Buccaneers’ Woes: Play Calling or Execution?

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Week four didn’t go as hoped for the Buccaneers. Yet again they failed to piece together a complete game. This has been a cause for concern with some observers looking at two key areas to focus on. Play Calling and execution.

First Down Play Calling

Much of the blame for slow starts and inability (during the first three weeks) to get the offense going on play calling. The argument has been that Byron Leftwich has been predictable and easy to game plan against. But what do the numbers say?

In the first three weeks, the offense has played a total of 81 first down snaps. When broken out between pass and run the numbers fall fairly even. Rushing attempts are slightly out pacing passes, 46 attempts to 35. It’s when you break them down further the problem that observers have been honing in on. In first quarter, first down snaps, the team has run 10 out of 16 times. That’s roughly 62.5% of the time. A little more predictable then one would like and a factor in this teams slow starts offensively.

First Down Execution

Of 81 total snaps the offense has gained three yards or less on 44 of them. That’s a huge issue we’ll get into in a moment. For now keep in mind, of those 16 first down plays in the first quarter only three running plays have resulted in more than five yards while six have gained three yards or less. The passing plays have largely been very effective with only one incomplete pass and the others going for no less than eight yards.

Ripple Effect

So if over half the first down plays don’t go over three yards what does that do to subsequent plays. Well first it limits the offenses choices and allows the defense to better determine what play their facing. On 60.3% of the Buccaneers second downs they faced seven yards or more. Again play calling comes into concern here. Leftwich has ran only five run plays on second when facing seven yards or more (play calling) and 10 of the 38 pass plays were incomplete (execution).

This carries over again. On third down the offense has faced an average of 6.7 yards to gain a first down. Even better break down shows the offense has faced seven yards or longer on third down 45.5% of the time. The least experienced defensive coordinators know this becomes a passing down and can put the appropriate players on the field to stifle an offense.

Offense Overall

The issues stem from both play calling and execution. If the play calling is predictable and redundant then defenses can react faster to plays and execution deteriorates. If execution is poor than the offense finds itself in third and long situations continuously making the play calling limited and predictable.

Week Four Defense

I look at this game as an anomaly so far. The first three weeks they played very well. Unfortunately, they didn’t execute. Missed tackles, inability to keep the edges and containment, and an overall lack of play recognition killed them. It was a bad game all around.

Part of me wonders where they were mentally before the game. Comments came out about how the defense was going to make “a statement” and “eat”. They came out expecting the same team they dominated in the Super Bowl and got embarrassed. You can never underestimate your opponent.

Final Thought

I understand that this staff wants to be balanced and establish the run. Woefully, this team is not built that way. In fact it should be looked at in an opposite fashion. This team is built for an arial assault. There are three Pro Bowl receivers at Tom Brady’s disposal. Now I’m not advocating for a hugely pass happy offense. Rather the team should use the pass to open up the run and then the play action. Strike first and quickly, get the other team on their heels first, then grind them out with the run game.

Luckily the heavy first four week gauntlet is over. They now need to find a way to get all aspects of the game playing well on the same day. Otherwise we are in for a long season.

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Big Game Sports Buzz with former Buccaneers' great James Cannida
Big Game Sports Buzz with former Buccaneers’ great James Cannida

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