FAB 2. The End Zone Has Been Elusive For Tampa Bay

It’s called the end zone for a reason. It’s where offenses want their drives to end up at their conclusion.

The end zone has been elusive for the Bucs this preseason as the team has generated just a dozen points in each of the games – a 23-12 loss at Cincinnati and a 12-8 win at Jacksonville. Even more disappointing is the fact that the Bucs have had five trips to the red zone over the last two games and have only come away with two touchdowns.

That’s a 40 percent touchdown efficiency rate in the red zone, and that’s not good enough.

“When we get down there we want points, that’s one of our goals,” Bucs fullback Alan Cross said. “We want to have a certain percentage – I believe ours is 60 percent or better. That’s one of our goals is to finish in the end zone.”

Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The stated goal for touchdown efficiency in the red zone by Bucs head coach and offensive play-caller Dirk Koetter is 60 percent, so Cross is correct.

“The last game we got down there three or four times but we’ve kicked field goals – or attempted to kick field goals,” Dotson said. “Dirk is telling us that’s not going to be enough to win games when it counts. When we get down there we need to come out with six instead of three. That has to be our mindset.

“A guy like Jameis is taking that upon his shoulders to make sure we get better in the red zone. That’s something we’re harping on. Coach Dirk is harping on it because we’re doing a good job moving the ball, but we can’t get stagnant once we get down to the 20. Coach is pushing us to get better.”

The Bucs failed to hit their touchdown red zone percentage goal last year, scoring touchdowns just 51.85 percent of the time. That was down from a 52.94 percentage in 2015, the first year Koetter took over Tampa Bay’s offense.

Tennessee led the league last year with 72 percent, while San Francisco, which had a 2-14 record in 2016, was second with a 68.18 percent mark. The 49ers were an outlier though, as the top two teams in the league – New England (14-2) and Dallas (13-3) were in the top 10 in touchdown red zone efficiency, ranking 10th (64 percent) and fifth (65.57 percent), respectively. Atlanta, which was the NFC representative in the Super Bowl last year, ranked eighth at 64.56 percent.

Tampa Bay hit Koetter’s goal at home with a 65.33 percent touchdown efficiency rate, which ranked ninth in the league, but the Bucs have a lot of work to do on the road in the red zone, as the efficiency rating fell to 39.29 percent, which ranked 27th in the NFL.

Unfortunately, the Bucs were true to form on the road in Cincinnati and Jacksonville, showing little progress in that area from a year ago. On Saturday against Cleveland in the 2017 preseason home opener, the Bucs will need to get into the habit of scoring touchdowns and not field goals last year.

Bucs K Nick Folk – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs K Nick Folk – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

“We’ve all discussed as an offense what we’ve wanted to get done,” said Bucs left guard Kevin Pamphile, who will start at right tackle for Demar Dotson against the Browns. “We’ve wanted to start fast and move the ball really well. At the same time we’ve wanted to dominate and finish against teams. You can’t dominate on field goals. You need to get touchdowns. I know Jameis is upset. We’re upset as an offensive line. We’re trying to keep him clean and give Doug [Martin] some room. We want to try to get into the end zone as much as possible. It’s an emphasis.

“The point of emphasis for us is also for us to score more than 21 points per game. How do we do that? We have to score touchdowns. Field goals aren’t going to get it done. Every time we get the ball we need to score touchdowns.”

Last year the Bucs scored an average of 22.1 points per game, which was tied with Seattle for 18th best in the league. Tampa Bay scored four defensive touchdowns and a safety last year. Take away those defensive scores and the Bucs offense accounted for only 324 points, an average of 20.3 points per game.

To make the playoffs the Bucs will have to do better than that, especially in the high-flying NFC South that features the league’s two top scoring teams last year in Atlanta and New Orleans. The Falcons scored 540 points last year, averaging 33.8 points per game. The Saints scored 469 points in 2016, averaging 29.3 points per game.

The Bucs need to get into the habit of scoring touchdowns rather than field goals, especially when they’re in the red zone. There’s no better time than Saturday night.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th 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 son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]

26 COMMENTS

  1. Scott, thanks for all the STATS. I your 53 man roster..

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  2. Great job! Barring injury this is likely our 53.

    RB Martin’s suspension gives the rookie RB three more weeks to prove he belongs. Really like your TE list as well as Glanton being in the LB group.

    Go Bucs!

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  3. I think the Bucs keep 8 DL and look for a reserve pass rusher to add from the final cuts around the league. The reason why is the Bucs have more than enough DL that can play the run, but as far as pass rushers are concerned they are very thing and J. Smith’s injury history should indicate Bucs should plan to groom a player as a plan B to develop.

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  4. I believe the red zone touchdowns will come once Jameis stops forcing the ball into double and triple coverage. One Jameis gets it going throwing to the open receiver, the touchdowns will come in bunches. Then he will be on the road to greatness. I thought Coach Koetter using the word “greedy” was significant. Sometimes, you have to say something in a different way to get someone’s attention.

    The roster looks pretty good. I wonder if they bucs keep three qb’s during the season once Griffin gets healthy.

    Joe Thomas reminds me of Paul Gruber. A great left tackle who played on bad teams.

    TGIF, the Fab 5 is here. Thanks Scott and go Bucs!

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  5. On paper we’re built to be a great red-zone offense. With our capable big receiver in Evans, our big play man Jackson, our highly capable tight ends in Brate and Howard, and our RBs with very good hands and big-play capability (Martin and Sims), and of course a quarterback Winston who does what he does.

    Does paper translate into TDs in the regular season? We can only hope. It hasn’t showed up yet in the preaseason, where our RZ percentage is even less than the crappy performance last season. Why hasn’t it shown up yet in pre-season? Who knows.

    Tom me even 60% is not enough .. the offenses in the upper 1/3 of the league are well into mid 60s. That’s where we need to be.

    In which case, in most games it won’t matter if our kicker is an 80% guy or a 90% guy.

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    • I forgot to mention that our offensive line is also built for the red zone, with a couple of real bruisers surrounding a very promising new starting center.

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  6. I like you 53 man roster except I don’t think we need to carry 5 TEs. I think they cut Stocker. Yes he is a good blocking TE but so is Howard and he is a playmaker. I believe that spot would be better used at another position.

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    • I can definitely see where Stocker is the odd man out.
      Auclair’s potential could definitely outweigh Stocker’s production.
      Auclair can do what Stocker can and he can still develop into an even better version of what Stocker was expected to be when he was drafted.

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  7. Based on the number of each position kept, your 53 is solid. There are two Wild Cards: position numbers and what happens when Martin returns.

    IMO, McNichols has not impressed at all. He could be the odd man out when Martin returns.

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  8. As usual, great Fab 5 Scott. Re the projected final 53 roster, I agree with it but will offer an opinion on the 3rd QB Ryan Griffin, the LB affectionately known as Joe Dirt and carrying 5 TEs.

    If the Bucs medical staff clears Griffin the Bucs will have no choice but to keep him as a 3rd QB or lose him from waivers. There are several teams that will welcome him with open arms as a back-up QB. If he is not cleared, I think he will go to IR to return, eligible to practice after 6 weeks and can be activated after 8 weeks. Reserve PUP is not an option because he has practiced during the preseason.

    I agree that LB Riley Bullough will be a victim of the numbers game and the requirement for that last LB to be a ST contributor. I almost feel like Coach Koetter has forewarned us of this when speaking about Riley in his pressers. However, if he is waived expecting to sneak him onto the practice squad is wishful thinking. Joe Dirt has the distinction of being recognized in FanRag network as one of the best 5 UDFAs in the NFL. LB needy Miami is just waiting for that to happen. My opinion, if waived, just say goodbye!

    Carrying 5 TEs is OK if you consider hybrid Alan Cross to be a HB (pass catching FB). It could end up being a hard choice between him and Luke Stocker. For now, with 2 preseason games left, I think they keep both.

    This is going to be a tough cut down process. Koetter says we have more quality depth than he’s seen in the 3 years he’s been here. Good problem to have, but not everybody will be happy. Go Bucs!

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    • Everybody seems to love Riley … but whom do you cut to make room for him on the roster? To me there are no obvious answers. Even some of the third string offensive and linemen who may not be fan favorites or big personalities, we still need depth in the trenches. Who wants to give up depth at the offensive skill positions, thinking our receivers, tight ends, and running backs are going to make it unscathed throoughout a 16 game season?

      Not saying Riley Bullough doesn’t deserve to make the roster … I’m just saying I am glad I don’t have to make the very tough decision. That’s why they pay Jason Licht and Dirk Koetter to make those decisions.

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  9. Wasn’t that Super Bowl season playoff win against San Fran a Divisional game? Bucs were #2 seed and had a Wild Card bye.

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    • Yes. I believe that was the year that the Giants had a botched snap on the field goal try. They then threw into the end zone but no pi was called. Obviously, the 49ers won only to be destroyed by the Bucs next week.

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  10. Swap out Hawley for Riley and I think that would do it for me. Hawley is strictly a center with no special teams ability. I love Joe, but it’s time to move on. If Ali suffers an injury, Evans can be the center.

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  11. Well thought out 53 man roster Scott. I think you are spot on with your predictions. I would rather the Bucs keep Bernard Reedy over Josh Huff though. Also with Devante Bond being banged up that may cause the Bucs to keep another line backer.

    Just for Fun here is my Bucs 10 man practice squad:

    CB Player from another team
    OT Player from another team
    CB Jonathan Moxey
    OL Michael Liedtke
    DE Channing Ward
    DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu
    LB Richie Brown
    LB Riley Bullough
    WR Bernard Reedy
    WR Jesus Wilson

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  12. I want Stevie Tu’ikolovatu to make the team just so I can hear Dick Stockton try to pronounce it.

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  13. Reading that OL lineup makes me queasy. Dotson the only proven OT in the bunch, hopefully he and Sweezy can hold up or we’ll have a collection of swing/backup/needs to step up players surrounding our Center who could be the best OL we’ve had since Gruber.

    On the flip side this is the best set of pass catchers (WR + TE) we’ve had at one time by a mile. I, too, wonder about keeping Stocker given his relatively low ceiling but can live with it.

    Still not a fan of Sims, we need capable runners vs another pass catcher and he’s one dimensional, but we can afford to keep him and McNichols until the Dougernaut returns and cut the least productive. Liked what Barber has shown but it’s preseason and I still wish we had a bigger rock pounder to finish games late.

    The lack of proven talent at the DB position also jumps off the page. VH3 needs to put it all together, which I’d feel bad about expecting so soon if not for where we drafted him. If he can’t or if Grimes goes down, Houston we have a Problem.

    If given the choice I’d IR Griffin (if him not being able to play before week 8 is a problem the season is likelynshot anyway) and keep J. Dirt, or try to trad JD for a 6-7th round pick to a team that needs LB help and isn’t willing to risk him making it to them via waivers.

    All in, this is a pretty darn talented team that needs a little more depth to separate from the pack. But if a few guys step up as we’re hoping AND we get lucky with injuries look out it could be an exciting season, you wouldn’t want to face JW and those pass catchers in the playoffs…

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  14. Can’t make the club in the tub! While Riley can also play M.B., Bond better show up. I’ve seen more from Joe Dirt in two weeks, then I’ve seen out of Bond in two Years!

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  15. I think we have to keep Riley or another team will scoop him off waivers before he makes it to our practice squad. If Griffin starts the season on IR, that would make it very easy to keep Riley. If not, then one of Stocker/Cross/Auclair gets cut to keep Riley. I think Stocker would be the one who gets cut because he is a one-trick pony and injury-prone.

    The big question is what happens when Dougie Fresh gets back Week 4. That’s going to be a tough decision! Personally I think cut Ryan Fitzpatrick. If he is our QB the Bucs immediately lose any chance of winning big. At least Ryan Griffin is enough of an unknown that he may be able to do enough not to lose.

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  16. I think we keep Riley Bullough on the 53 man roster and not carry 5 tight ends! Our LB’s are going to get banged up over the season and we need the depth. No way Bullough clears waivers and makes it to the practice squad. And seriously, 5 tight ends!

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  17. Watching other teams this preseason I have seen third string QBs that are better than our third string QB who is injured to boot; so cut him and don’t carry three QBs. If our second QB goes down, pick up one of those superior third string QBs off their practice squad. That way you can add Bullough to our roster. I am yet to be sold on this week’s starting MLB. He lacks speed and has trouble getting off blocks. Otherwise, Scott, you have done well on all the rest of your roster predictions.

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  18. i say cut griffin. I think glennon will be available after this season for cheaper than we were willing to pay this offseason. Would rather have bullough or another kick returner with that roster spot.

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  19. I think Scott’s predicted 53 man roster is probably spot on if based solely on the current 90. However, history shows that there will likely be someone added from another team’s victims of the Turk. The back-up tackle spot is a concern.

    It’s hysterical that there is so much over-hyping of the player known as “Joe Dirt”. I too love his personality and obvious love for the game. It’s sure easy to root for that type of player. Without his co-starring role on Hard Knocks, most of us would be oblivious of him. The challenge he faces is that, at this point, he’s probably not as valuable as the players in front of him. Perhaps he can make it to the Practice Squad.

    I’ve seen enough of Ryan Fitzpatrick to hope Ryan Griffin is a fast healer. The guy with an obvious inflated opinion of himself leading up to his hold-out with the J-E-T-S last year certainly doesn’t make me think the team is in good hands with him holding the clip board. Just need someone who can come in and not lose the game.

    Looking forward to tonight’s game. After 40+ seasons on the east side, I switched to basically the same spot on the west side. I’m sure it will be an adjustment for me. Sun was never an issue for me. It was the fact that so many season ticket holders on the east side apparently purchased them for the sole purpose of selling them to the higher paying enemy fans. That’s akin to your best friend inviting you to a party while secretly inviting your ex girlfriend and her new beau. I’m grateful to the Bucs, and in particular Brittany, for accommodating my request.

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  20. My grandson and I were at practice on the 23rd. The team was in full pads,but the defense did not tackle. My question is that the norm?
    We had a great time although my grandson was not able to get Jamis Winstons autograph. Go Bucs !

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    • Yes, it’s common that Koetter’s team doesn’t tackle in practice.

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  21. Personally I’m hoping they go with Bernard Reedy over Josh Huff. I think he’s equal as a receiver, but much better on special teams. I also don’t see us keeping 5 TE’s personally. I think the Bucs have a better chance of sneaking Cross onto the PS than they do Auclair, some due in part to his presence on Hard Knocks.

    I really want Riley to make this team as a 6th LB. That said, the fact that he has only played MLB and not played the outside at all limits him. I feel he’ll be the favorite that’s playing for another team. That said with Bond out a few weeks, they could keep 6 LBs until he is completely healthy. If he does, Glanton could be the backup to Beckwith with Riley making the team as a backup to Kwon.

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