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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Baker Mayfield: Getting Offense Back on Track About Execution, Not Simplification

The Buccaneers missed a handful of big-play opportunities in their Week Six loss to Detroit, but that isn't leading them to overhaul an evolving offensive approach


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers got a new starting quarterback in 2023, which almost necessarily meant their offense would be evolving over the course of the season, hopefully in a positive direction. There would be some up and downs, some days when an offensive groove couldn't be found. This was true when the Buccaneers got a new starting quarterback in 2020, and that particular passer is widely considered the greatest of all time.

That was Tom Brady taking over an existing offensive structure run by Bruce Arians and Byron Leftwich. In 2023, it's Baker Mayfield, arriving in Tampa not long after the team got a new offensive architect in Dave Canales. That, too, was likely to lengthen the runway for takeoff.

In many ways, it has gone well. After four games, the Buccaneers were 3-1 and Mayfield sported a 101.5 passer rating and a 7-2 touchdown-interception ratio. Wide receiver Mike Evans was red hot through the first three games; when he was sidelined by a hamstring strain in Week Four the offense ran through Chris Godwin. The reshuffled offensive line allowed only four sacks in those four games. The running game was not particularly productive, but the Bucs were sticking to their plans to have offensive balance and running the ball about 30 times a game.

After a bye week, the Bucs' offense hit one of those 'downs,' a bump in the road. In a 20-6 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Buccaneers were held out of the end zone and to 251 total yards and for the first time this season, Mayfield did not throw a touchdown pass. He was intercepted once, though it was on a fluky deflection at the line of scrimmage. He threw 10 passes to Evans and only four were complete; he threw seven to rookie Trey Palmer and only two were complete, albeit both for gains of 20-plus.

This effort came after a bye week in which the coaching staff had an opportunity to thoroughly review the first four games and get a feel for what was working and what needed to be either improved or nixed. Is it possible the Bucs came out of that process with too much they believed they could succeed with on Sunday? Did Canales actually need to simplify his play-calling? Tear out a few sections of the playbook?

Mayfield bluntly rejected that idea on Wednesday after the Bucs' first practice in Week Seven.

"When it comes down to simplifying it – it's just doing the little things right," he said. "You don't need to shorten the list down. You need to have answers for a defense like this that presents a lot of coverages and pressures that you've got to have answers [for]. At the same time, you've just got to execute it. It's about our work ethic and our mentality during the week to get the gameplan down and have it be second nature."

As Mayfield pointed out after Sunday's loss to the Lions, there were a handful of plays on which well-schemed action led to big play opportunities but the connection wasn't made. The tipped-pass interception was one of those because the target, Evans, was far behind the last defender. Two other deep shots to Palmer featured an open receiver but a missed connection.

"It just comes down to executing," Mayfield reiterated. "I think the tipped pass [and] the two shots to Trey – I don't think anybody is questioning the play-calling because those are good designs that Dave had. They're just miscues for us on offense. It's just one of those things. We trust in the system. There are answers for the defensive coverages that we're getting. It's not about that – it's about us executing and being fundamentally sound, like I mentioned earlier."

Mayfield said that turning those missed opportunities into game-changing plays starts with him, and that the Bucs would do what was necessary to fix what wasn't right. But an overthrow or two amid a relatively encouraging start for a new offense doesn't mean an overhaul is needed.

"It's natural to overthrow a ball – that doesn't lose a ballgame," said Head Coach Todd Bowles. "Can it be a big play? Yes. It's just an incomplete pass. You work on timing, you work on that all the time whether it's a tick off or a tick short. Whether you're on defense, you work on things; special teams, you work on things; offense, you work on things. That's just not a particular sticking point of what we're trying to do."

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