The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense will have the same person calling plays in 2022 as it did the last three years, as Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich will wait at least one more year for his shot at a head coaching gig. However, Leftwich will be reporting to a new head coach, as Todd Bowles was promoted to the corner office after Bruce Arians stepped aside into an advisory role.
Since that switch, everybody from Bowles to Leftwich to Quarterbacks Coach Clyde Christensen has suggested they don't anticipate major changes in the Bucs' offense or to the Bruce Arians 'no risk-it, no biscuit' philosophy. That makes sense, of course, as the Buccaneers have led the league in points per game (30.4) and have ranked second in net yard per game (395.3) in the two years since Tom Brady's arrival. What generates speculation, however, is the disparity between the team's output in the air and on the ground in that span. The Bucs have had the league's most prolific passing attack the past two seasons (298.6 net yards per game) but have ranked 29th in rushing yards per game (96.7).
During that time, Arians frequently joined in the grand coaching tradition of stating his team's desire to have a balanced attack. And in the team's shining moment, the 2020 postseason run to the championship, it actually came to pass, as the Buccaneers' averaged 122.5 rushing yards per game over those four contests and ran the ball on 45.7% of their offensive snaps. Contrast that with the 94.9 yards per game and 36.2% run rate the same offense put up during the 2020 regular season.
View the best photos from the first day of Bucs OTAs.
That may seem like a proof of concept, admittedly in a small sample size, but conversely the Buccaneers have also shown they can win when Tom Brady is throwing it all over the yard to one of the best collection of skill-position players in the NFL. And now that he's the head coach, Todd Bowles isn't on some mission to run the ball down every opponent's throat no matter what. He's on a mission to win ballgames.
"My attitude is to win the game anyway possible, and if we have to throw the ball 50 times to win, that's great," said Bowles after the team's first OTA practice on Tuesday. "If we have to run the ball 30 times to win, that's great. We'll take what they give us and we'll always have shots for big plays. Obviously, Brady is a great passer; we want to equal that with the running game if we can. But if they're taking away the run and we have to throw the ball 60 times and he throws five or six touchdowns, I'll take the win. If we're running the ball pretty good and we get going about 25, 30 times, I'll take the win. Whatever we have to do to win the ballgame."
In other words, Bowles is not tearing out sections of Leftwich's playbook or moving others to the front of the binder.
"Nobody's putting handcuffs on the offense from that standpoint," said Bowles. "We're going to do whatever we have to do to win the game."
Bowles said there will be some tweaks to the playbook on both sides of the ball, just as there are every year. And there will likely be some as-yet-unknown defensive strategies that will force the Buccaneers to emphasize one thing over another on certain Sundays. That was evident last year when opponents hit the Bucs' with a lot more two-deep safety looks and Brady shifted from his 2020 high dosage of downfield passing to a much more quick-strike approach in 2021. Both strategies worked extremely well.
And there will be certain opponents against which the Buccaneers will specifically need to run the ball better and more frequently. As tight end Cam Brate, now one of the most seasoned vets on the Bucs' offense, pointed out on Tuesday, two of those opponents could be the Saints and the Rams. Tampa Bay has put up on an overall record of 29-10 during Brady's tenure so far, postseason included, but seven of those 10 losses have come at the hands of New Orleans and Los Angeles.
"I think schematically they do a really good job of taking away our primary weapons on offense," Brate explained. "Sometimes, we've just got to be a little more patient on offense. You see the game we won against the Saints in the playoffs in 2020, we ran the football. I think that's the number-one thing you have to do against a defense like that – you have to have them respect the run. For whatever reason, last year against those teams we just couldn't do it. We couldn't get the run game going and when those D-Lines can tee off and with the playmakers both those teams have in the secondary, when you're sitting back there throwing the whole game you're not going to score many points.
"Obviously, we're going to have to establish the run game somehow, try to establish our identity as who we want to be on offense, and that's a running football team. I think we're going to look back on those games and try to really hone in on those game plans."