Answering the biggest questions around Tom Brady and the Buccaneers' issues

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gone from being a Super Bowl contender and starting the season at 2-0 to dropping four out of their past five games, creating plenty of doubt after quarterback Tom Brady came out of retirement to try to handle "unfinished business."

As the Bucs (3-4) look to turn things around when they host the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video), here's a look at what’s gone wrong and the chances they can turn it around.

1. What’s going on with Brady and the offense?

Tampa's scoring production has fallen off a cliff, going from averaging 31.4 offensive points a game through the first seven weeks last season to 16.7 this season. The Bucs have reached the red zone only 19 times in 77 drives (24.6%) in 2022. In the first seven games last season, it was 39 times in 79 drives (44.3%).

But what's happening on first and second downs is forcing them into unfavorable third-and-long passing situations. The Bucs have had 109 plays where they didn't gain or lose yardage on first and second down -- ninth most in the league. These are everything from sacks to incompletions to negative rushing yards to throwaways, but they do not include penalties.

They are also last in rushing, averaging 64.43 yards per game with 41 rush plays of no gain or negative yards -- fifth most. (The Jacksonville Jaguars lead the NFL with 51.) But by getting behind the chains early, it’s essentially giving teams permission to tee off on Brady on third down because everyone knows he’ll be dropping back to pass.

2. How much of this is on the offensive line?

A lot. You can see Brady doesn’t trust the protection. Rookie Luke Goedeke is still struggling to make the transition from college right tackle to NFL left guard -- where he’s faced challenges moving inside and switching sides.

Last week the coaching staff began alternating Goedeke and backup Nick Leverett every two series. Goedeke will miss Thursday with a foot injury.

The Bucs’ interior with Goedeke, second-year center Robert Hainsey and right guard Shaq Mason has produced an interior pass blocking win rate of 87.4%, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- the worst in the NFL. Last year, that number was 91.8%. Between the left guard and center positions, the Bucs have accumulated 43 pass-blocking losses -- second most in the NFL. Goedeke has been the main culprit with 28.

Teams are also blitzing Brady less this year because they realize they don’t need to, giving them more resources downfield and making it harder on the Bucs’ receivers on third down.

From a run-blocking standpoint, the yards-per-rush metric is a great indicator of a team’s run-blocking ability, as it takes the running back out of the play to some degree. Some of it is still on the running back based on how quickly he can hit the hole, but the Bucs are averaging 1.7 yards per rush before contact -- second lowest in the NFL. That number was 2.7 last year (13th).

3. What about Brady’s receivers?

The only receiver proving reliable is Pro Bowler Mike Evans, and even he had a hiccup last week when he bobbled what would have been a touchdown on the opening drive.

Brady’s connection with the Bucs' other Pro Bowl wideout, Chris Godwin, has suffered since Godwin’s torn ACL last season. They’ve gone from a 77.2% completion rate in 2021 and a 77.4% completion rate in 2020 to 65.9% in 2022. He’s still not back to where he was before his injury, and he’s particularly struggling against press coverage, with 2 yards after the catch against press coverage versus 6.1 last season.

Newcomer Julio Jones hasn’t suited up since Week 4 because of a knee injury, and he’s had only four catches so far. He’s questionable against the Ravens. Russell Gage, who also signed with the Bucs as a free agent, has missed practice reps with Brady because of multiple injuries and will not play against the Ravens.

Without Jones and Gage, though, opposing defenses’ resources aren’t being spread as thin. They can still roll coverage Evans’ way.

The Bucs have been plagued by drops too. The Bucs’ 11 drops tie them for seventh most in the league. They had eight through seven games last year.

4. Why isn’t the Bucs' defense stopping anybody?

The Bucs have dealt with injuries and communication issues, but defensive backs suffering injuries in-season is not new. They dealt with it last year, and the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to defeat them without their top four cornerbacks.

It’s on the coaching staff to get them in position to make plays. They are routinely blowing coverages because one player isn’t clear on the defensive playcall or lacks attention on details. Inside linebacker Devin White should not have missed Najee Harris in the flat against Pittsburgh to allow rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett to throw his first NFL touchdown.

The Bucs have not been able to stop the run, which was what they did best over the past three seasons. Players aren’t in their proper gaps. They also aren’t pressuring quarterbacks as effectively. In good news, key cog Akiem Hicks, who has been out since Week 2 with a foot injury, returned to practice this week.

Overall, there is a lack of cohesiveness, and one really has to wonder if that stems from having a defensive head coach with two different coordinators running the defense -- Kacy Rodgers, who is responsible for the front seven, and Larry Foote, who is responsible for the back end.

5. What do the analytics say about the remainder of the season?

After starting the season 2-0 in beating the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints on the road, the Bucs had a 98% chance of making the playoffs and a 93% chance of winning the division, according to FPI. After losing to the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, their Week 5 win over the Atlanta Falcons gave them a 97% chance of making the playoffs and a 94% chance of winning the division. But after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers on the road, they’re now at a 67% chance of making the playoffs with a 61% chance of winning the division.

The Bucs’ remaining opponents are a combined 30-39, with five of those games coming at Raymond James Stadium. They can take advantage of the NFC South, as they currently sit atop the division and hold the tiebreaker over Atlanta (3-4). There’s also hope that safety Logan Ryan, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury, and center Ryan Jensen, who has a knee injury, can come back late in the season.