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.”
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.
“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.