The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense is sailing into uncharted territory in 2017.
If the Buccaneers' offense can simply hold the form it has shown through the past six games, it will prove to be the most prolific attack in the franchise's 42-season history in many categories. The 2017 Buccaneers have already risen to the top of the NFL's rankings in some notable offensive areas, including yards per game, yards per play and passing yards.
And yet there's a sense among many at One Buccaneer place – and some supporting statistical evidence – that this offense is just starting to hit its stride.
"Whenever you're moving the football, you're running it, you're converting on third downs [and] you're getting touchdowns in the red zone you [think], 'Oh yeah, that's what it ought to look like.' No doubt," said Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. "You want to get to the point where you're cooking on offense, to where you're disappointed when you punt. We've had moments where we've looked really consistent and we've had other moments where we haven't. That's part of it. How do we continue to be consistent at all positions, so that we are able to move the football [and] get explosives? When you don't get explosives, you convert on third downs, which leads to now you have to be efficient in the red zone. That's what you're trying to do every week, trying to piece it all together [and] utilize all of your weapons."
First, the good news. Tampa Bay currently leads the NFL in passing yards per game and is ranked second in overall net yards. The Bucs' offense is also in the top six in yards per play, yards per pass play, first downs per game and sacks allowed per play. Here's where the Bucs rank in a variety of offensive categories now, how their current totals project over 16 games and what the existing team record is in each category (projections in bold type indicates that they would be a new team record):
|**Category**||**Total**||**NFL Rank**||**Season Projection***||**Team Record**|
|Total Net Yards/Game||392.8||2nd||**6,285**||6,014|
|Yards Per Play||6.2||3rd||**6.2**||5.9|
|First Downs Per Game||22.7||2nd||**363**||344|
|Gross Passing Yards/Game||322.2||1st||**5,155**||4,165|
|Net Passing Yards/Game||312.3||1st||**4,997**||4,144|
|Net Yards Per Pass Play||7.46||3rd||**7.46**||6.97|
|Yards Per Pass Attempt||8.02||4th||**8.02**||7.56|
|Yards Per Completion||12.63||4th||12.63||14.92|
|Sacks Per Pass Play||4.0||6th||4.0||2.7|
** Full-season projections for per-game categories are converted into final team totals and rounded to the nearest digit.
The Buccaneers are on pace to set their own franchise records for yards, yards per play, passing yards, touchdown passes and more, and they only need the slightest of upticks to snatch the scoring record as well. That's the good news. And even the "bad" news could be interpreted as good news; that is, the areas in which the offense hasn't yet mastered – red zone efficiency in the first half, rushing yards – could realistically be expected to improve. And that's when this offense will *really start to click.*
A look at the Panthers' projected starters, according to the team's website.
"It's just for some reason we've been able to kind of get it going and I do believe that offense is rhythm," said Monken, discussing the team's tendency to start slow and then start hitting on all cylinders. "Sometimes you get in a rhythm and there is a belief. Just like on defense, you're stopping them [and] there is a belief you're going to stop them. There is a belief you're going to score, so I do think that that's a big part of it."*
The Buccaneers have not been bad in the red zone, ranking ninth in the NFL with a touchdown efficiency of 57.1%, but that number has only spiked over the past two weeks. Head Coach Dirk Koetter has set a goal of 60% in that category for his team, and the Bucs are trending in the right direction. Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played roughly three quarters in Arizona in Week Six, have combined for a passer rating of 102.0 in the red zone, 10th-best in the NFL.
As for the rushing attack, it has been more steady than explosive to this point, but running back Doug Martin has run the ball well, creating a good amount of his yardage after first contact. As good as the Buccaneers' offensive line has played in pass protection, it is their goal to take a significant step forward in run blocking in the weeks ahead. If the Bucs can unleash the Martin who finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2015, that will only make Winston and his array of passing-game weapons more dangerous.
"As an offensive line, the focus always starts with the run game," said center Ali Marpet. "You're able to control the game a lot more when you can run the ball. It opens up a lot more things for Dirk in his play-calling."
Obviously, the Bucs' newfound offensive prowess hasn't yet translated into a winning record. Winston believes it will soon, however, with just a few corrections on both sides of the ball.
"It's just little things that are holding us back from getting over that hump," he said. "I don't really believe it's a drastic change we have to make. I just believe we've got to finish [and] we've got to execute effectively, efficiently and consistently. If we do that we'll turn things around, but it's our decision as a team. It's everyone's decision. Everybody's got to make that decision together and we've got to go and play.
"We haven't won a lot yet, but I think that's when everything is going to start coming full-circle when we start putting together wins as an offense."
*It is often cited but worth noting again that the quarterback leading this charge is still just 23 years old. His favorite target, Mike Evans, is 24. The league's top-scoring tight end duo is Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard, who are 26 and 22, respectively. Slot receiver Adam Humphries is 24. Marpet and left tackle Donovan Smith are both 24. Wide receiver Chris Godwin, the training camp sensation who is currently waiting in the wings, is 22. Even if the Buccaneers' rewrite their entire offensive record book in 2017, it likely will still just be the beginning.