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Chris Godwin’s not seeing as many passes come his way; that’s no lie

John Romano | The frustration is figuring out how to incorporate the Bucs’ star receiver in a new offense that has him lining up in a different spot.
 
Chris Godwin's production has dropped off as the Bucs have transitioned to a new style of offense that does not cater as much to Godwin's ability to make tough catches in traffic across the middle.
Chris Godwin's production has dropped off as the Bucs have transitioned to a new style of offense that does not cater as much to Godwin's ability to make tough catches in traffic across the middle. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 8, 2023

TAMPA — So we have a frustrated player, an unhappy wife and a doozy of an accusation.

And, regrettably, that left very little room for nuance in the conversation.

By now, you may have heard that Chris Godwin’s wife, Mariah, went on social media late Wednesday afternoon and asked “why we are just blatantly lying” after Bucs head coach Todd Bowles suggested his star receiver’s lack of production against Carolina was due to an injury that prevented him from staying on the field.

In fact, Godwin got pretty much the same number of snaps as he’s had most of the season. Hence, Mariah’s finger-pointing.

To be clear, I don’t think Bowles was lying. Not in the way you or I might normally interpret a fib. I think Bowles was engaging in normal coach-speak, which is something you can hear just about every day in every market in every sport.

What is coach-speak? It’s a way of using a bunch of sensible-sounding words to essentially say nothing. Maybe it’s because the coach doesn’t yet have a firm grasp on the answer. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t want to give away competitive advantages. Or maybe it’s because he’s protecting a player or assistant coach by avoiding an unpleasant truth.

Whatever the reason, I don’t think it’s a cause for alarm in the locker room. Godwin is one of the most thoughtful and intelligent players on the roster, and he seemed ready to put the whole matter behind him on Thursday after meeting with offensive coordinator Dave Canales.

So, it’s a happy ending?

Not quite yet.

There’s still an underlying problem here. Godwin has one of the fattest contracts on the roster, and his production this season has dropped significantly. From 2019-22, while factoring in a handful of games missed, Godwin’s numbers translated to 109 receptions and 1,329 yards per 17 games. This year, he’s on pace for 75 receptions and 858.5 yards.

The question is what’s causing the dropoff?

Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin makes a reception, which was ruled incomplete (out of bounds), against the Falcons earlier this season.
Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin makes a reception, which was ruled incomplete (out of bounds), against the Falcons earlier this season. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Canales fell on the sword Thursday and accepted responsibility for not directing enough plays in Godwin’s direction. It was a gracious move, although it still leaves plenty of room for subtle details. It’s not a weekly game plan issue as much as a philosophical change in the offense.

At his best, Godwin, 27, was primarily a slot receiver. A guy who went over the middle on shorter routes and caught the tough balls in traffic. He excelled in the role, and Tom Brady frequently used Godwin in clutch situations when he needed to pick up a first down.

Pro Football Reference has a statistic called receiving success rate. It’s the number of times a receiver picks up at least 40% of the yards required on first down, 60% on second down and 100% on third and fourth downs. From 2019-22, Godwin was second in the league behind Travis Kelce in receiving success rate.

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The problem in 2023 is that Canales brought a new style of offense to Tampa Bay. Instead of featuring a slot receiver on a majority of plays, the Bucs often employ a two-tight end set with the receivers split wide on both sides.

The past two seasons, Godwin lined up in the slot 61.1% and 65.6% of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. This year, he’s been in the slot 32% of his snaps.

“That’s a great question,” Godwin said when asked about not being in the slot as much. “I don’t necessarily know if it’s just a slot-to-the-outside kind of (problem). I think it’s a completely different offense. Obviously, we’ve had our growing pains in trying to develop the offense. It takes time to build the chemistry and develop over the course of the season. The overall scheme itself is just way different.

“If you look at the previous couple of years, we were probably throwing the ball 40 or 50 times a game. I don’t know if we’ve done that once this year. Just by sheer numbers, targets are definitely going to go down.”

The slants and crossing patterns that Godwin excelled in have dropped precipitously. Those short and intermediate passes between the hash marks have dropped from 49.1% and 50.6% of his targets the past two seasons to 39.5% in 2023.

Godwin is neither as tall nor as quick as Mike Evans, and so the downfield passes as a split receiver do not come as naturally.

“If you talk about first and second down, when we have multiple tight end sets, that’s going to put Chris outside a lot,” Canales said. “Why? Because Chris and Mike are our two best receivers. We do have some slot combinations, but we love getting these matchups.

“If you look at how we play Chris on third down — how we play him in the red zone — he ends up in the slot quite a bit.”

In the grand scheme of things, Godwin’s numbers are still respectable. He’s among the top 35 receivers in the league with 53 receptions on a team that throws the ball less than most.

It’s just not the same level of production we’re used to seeing, which means everyone from the bleachers to the huddle to the kitchen table are frustrated with the way things are going.

And that’s no lie.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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