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Don't let numbers of Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense lie to you

Frightening, this Bucs offense. Dangerous, too.

If you watch it closely enough, it can damage your eyesight. It can drive up your blood pressure, it can wreck your nerves, and it can strip you of your sanity.

The offensive line does not dominate. The running backs do not stampede. The quarterback hunts and pecks, and the team seems to use one receiver per season. It is an offense forever running in place. It is nothing to see, and you have seen it before.

And here's the really scary thing.

By Buc standards, this is a good offense.

At least, that's what the numbers suggest. It might not sound like a thrill ride to be 13th in the league in yards gained, but the Bucs have finished higher only twice (10th in 1984 and 2003). It isn't bragging to mention a passing attack that is 12th and running game that is 12th, but Tampa Bay has never finished in the top half of the league in both categories in the same year.

Pretty impressive, isn't it? Right up to the moment when you realize all those statistics are a con job.

No, this is not a good offense.

That's the thing about numbers. They will look you in the eye and lie to you. They will swear they are your friend, and they will try to prove what you see is false. They will bait you with promises, and they will leave you with disappointment.

Want to know the truth about this offense? The truth is nine points at Dallas, 10 points at Atlanta and 13 points at Denver.

The truth is first and goal at the Carolina 2, trailing by three just before the half, and being forced to kick a field goal.

The truth is first and 10 at the Falcons 12, with a chance to win the game in the final two minutes, and giving up a sack and a penalty before kicking another field goal.

The truth is 51 trips into the red zone, the ninth most in the NFL. And the truth is 18 touchdowns, a .353 percentage that is 31st out of 32 teams.

None of this surprises you, does it? Over the years, Tampa Bay fans have come to know the look of a suspect offense, and this one seems to have the same DNA as its plodding ancestors. The holes are still too small, and the flags are too frequent, and the red zone is as hard to cross as a castle moat.

Hasn't it always been that way around here? We talk about offense, and we dream about offense, but we rarely see offense. In hockey, the Lightning entered the weekend next to last in the NHL in goals. And in baseball, the Rays reached the World Series without a .300 hitter. Come to think of it, Ponce de Leon fell short of the goal, too.

The most vexing thing, however, always has been the Bucs offense. Who knew the most immovable object in the universe is a Tampa Bay football?

How do you explain it? Before he came to Tampa Bay, Jon Gruden had three straight seasons where his team's offense was in the top seven of the NFL. His teams ran, and they spread the ball around to multiple receivers. They were efficient, they were electric, they were exciting.

Here? Not so much. For all of the talk about the thickness of the playbook, Gruden's offense has never quite clicked. You can blame it on the constant change at quarterback, or you can blame it on the lack of development of young players, or you can blame it on the team's hesitancy to be a major player when it comes to spending in free agency.

Either way, the sputtering continues. The Bucs move so slowly, there are times you might wonder whether your remote control is on pause.

The offensive line, expected to be the best in team history, still has to prove it can be as tough before the whistle as afterward. The passing game seems like a game of catch where no one gets to play but Jeff Garcia and Antonio Bryant. Consider this: Bryant is the 10th-leading receiver in the NFL. The other starting receiver, Michael Clayton, is 95th. Is any other offense so lopsided?

The thing is, the Bucs should be able to move the ball. For crying out loud, check out the defenses they have been playing against.

So far this season, the Bucs have played the three worst defenses in the league and four of the worst five. By the time their schedule is over, they will have played 11 games against teams ranked 20th or worse in the league. They haven't played anyone now ranked in the top six of NFL defense.

And yet, the Bucs cannot find the end zone.

Despite that No. 13 ranking in offensive yards gained, the Bucs offense has scored only 25 touchdowns this year. And that is the main problem. The Bucs have been pretty good at crossing the yard stripes that don't award points, but when they get to the one in front of the end zone, they look like tourists in a traffic jam.

Twenty-five touchdowns? Across the league, only seven offenses have scored fewer, and those teams are averaging three victories each.

Will it ever change? Perhaps when the offensive line grows up. Perhaps when there is a fixture at quarterback. Perhaps when the Bucs invest a little heavier in free agency. Perhaps when Gruden believes in more than one of his receivers.

For now, the progress seems to be moving awfully slow.

With this offense, doesn't everything?

Taking advantage?

The Bucs have played some of the lesser defenses in the NFL, and they still haven't lit up the scoreboard. A recap of whom the Bucs have played and will play, their defensive rank and touchdowns by the Tampa Bay offense (entering the weekend):

TeamCurrentOff.

def. rankTDs

New Orleans201

Atlanta233

Chicago172

Green Bay242

Denver281

Carolina102

Seattle302

Dallas70

Kansas City322

Minnesota81

Detroit313

New Orleans202

Carolina103

Atlanta231

San Diego25—

Oakland26—

Trouble finding the end zone

The Bucs have failed to score a touchdown in the red zone 33 times this year, the most wasted opportunities in the league. Only eight teams have driven inside the 20 more than the Bucs (51 times), but Tampa Bay has only 18 touchdowns. The Bucs have averaged 3.92 points per visit to the red zone, which ranks 31st in the NFL (entering the weekend).

Team Poss. TDs Pct.

Indianapolis 47 33 70.2

Dallas 37 24 64.9

Carolina 42 27 64.3

Miami 37 23 62.2

Tennessee 44 27 61.4

Green Bay 41 25 61.0

Denver 47 28 59.6

Arizona 60 35 58.3

Jacksonville4325 58.1

Detroit2615 57.7

Pittsburgh 44 25 56.8

New Orleans 53 30 56.6

Kansas City 40 22 55.0

Chicago 4323 53.5

N.Y. Jets 58 31 53.4

New England 54 28 51.9

Team Poss. TDs Pct.

Atlanta 49 25 51.0

San Diego 53 27 50.9

N.Y. Giants 61 31 50.8

Seattle 36 18 50.0

San Francisco 47 23 48.9

Baltimore 41 20 48.8

Philadelphia 58 28 48.3

Buffalo 46 22 47.8

Cincinnati 28 13 46.4

Houston 53 24 45.3

Minnesota 40 18 45.0

Washington 43 19 44.2

Oakland 31 12 38.7

Cleveland 38 14 36.8

Tampa Bay 51 18 35.3

St. Louis 23 7 30.4

Don't let numbers of Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense lie to you 12/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 11:30am]

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