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Tom Jones: Bucs offense keeps coordinator Dirk Koetter up all night

With rookie quarterback Jameis Winston scrambling for dear life, the Bucs offense stalled right out of the starting gate and never really did find its stride. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
With rookie quarterback Jameis Winston scrambling for dear life, the Bucs offense stalled right out of the starting gate and never really did find its stride. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Sep. 1, 2015

TAMPA

Dirk Koetter didn't get a lot of sleep Saturday night. • The Bucs' new offensive coordinator did a lot of tossing and turning. His offense didn't have the best of nights against the Browns. • Ah, who are we kidding? • "We stunk," Koetter said. • No argument there. With rookie quarterback Jameis Winston scrambling for dear life, the Bucs offense stalled right out of the starting gate and never really did find its stride. • Of course, if you want to make excuses, there are plenty. • It was only preseason. Winston is playing on a tender ankle. The offense was pretty vanilla, saving the real tricks for the regular season. I mentioned it was only preseason, right? • Koetter wasn't buying. • "Everything is an excuse," he said. "Bottom line: we stunk. Not good enough in any phase. … This is a team game and we were terrible on offense. It's not good enough in any aspect." • All righty then. Hey, give Koetter points for honesty. Now for the Bucs to get some points, he needs to have an equal amount of urgency. His offense needs to figure out a way to move the ball. In a hurry.

Want something that will keep you up at night? The Bucs have 12 days to sort out this mess before the regular-season opener against Tennessee.

"We didn't do some things well, some things we can't continue to do," coach Lovie Smith said. "Things we need to get taken care of quickly. I talked a lot about getting Tennessee-ready. Tennessee is coming up quickly. So these things we need to clean up. Young players need to step it up. … We're running out of time."

Don't look for the starters to play in Thursday's preseason finale in Miami, so that means the Bucs will have to get their act together in a half-dozen or so practices before the real thing on Sept. 13. Not exactly a comforting feeling after the sputtering performance on offense Saturday.

One week after looking potent and prolific against the Bengals, the Bucs looked lost and overwhelmed against a Browns defense that didn't do anything special other than line up in its 3-4 scheme and go after Winston.

Two steps forward, one step back, according to Koetter. It looked like several steps back.

Winston completed only 6 of 15 passes for 90 yards. He was sacked four times. He threw an awful interception trying to avoid another sack. Other than Winston's 26-yard pass to Vincent Jackson and a 19-yard TD run by Doug Martin, the Bucs offense didn't do much of anything.

"I'm not going to lie. I was a little disappointed," Koetter said.

Not that Koetter was putting it all on the players.

"I made errors in that game, too," he said. "You look in the mirror and say, 'What do we got to do to get better?' I say it all the time: play to our strengths and hide our weaknesses. I've got a pretty good handle on what our strengths and weaknesses are. It's my job to get our strengths out there and hide our weaknesses. I didn't do a very good job of either."

Through three games, it's much easier to detect the weaknesses than find the strengths.

The weaknesses start with a wobbly offensive line that has had trouble protecting Winston, who has been sacked seven times in about a game and a half of action.

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Meantime, Winston has been up-and-down, and, to be honest, more down than up. That's what you get with a rookie quarterback under decent circumstances. Now consider that he is spending half of his game time trying to avoid being steam-rolled and, of course, he's not going to resemble Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.

Winston's interception Saturday was the result of facing enormous pressure.

"At the end of the day," Koetter said, "he's the one who has to cut our losses, and he made a bad decision."

Yet Koetter quickly praised Winston's work ethic and accountability.

"So many breakdowns across the board," Koetter said. "One thing after another went wrong, and not all (of it was) Jameis' fault."

Winston might be battered and bruised already, but he doesn't sound beaten.

"I feel good," the ever-optimistic Winston said. "We got so much stuff from that (game) film that we can learn from."

In other words, the game film from Saturday night's debacle was so bad that he and the offense can't help but see all the mistakes.

This might sound strange, but Winston might be the least of their concerns on offense.

"He has come a long way," Smith said. "For a rookie quarterback, we feel real good about where he is. But we're not going to shut it down. We're going to keep practicing. … But Jameis is in a good place right now."

Oh, and about the strengths that Koetter sees in the offense?

He likes the way the receivers look. He thought the running backs, especially Martin, have looked good. And he's confident that Winston "gets it" and will get better.

In the meantime, Koetter can't help but repeat what he saw Saturday.

"It's not hard for me to accurately evaluate," he said. "We stunk. It was a good eye-opener for our guys."

Bad enough to keep his eyes open all night Saturday.

And now he might have to pull 12 all-nighters to make sure the Bucs are ready for the season opener.

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