TAMPA — The suggestion seems preposterous. In the week-to-week world of the NFL, where injury reports get longer as the days get shorter, the notion of a depth chart surplus doesn’t fly.
“I don’t think there is such a thing,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “Look at the team (Chiefs) coming in here this week; I don’t think they have a problem with having too many really good players.”
Yet more than once in the past month, the Bucs offense has given embarrassment of riches a whole new meaning.
Monday night’s uncharacteristic performance against the Rams (Tom Brady’s two throws to safety Jordan Fuller’s breadbasket) came two weeks after an unsightly one (three points, three sacks, 8 rushing yards) against the Saints. Pundits abroad have pointed to assorted culprits, from an ill-advised offensive scheme to a Brady regression to an inconsistent backfield.
But could a subtraction-by-addition principle also be at play? Has Tampa Bay’s litany of offensive weapons become a logjam, hampering the chance to develop any chemistry?
In the Bucs’ past two losses, Brady had more picks (five) than tight end Cameron Brate had targets (four). Similarly, receiver Scotty Miller, who averaged nearly five targets in the first eight games, never saw a spiral against the Rams. Dual-threat tailback LeSean “Shady” McCoy didn’t play in either of the recent losses.
All of which suggest there aren’t enough snaps in a game to accommodate all the stars.
But Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich say the dearth of snaps in the spring and summer represents the real hindrance.
“You don’t have a spring at all or a real training camp, it’s hard on the quarterback,” Arians said. “Especially when you’ve done something for 20 years, and then throw all these guys at him.”
That alibi, which might have resonated with the fan base earlier in the season, now is starting to rankle it as December nears. The general sentiment is, Brady is foundering in a vertical-based offense ill-suited for him, going 0-for-19 on throws of 20 or more yards in Weeks 8-11. On Thursday, Leftwich shot back at suggestions that Brady is playing someone else’s system.
“You guys know how I am. I tell you this all the time: The quarterback is the offense,” Leftwich said.
“I understand that it’s still a version of entertainment, so something has to be said. And when plays don’t work and when things don’t work, that’s what comes with losing in this league. We all accept that, we understand that. All we can do is hopefully get the next opportunity where we can be in position to do the right things so we can have an opportunity to win the football game.”
A number of once-productive components, meantime, are no longer conspicuous.
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Miller, who averaged 4.75 targets in the first eight games (when he had 25 catches for 400 yards), has totaled four targets since Antonio Brown joined the team. Brate has 16 catches and 19 targets, well shy of his pace from 2016-19, when he averaged 42.8 catches and 65.5 targets.
McCoy, a six-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade team, hasn’t touched the ball since the Green Bay game more than a month ago.
On Thursday, Leftwich said Miller has been slowed by hip and groin issues, suggesting he’ll become more integrated in the game plan as his speed returns. As for McCoy?
“Shade’s always an option,” he said. “Anybody that we have on our team is really always an option. It just hasn’t come his way, he hasn’t gotten really a lot of reps, but yeah, Shade’s always an option.”
Eleven games in, the options aren’t being maximized.
Lately, the success has been minimized.
Do the math.