focused on what is ahead to see what is right in front of you. Our own Trevor Sikkema pointed out that all the talk this offseason was about the playoffs, when the ultimate goal should be the Super Bowl, and that is one hundred percent accurate. This team should be striving for the Super Bowl. But, the hype around this team allowed many, including myself and certainly this team, to think that the playoffs were a given. They weren’t. Everyone bought into the hype and the train started coming off the tracks before the season even started.