Disappointing offense leaves Bucs with many questions

Bucs quarterback Josh McCown is pressured before throwing an incomplete pass during this past week's loss to the Bengals. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Bucs quarterback Josh McCown is pressured before throwing an incomplete pass during this past week's loss to the Bengals. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Dec. 4, 2014

TAMPA — Shortly after unloading a screen pass to running back Bobby Rainey late in the fourth quarter Sunday, Josh McCown was knocked to the turf by Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. The Bucs quarterback looked up at referee Bill Leavy, pleading for a late-hit penalty that never came.

With the Bucs 2-10, it seems there's no shortage of people in Tampa Bay lining up to rough the passer.

Even coach Lovie Smith says that McCown — who has thrown seven touchdown passes and nine interceptions in seven starts this season — hasn't played the kind of football the Bucs had hoped for when he signed a two-year, $10 million contract in the offseason.

"I'm not going to put it all on Josh," Smith said. "No, it hasn't been good enough. I think that's been documented. But when a quarterback doesn't play well, there's a lot that goes into that: the front, protection that he's getting, decision-making. The play overall has not been good enough, but I'm going to bring all of us into that again."

Though Smith's Tampa 2 defense has improved over the past six games, the Bucs' offense still is among the NFL's worst and lacks an identity.

What is the design of the offensive attack under coordinator Marcus Arroyo? Is it ground and pound? Chuck and duck? Turbo or tortoise?

Whatever game plan the Bucs have attempted has held together like a soup sandwich.

"That's what the tape says," McCown said Wednesday. "That's what our season says. We're not there yet. I'd like to say that we are. But you just look at the tape. We're close, and we feel that way, but we certainly have not accomplished that."

As a result, the Bucs are ranked 29th in the 32-team league in rushing offense and 18th in passing.

Smith's vision sort of went out the window two weeks before the season opener when his hand-picked offensive coordinator, former California coach Jeff Tedford, had two stents placed in an artery near his heart. A few weeks later, Tedford took an indefinite medical leave of absence.

That thrust Arroyo, 34 and who was hired as quarterbacks coach, into the role of play-caller, a role he was unprepared for.

"Given the circumstances and things that we've gone through and trying to put it together the best we can, I'm proud of the effort the coaches have put in and the guys to try to find that," McCown said. "It's certainly an unfortunate situation. That being said, we've still got to keep chasing that and finding out who we are and (finding) that balance."

The Bucs appeared to have settled on spreading teams out and throwing on the perimeter to receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. During a four-game stretch from Oct. 26-Nov. 15, Evans averaged 134 yards receiving per game and scored five touchdowns.

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But Sunday the Bucs spent the first half trying to get their running game going with Doug Martin, who had 55 yards on 12 carries in the first half but gained only 3 yards the rest of the game.

Entering the fourth quarter, McCown had attempted 13 passes. The potential winning drive was stalled by the Bucs having 12 men on the field. Over the past two games, the Bucs have averaged 13 points. The culprit has been penalties; 10 of the Bucs' 13 against the Bengals were called on the offense.

"You're there, you're knocking on the door, you've got to finish," Arroyo said. "The Bucs can't beat the Bucs."

Smith still hopes his vision for the offense will be seen before the end of the year.

"What we are right now is not what we envisioned," Smith said. "As much as anything, we want to be a productive offense, finish games, protect the football. If we need to pass to win a football game, we want to be able to do that. We want to be committed to the running attack and be able to do that if we want to."

It won't be easy. The Bucs play at Detroit and Carolina before coming home against Green Bay and New Orleans.

"Man, how good would we feel winning these games and playing well, and playing the type of football we've talked about all year," McCown said. "That's my goal. We've taken some lumps, and it's been hard. But I think it has made us stronger, and if we go out and finish this last quarter (of the season) well, see what happens and build on that."