TAMPA — We know what the scoreboard said. The Bucs had one of the worst dropoffs in scoring in modern NFL history.
And we know what the video looked like. The offense seemed lifeless, unimaginative and entirely too predictable.
What we don’t know is what head coach Todd Bowles thinks.
Does he put the responsibility at the feet of offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich? Or is it run game coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin?
Does he blame the combination of injuries on the offensive line and the limited mobility of quarterback Tom Brady? Or does he even blame himself for not recognizing — and fixing — this train wreck sooner?
Along with the future plans of Brady, it is the question of the offseason in Tampa Bay. The Bucs cannot begin fixing the rest of the roster until they know what direction the offense is heading.
So, yes, you should expect a decision in the coming days. Maybe hours.
The popular choice is firing Leftwich. Of course it is.
He may have been the offensive coordinator for the three-highest scoring seasons in Tampa Bay history, but there was always a question of how much of the credit belonged to former head coach Bruce Arians.
Based on what we saw in 2022, the answer is: A ton.
Even though Arians was around in an advisory role this season, the buck stopped with Leftwich. And, as it turned out, so did the Bucs offense.
It was not the worst year-to-year drop in league history, but it was pretty darned close. The Bucs went from averaging 30.1 points a game in 2021 to 18.4 points in 2022. That 11.7-point difference is tied for the sixth-largest drop in the Super Bowl era.
What makes it even worse is that expectations remained high for the Bucs this season. Brady was still here. So were Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette. The offensive line lost two guards, but free agent Shaq Mason was brought in at considerable cost.
The retirement of Rob Gronkowski was a major blow, and so was the injury to center Ryan Jensen in training camp but, for the average fan, the jerseys people were wearing on offense looked very similar to the end of 2021.
Conversely, if you go back and look at the other teams that have had major scoring droughts from one season to the next, there’s often an obvious explanation.
Peyton Manning had a neck injury in Indianapolis in 2011 and Tony Romo fractured his collarbone twice in 2015. Kurt Warner broke a finger in St. Louis and San Francisco’s Steve Young had one concussion too many. In Denver in 1999, a downturn seemed natural when John Elway retired.
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On the spiraling teams without a quarterback change, the head coach was usually held responsible. Norm Van Brocklin was fired in Atlanta eight games into 1974. Lou Saban was fired in Buffalo after five games in 1976. Brad Childress got axed in Minnesota after 10 games in 2010.
Which brings us to Tampa Bay in 2022.
The most obvious story line was the change in the coaching staff. Bowles succeeded Arians, and Leftwich was left without his safety net.
In normal circumstances, the head coach would probably pay for such a swift downturn but there are extenuating circumstances with Bowles. He wasn’t elevated to the big office until March, and he pretty much inherited the entire coaching staff. Maybe he deserves more of the blame than he is receiving, but the general feeling is that he’ll get a one-year reprieve.
Leftwich, 43, probably won’t be so lucky.
Between Arians stepping away and the offensive gameplan looking so monotonous, it’s almost inevitable that the majority of fingers will be pointed at Leftwich.
Sadly, it looks like one of the greatest downfalls in coaching memory. At this time a year ago, Leftwich was something of a hot commodity. There was a moment when it appeared Jacksonville would hire him as head coach. Instead, Leftwich took himself out of the running to return to Tampa Bay.
Is Leftwich getting a bad rap? Is there a scapegoat quality to the complaining?
To some degree, yes.
The offensive line was a mess for most of the season. Too many injuries, too many defections, too many miles on left tackle Donovan Smith. Combined with Brady’s almost pathological desire to avoid sacks, it limited what the Bucs could do in the passing game. The lack of a receiver or back with true game-breaking speed did not help.
But, in the end, it is a coordinator’s job to adapt and adjust. To spot the deficiencies and make appropriate changes. And there appeared to be very little of that during the season.
Consequently, it may be time to make a change in the staff itself.
Plummet in production
Only a handful of teams have seen an offense decline as rapidly as the Bucs did in the 2022 season. Here are the biggest drops in year-to-year scoring in the NFL during the Super Bowl era (average points and the drop):
Falcons (1973-74): 22.7 to 7.9, 14.8 drop
Bills (1975-76): 30.0 to 17.5, 12.5 drop
Colts (2010-11): 27.2 to 15.2, 12.0 drop
Cowboys (2014-15): 29.2 to 17.2, 12.0 drop
Vikings (2009-10): 29.4 to 17.6, 11.8 drop
Broncos (1998-99): 31.3 to 19.6, 11.7 drop
Falcons (2016-17): 33.8 to 22.1, 11.7 drop
Bucs (2021-22): 30.1 to 18.4, 11.7 drop
Rams (2001-02): 31.4 to 19.8, 11.6 drop
Washington (1991-92): 30.3 to 18.8, 11.5 drop
49ers (1998-99): 29.9 to 18.4, 11.5 drop
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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