TAMPA, Fla. -- When Bruce Arians was hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he brought with him a coaching staff that had won together before. But three quarters into the season, players and coaches are still making mistakes as if it’s Week 1.
Those issues bubbled up again in last Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Bucs didn't make effective adjustments to what they were seeing from the Saints' defense, there was questionable playcalling on offense and there was confusion on some assignments -- all of which have been recurring themes this year. Here's a closer look:
Not adjusting to the blitz
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen blitzed quarterback Jameis Winston on only 13.9 percent of his dropbacks in Tampa's Week 5 loss to the Saints. In the Week 11 rematch, Allen threw the kitchen sink at Winston, blitzing on 44.4 percent of his dropbacks -- the most of any team Winston has faced all year. Winston was also pressured on 41.7 percent of the blitzes he faced. The Bucs used at least six pass-blockers 15 times Sunday. That might seem like a lot, but Winston dropped back 51 times.
It didn’t help that the Bucs fell behind 20-0. They had to abandon the run early, and running back Ronald Jones played only 19 snaps, versus 38 last week. But considering he went 8-for-8 catching passes last week, why wasn’t he used in the screen game? It could have helped slow the rush.
Not using top playmakers
The Saints lined up in some variation of Cover 2 zone defense virtually the entire game, just as they did in Week 5. How do you beat Cover 2? By working the middle of the field, underneath and the deep areas along the sideline. To some extent, the Bucs did that with tight end Cam Brate, who benefited from all the attention on wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
“That’s an adjustment we made during the game to get to those types of plays,” said Brate, who caught 10 of 14 targets for 73 receiving yards. “They weren’t very sexy, those plays, but they were giving us 8 yards -- they were giving us those.”
But they didn’t do enough to get the ball into the hands of their two best playmakers -- Evans and Godwin -- who finished the day with a combined seven catches.
Where was cornerback Jamel Dean?
Dean made the defensive play of the game in the win over the Cardinals in Week 10 yet played zero snaps against the Saints on defense. They also put rookie safety Mike Edwards in as a "big nickel" for the first time all season because they wanted to use him as a blitzer (they rushed him six times).
With all the talk the last two weeks about the improvements Dean has made -- which gave the Bucs confidence they could part ways with former first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves -- it didn’t make sense to keep Dean on the bench, especially when this group has been working to try to fix its communication issues (those don’t usually get better when guys are thrown into new positions).
“We played a lot more zone. [Dean] was more in the man-to-man group,” Arians said when asked why Dean wasn’t on the field. “We’ll fix that. He needs to be out there on the field more.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Dean’s four pass breakups on 19 snaps played in zone coverage this year are more than any other player on the team. (He has two pass breakups and an interception on 41 snaps in man coverage.)
The Bucs’ best playcaller (Arians) isn’t the one calling plays, and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich made some questionable decisions. When the Bucs went to their hurry-up offense on first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with 3:47 to go, twice they handed the ball to Dare Ogunbowale, who had just five carries all season up until this point. They went up the middle twice for no gain. Why wasn’t Peyton Barber, their short-yardage back, or Jones in the game at that point?
“[The two-minute drill] is not either one of their forte,” Arians said, although Barber caught the game-winning touchdown on third-and-goal against the Arizona Cardinals last week with 1:47 to go, demonstrating he can be trusted in that situation.
At no point in that series did they attempt a quarterback sneak, despite Winston being 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds. That might have been a function of his injured ankle, but that doesn’t mean he had to leap over the goal line. Heck, they could have trotted out 347-pound defensive tackle Vita Vea, as they did the previous week, and had him serve as a lead blocker or had him carry the ball. Instead, on third-and-goal, the Bucs lined up in shotgun, which puts the quarterback 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and Winston was intercepted on a fade route to Evans.
This isn’t the only time Leftwich has made some questionable decisions inside the 5-yard line. In the second quarter of the Bucs’ Week 8 loss at the Tennessee Titans, on third-and-goal from the Titans’ 4-yard line, he called a fake jet sweep with Ogunbowale in the backfield, and Ogunbowale collided with Breshad Perriman, resulting in a 2-yard loss and forcing the Bucs to settle for a field goal.
More missed assignments and communication issues
Saints WR Ted Ginn Jr. was unaccounted for on a 6-yard touchdown reception. There also appeared to be confusion on Saints receiver Michael Thomas’ 41-yard catch-and-run on a slant route in the third quarter. Plus, there was another botched QB-center exchange in the red zone between Winston and Ryan Jensen -- and this time it didn't happen in a hostile road stadium. Jensen had two early poor snaps in the game -- both at the goal line. Winston recovered the first, but the second resulted in an interception on a pass intended for Evans.
Linebacker Lavonte David said he’s not sure why they still are having issues in this area despite the extra work they’ve been putting in during the week.
“People seeing different looks that we’re not used to seeing, or just not communicating fully -- people may get it but not get it fully -- throughout the play, communicating from start to finish,” David said. “That’s probably the main thing I can think of. It’s not that guys don’t know what they’re doing. Guys just have to be consistent with it.”