What’s up with the Bucs’ slow start on offense?

In 2018, Tampa Bay fielded one of the league’s best passing units. Now it’s struggling.
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston hopes to have his team dressed for success as the season moves forward, but to do so he'll need to generate more offense. Tampa Bay plays host to the Giants on Sunday. Brian Blanco  |  AP
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston hopes to have his team dressed for success as the season moves forward, but to do so he'll need to generate more offense. Tampa Bay plays host to the Giants on Sunday. Brian Blanco | AP
Published September 17
Updated September 17

The Bucs offense, fueled by a passing game that ranked as the league’s best in 2018, went into this season with a confidence bolstered by key skill players and a new coach known for success moving the ball. Quarterback Jameis Winston would be driven by playing for a new contract, Mike Evans would stake his claim as the league’s best, Chris Godwin would blossom into a fantasy darling and tight end O.J. Howard would become a breakout star. After two games, none of those have exactly emerged. Winston and his offensive mates rank 26th overall in the league (292 yards per game) and the passing game ranks 25th (181.5 yards per game). Why has Tampa Bay started slowly, and what would you suggest for a fix? We convene a roundtable to get answers.

Getting 11 players in sync takes time

Rick Stroud, Bucs beat writer @NFLStroud: Offense requires all 11 players to do their job to execute. A new system takes time to learn and game speed is different than the preseason, so there is an adjustment period. Case in point. Winston didn’t throw much to his running backs in the system he played in under Dirk Koetter. And he didn’t have many of them line up one on one against 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman. So when Peyton Barber ran a hitch and took it three yards to deep, Winston put the ball where he was supposed to be. The result was a pick six interception for Sherman. Who was at fault? Was it Winston? Maybe he should’ve found a better matchup. Was it Barber? His route was too deep. Winston also is having the get rid of the ball quicker because they have five eligible receivers out on each play. So he has to be responsible for his own protection. This can lead to poor decisions as he gets used to the offense. The coaches are also learning the players skill sets. Again, it’s an adjustment and Bruce Arians needs to do a better job of incorporating the use of tight ends OJ Howard and Cameron Brate. The fix that probably needs to be made is to get the tight ends involved early. The passing game runs through Mike Evans and then Chris Godwin, as it should. And the Bucs are trying to establish balance in the running game, which takes Brate off the field. There’s only one ball, but eventually Howard and Brate need to become a bigger part of the offense.

Quick decision must become second nature

Eduardo A. Encina, Bucs/pro sports enterprise writer, @EddieintheYard: Let’s be realistic. Mastering a new offense takes time. And while it may not be fair to judge Jameis Winston’s learning curve of his Week 1 struggles, it appears he’s getting more comfortable with the new scheme. During training camp, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said he wanted to make things difficult for Winston so the quick decisions required in the new offense became second nature. But the practice field can’t duplicate the game. He forced too many passes — and bad ones — at his running backs in the opener. But in Week 2, Winston managed the game better, so over time, he’ll find his footing. Hopefully for the Bucs, that includes him getting targets like O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and even Mike Evans more involved in the offense, because he’s a better quarterback when he’s using those weapons.

Ignore the aberration, sling it around

Thomas Bassinger, sports data reporter, @tometrics: Winston’s first game was a bit of an aberration. Yes, he has a game or two like that every season, but that’s not indicative of his overall play. My suggestion is the same as Bruce Arians’: Keep slingin’ it. This offense is built around the pass; it’s not going to win many games if it over commits to running the ball, which it did at times against the Panthers. My other suggestion: Patience. I know, you’ve been waiting for more than a decade, but it’s going to take time for the players to master this offense. You start basic, and as the season moves along, you add wrinkles. Considering the changes in variables (new coach, new coordinator, no DeSean Jackson, no Adam Humphries), regression was a strong possibility. We might be witnessing that adjustment now.

Stop slinging it around, commit to the run

John Romano, columnist @romano_tbtimes: What’s the line from Shakespeare? Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? That was Tampa Bay’s offense last year. The Bucs piled up yardage, but rarely in the context of victories. The only thing they need to fix this season is making sure Winston does not turn the ball over. And that’s what happened against Carolina. If the Bucs continue making the ground game a priority then Winston will not be asked to carry a greater load than necessary.

Getting to know you

Ernest Hooper, assistant sports editor, @hoop4you: We’re going to witness the synergy between Coach Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and quarterback Jameis Winston develop before our very eyes this season. That current has to consistently flow between the three for the offense to click on all cylinders. They have to gain a greater understanding of how to prepare Winston and understand the plays that best suit his skill set. That must take precedent over getting O.J. Howard more involved, generating more targets for Cam Brate or energizing Breshad Perriman’s game. Winston remains the biggest key and how he goes, so goes the Bucs offense.

It’s simple: Winston to Evans

Mike Sherman, sports editor, @mikesherman: The Bucs can and will get back to what they do best: Jameis Winston to Mike Evans. They have connected only six times in two games and haven’t struck paydirt.

Contact Ernest Hooper at ehooper@tampabay.com. Follow @hoop4you