Bucs' red-zone woes present complex problem

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (3) wants someone to pick up a defender during the Bucs NFL Preseason Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa 8/24/15. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (3) wants someone to pick up a defender during the Bucs NFL Preseason Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa 8/24/15. JIM DAMASKE | Times
Published Nov. 14, 2015

TAMPA — Overall, Jameis Winston is developing as an NFL quarterback at warp speed for a rookie. But the Bucs would like him to make quicker decisions with the football in the red zone.

Though it's hardly all the fault of Winston, the Bucs are 28th in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns only 42.9 percent of their trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line. By comparison, 15 teams are 60 percent or better.

Never were those pay-dirtless problems for the Bucs more on display than in Sunday's 32-18 loss to the New York Giants. With just more than nine minutes to go, the Bucs were a failed two-point conversion from tying it at 20.

But that's after they had gone only 1 for 4 in the red zone. Some missed block assignments, a lack of viable receiving targets and lack of conviction by Winston all conspired to keep the Bucs out of the end zone.

"Like most things in football, if we could pinpoint one thing and fix it, boom, we would snap our magic fingers and fix it," Bucs offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "In this particular game we had a couple of blocking issues where we didn't block runs right. We had a good play on — and very uncharacteristic — we had somebody make a mental mistake, so you got two guys blocking one guy and then nobody blocking the free hitter who comes over and makes the tackle. That happened twice. You got a couple times where they just covered it good or we hadn't seen them double (-team) the X (receiver) before so we had one play on to Mike (Evans). They doubled him, a guy jumped outside. Give them credit.

"Then there's a couple times where Jameis either needs to make a better throw or he's not on the right guy or I've got to give him a better play. (It's a) combination of all those things. That's 25 percent, one-out-of-four is a bad number and that more than likely cost us the game. We've got to do better."

Of course, it doesn't help that Winston has been without two of his primary red zone targets. Receiver Vincent Jackson has missed the past two games with a knee injury and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been out since injuring his shoulder in Week 2.

"Again, I'm not giving away any national defense secrets here when I tell you that you try to get the ball to your best players and if your best players aren't there you have to do something else," Koetter said. "That's game planning."

Even so, Winston has to make quicker decisions in the red zone, where windows are tighter and the defense flies around faster in a desperate effort to keep opponents off the scoreboard.

"On the ones that fall on Jameis, I would say that's characteristic of inexperience," Koetter said. "He started on one side one time, tried to switch over to the other side, which makes him look a little bit late. As I say every week when (I) get up here, Jameis is doing a great job, but everybody, me included, we're expecting him to play like a five-year vet, and he's an eight-game vet."

Stay updated on the Buccaneers

Stay updated on the Buccaneers

Subscribe to our free Bucs RedZone newsletter

We’ll deliver a roundup of news and commentary on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Winston agrees. "Yeah definitely, that's what I have to learn so we can score down there," Winston said. "It's just sticking with my read and standing by that, not having my eyes everywhere so we can convert down there."

On one play in the end zone, Winston appears to have Evans flash open briefly over the middle. But he has not wanted to turn the ball over in that situation so he scans the field, and by the time he comes back to it, there's nothing to do but try and pick up some positive yards.

Actually, the Bucs red zone defense has been even worse. They've given up 32 touchdowns inside the red zone, a 66.7 percent clip that is last in the league. Ten defenses allow 50 percent touchdowns or less.

Koetter says Winston needs to trust his eyes and let it rip.

"Make a decision and stick with. It's like the golfer," Koetter said. "All those pro golfers, they visualize that shot and you've got to commit to it. You can't change your mind midstream because that just never works out. Jameis made a couple good plays with his feet and sometimes you get caught. That's not necessarily because he changed his mind, that could be because they covered it good.

"Again, Jameis is surpassing expectations as far as his scrambling and running. The mistakes he's making — I don't want to overstate — we're not disappointed, it's just an experience thing. We're going to look back on this someday and we'll understand that this was just part of the growing process."