TAMPA, Fla. — Four days after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers put up 30 points on the Carolina Panthers, Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said Thursday that he believes what’s been reported about his team’s offensive demise this year has been exaggerated despite falling to 8-8 and narrowly squeaking into the playoffs.
“I think there’s been moments where we really haven’t been that bad,” Leftwich said. “I think you guys overexaggerated because we look different. The numbers say that that we’re not that far off. We’re off on third down and red zone. It’s disappointing, those two things for us as a team with who we have . But when you really listen to people talk about us, that’s emotions talking. That’s not really people watching us, watching us get better every week. For some reason, everybody wants to throw dirt on the Bucs. But we’re not ready for people to throw dirt on us.”
The Bucs’ scoring dropped from 29.29 offensive points per game in 2021 — first in the league — to 18.06 offensive points per game in 2022, 23rd in the league. The Panthers’ game was just the second time this season that the Bucs scored 30 or more points after doing so 10 times during the regular season last year.
In terms of yardage, the Bucs are averaging 354.5 yards per game this year – 12th in the league – compared to 405.9 yards per game in 2022, second in the league. To Leftwich’s point, the Bucs have gone from converting on 47.1% of their third downs last year – second-best in the league – to 36.9% in 2022, 22nd in the league. In terms of red zone efficiency, they’ve gone from 66.2% last year – second in the league — to 51.1%, 25th in the league in 2022.
Defensively, the Bucs’ year-over-year production has been almost identical, making the offensive struggles that much more apparent. The Bucs surrendered 20.76 points per game last year — fifth-best in the league — and this year, they’ve surrendered 20.50 points per game, eighth best.
Leftwich acknowledged that there was more of a concerted effort to be in ‘attack mode’ last week, and that injuries had created challenges for their production this season. They’ve missed Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen all season with a knee injury. They were without All-Pro left tackle Tristan Wirfs for three games due to a high ankle sprain. They missed left tackle Donovan Smith for three games as well due to elbow and foot injuries. Wide receiver Julio Jones missed five games due to a knee injury. Russell Gage missed four games with a hamstring injury. Chris Godwin missed two due to a hamstring injury and Mike Evans missed one due to a suspension. Wirfs, Smith and Jones are still nursing their injuries.
“I think we’re getting better as a group,” Leftwich said. “I think this group is learning how to play the moments that we’ve gotta make plays, understanding what we’ve gotta do to really win football games. It’s so hard to get that done when you’re switching so many bodies in and out the huddle during the season. When it’s OTAs and training camp, you do certain things from a physical standpoint every day so you can quickly get to a certain place. That’s tough in-season. I think we’re getting to a point to where we can just be in that mode more than not. … I don’t see it as a risk. I just say playing football in an aggressive way.”