TAMPA — In the Bucs' 20-12 loss to the Ravens, the Tampa Bay offense was on the field for just 47 plays — compiling just four plays termed as explosive (passes of 20 or more yards and runs of at least 15 yards).
The team hopes the return of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who will return this Sunday at Dallas after missing the last three games with a left thumb injury, will help the Bucs stretch the field vertically.
"If you go back, O.J. (Howard) and DeSean being out, (those are) two explosive players that are matchup guys," Bucs offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "So having those two guys early in the year allowed us to be a little more explosive and having DeSean back will be great for this week. And some of what we've done from an execution standpoint will help from an explosive standpoint. But the bottom line is, especially the last two weeks … it's a matter of when you have the opportunities scoring touchdowns."
The production of Jackson, whose 18.8 yards per catch average on the season is the best in the league, diminished before he was sidelined. His last game was a three-catch, 19-yard showing against the 49ers, and quarterback Jameis Winston's inability to connect with Jackson — especially on deep balls — continued to be a season-long theme.
Before arriving in Tampa Bay, Jackson spent his entire career in the NFC East playing for the Eagles and Redskins, so he's played the Cowboys many times and has seen success against Dallas. His 1,123 receiving yards against the Cowboys in 16 games is his most against any opponent, and he's averaging 20.05 yards per reception against the Dallas.
Hold the flag
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said Friday that he's noticed this season that it's become more difficult to get calls overturned through the video review process.
"The one thing that I think has been happening a lot this year is it's hard to get something reversed," Koetter said. "However they call it on the field, it's hard to get it changed.
Koetter isn't one to challenge calls often, but in the five times he's challenged this season, he's only had one reversed. That reversal was a big one, when a gain by wide receiver Adam Humphries that was initially placed outside the goal line was changed to a touchdown during the Bucs' road game at Carolina on Nov. 4.
"It better be really obvious, even though I think we had one (two weeks ago) go the other way," said Koetter, referring to a play against the Saints in which a Drew Brees third-and-1 incompletion to Michael Thomas was ruled a pass.
Overall, Koetter is just 3-for-9 on challenges in his three-year Bucs tenure.
"The biggest issues with any challenge is does somebody get a clean look at it, and it's a lot different whether you're home or away," he said. "These teams are smart and they know when to show it and when not to show it on the screen. We have somebody in the box that I'm listening to and even though you have other people saying stuff, I'm listening to the guy in the box. Sometimes it works out where you don't get a (good) look. …
"When I was a college coach, the college rule was a lot easier, because they were looking at everything. Every play was reviewed upstairs."
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard