TAMPA — So you’re not impressed with the incremental improvements to Tampa Bay’s offense this season.
Maybe you should try looking from a different vantage point. Like from, say, New England. Or Arizona. Or Carolina.
The Bucs were not the only team to bring in a new offensive coordinator this season with the hope of finding a simpler path to the end zone. In fact, half the NFL swapped out offensive coordinators during the off-season. That’s 16 new coordinators, including six rookie play-callers.
With that in mind, where do you suppose Dave Canales fits in the class of 2023?
Probably higher than you expected.
Of the 16 new coordinators, only nine have seen an increase in their team’s scoring average from 2022. Canales is on that list. Of the 16 coordinators, only eight have seen a reduction in their turnovers from last season. Canales is on that list, too.
None of this will get him a guest spot on a national pre-game show, but it does suggest that the overhaul of an offense can be a tricky thing.
Consider the case of Bill O’Brien. He’s been a head coach in the NFL and at Penn State. He was Tom Brady’s offensive coordinator in 2011, and Bryce Young’s coordinator at Alabama last season. And that hefty resume hasn’t helped him at all in New England this season. Quarterback Mac Jones is having his worst season as a pro, and the Patriots have gone from 21.4 points a game in 2022 to 14.1 points this season.
Or how about Matt Nagy? He was the offensive coordinator when the Chiefs won a division title in 2017, and then he went off to Chicago to become a head coach. He’s back in Kansas City as the coordinator again and, even with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs have gone from an average of 29.2 points to 23.1.
The point is that playbooks do not come with a money-back guarantee.
There are too many variables in every situation to realistically expect instant success. Maybe the offensive line is beat up. Maybe the new quarterback is slow to learn. Maybe a weak defense means a team is constantly playing from behind.
Or maybe, like in Tampa Bay’s case, the head coach seems to prefer ball control and field position to no risk it/no biscuit.
Whatever the circumstances, it’s possible we’ve all been too critical of Canales’ first two months in Tampa Bay. Yes, the Bucs are still near the bottom of the league in scoring. And, yes, the running game still qualifies as a community embarrassment.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
But with a revamped offensive line and a vagabond quarterback in the huddle, the Bucs have begun showing signs of improvement. It’s not just the 57 points scored the past two weeks — which is Tampa Bay’s best two-game stretch since the end of the 2021 season — but it’s also the adjustments along the way.
The running game struggles have been offset by getting Rachaad White outside the hash marks in the passing game. And, after five consecutive games with the majority of passes thrown to receivers not named Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, the Bucs targeted their top playmakers on 16 of 29 passes against Tennessee.
Accordingly, the Bucs had 10 plays of 15 yards or more against the Titans.
“It speaks to protection. It speaks to the guys up front, and our skill guys making plays down the field,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “The first play of the game, it was kind of a quick-game play and they changed the coverage and Chris (Godwin) gets the ball for an explosive (play). We always aim for 10-plus explosives each game, so that’s a big thing for us to be able to do that to keep those guys off-balance, keep moving the chains and resetting downs.”
The Bucs obviously need to do better. Averaging 19.8 points per game is not going to get you to the Super Bowl. It rarely even gets you in the playoffs. There have been 282 playoff teams since 2000, and only 5.6% (a total of 16) averaged 19.8 points or less per game, including the 2022 Bucs.
The offense is better than it was last year, and better than it was last month. It’s not creating headlines around the NFL, but it is moving in the right direction. Even if it’s only a few yards at a time.
“Just trust the process,” Mayfield said. “Trust the system that things are going to come.”
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
• • •
Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.