Bucs defensive struggles on third downs prove costly
There’s usually multiple reasons a team loses a football game. And that was true of the Bucs on Sunday in their loss to the Falcons.
But there are some factors that loom larger than others, among them the struggles of the Bucs defense on third downs.
The Bucs were among the NFL’s better third-down defenses early in the season, with no opponent converting more than 38 percent of its third downs against Tampa Bay through five games.
But in the past several games, that’s changed for the worse.
The Falcons on Sunday converted 62 percent of their third downs (8 of 13), way too many. That continues a stretch during which the Bucs have allowed 67 percent (against the Chargers) and 53 percent (against the Panthers) in recent games.
The Falcons are tough on third down, with a 48 percent conversion rate for the season. And Bucs opponents are converting 43 percent of their third-down attempts.
The big question: How to fix this?
There’s never an easy answer because some third downs are long, some are shorter, some come in the redzone, others on the other end of the field. But this we know: As the Bucs’ schedule intensifies during the final few weeks of the season, it will be increasingly difficult to win in spite of poor defensive performances on third downs.
Coach Greg Schiano knows it, too.
“If you go back to earlier in the year, we were really doing well on third down,” he said. “We need to just regroup and take a breath.”