Even in recent surge, Bucs struggling on third downs
The Bucs have four wins in their last five games -- in the entire NFL, only the Eagles can claim a better record -- but Tampa Bay has done so despite consistent problems on third downs, converting just 24 percent of their opportunities in the last five games.
As a result, the Bucs have dropped to 31st in the NFL in third-down conversion, down to 33.2 percent, ahead of only Jacksonville. And on Sunday, Tampa Bay will work to improve those numbers against a 49ers defense that ranks sixth in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing just 34.4 percent conversions.
"Tough defenses, and when you have tough defenses, third down's where they really shine," coach Greg Schiano said. "That's the money down and they've got the guys to do it. But we need to convert. ... It's going to be huge Sunday. When you say what are the keys, third down's a huge key, for them and for us. ... You're going to get it to third down and manageables. Can you convert, or not? If you don't, you punt."
The Bucs have faced a high number of third-and-long situations in the last five games -- of 62 third downs in that span, 28 were third and 10 or longer, and of those 28, the Bucs have just one conversion -- the 38-yard touchdown pass from Mike Glennon to Vincent Jackson on a third-and-14 play against Buffalo last week. What it means is an average of just three third-down conversions a game over a five-game span.
"A negative play on first down usually amounts to an 8-plus third down," Schiano said. "There's been some longer downs in these last couple weeks. The third-and-8s can't be a longer down. You have to find a way to get 8 yards. That's something we have to do better. Third and 13s, there's a reason the conversion rate's pretty low across the league on third-and-13s, third-and-14s."
As with nearly any facet of the Bucs offense, things get worse in the second half -- the Bucs are converting third downs at just 16 percent in the secnod half of the last five games, and two of those conversions are on third-and-1 plays. When facing third down and 5 yards or longer in the second half, the Bucs are 0-for-21 in the last five games.