As Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out to the Captain’s Blog before last Sunday’s game in Denver, his team’s red zone offense has been quite efficient, but it’s few misses have proven painful in some of the team’s closest losses.
Shortly after that game began, after Denver had scored a touchdown on its opening possession, the Buccaneers drove deep into Bronco territory, gaining a first down at the 14. The visitors eventually had to settle for a field goal, though they would take a 10-7 lead on a Dallas Clark touchdown on their next possession.
Tampa Bay lost that game by eight points, it’s biggest final deficit of the year, so it’s hard to pin the defeat on that one red zone letdown. Still, the team has eased down a bit from its offensive explosion in the middle of the season, and efficiency around the goal line is just one of the reasons.
Red zone efficiency is generally measured in terms of touchdown percentage, and the Bucs were two for three in that regard in Denver. They were one for one on drives that reached a first-and-goal situation. Overall this season, Tampa Bay ranks second in the entire NFL in that category, with a 66.7% red zone efficiency, and it is sixth at goal-to-go efficiency, at 78.9%.
Those numbers are obviously excellent, but NFL coaches and players always pursue perfection, even while acknowledging that is unobtainable. Knowing that even one red zone let-down can be the difference in a close game, the Bucs are trying to improve upon what are already some of the best numbers in the league.
According to Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan, a big part of that – of having a higher success rate in the compressed action around the goal line – is constant self-evaluation. Sullivan, who has been righly lauded for his play-calling in his first year at the helm of the Bucs’ attack, says the team has to be careful not to settle into any easily-recognizable tendencies.
“I think what it boils down to is continuing to evaluate what we’ve shown, the frequency with which we’ve shown it, and if there are any ‘tells,’” said Sullivan, who tends to refer to the red zone more optimistically as the green zone. “Are there any things where we’re putting ourselves in a situation where we’re predictable? Do we have the right guys in the right spots of the formations, if you will, and the concepts and the ideas?”
The Bucs had one tough goal-line series each in critical losses to Atlanta and New Orleans. The truth is, sometimes the opposition is going to win, and the Bucs’ overall red zone numbers are healthy enough to be optimistic. Again, however, Sullivan and company are aiming to succeed 100% of the time.
“I think any time there’s something that breaks down we have to look at it,” said Sullivan. “Is it a matter of those guys just being a lot better than us? Is it a matter of us having a poor call? Or is it a matter of us just for whatever reason having a fundamental breakdown in technique or an assignment bust, which shouldn’t be happening. As is the case with most things, it’s a combination of the three a lot of times that comes into play.”