The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hit the practice field Wednesday morning to begin preparations to face the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday. After the practice, Head Coach Bruce Arians met with the press and provided injury updates and new insight on several topics. Here is what he had to say on some of those key topics:
1. There isn't just one player or strategy to blame when the Buccaneers have had problems in pass protection.
Given that he dropped back 53 times in Sunday's loss to the Saints, Jameis Winston probably appreciated only being sacked twice. And, indeed, Tampa Bay's offense improved from 27th to 23rd in the NFL team rankings of sacks-allowed-per-pass-play with that performance.
Still, that remains in the bottom half of the league and Winston has absorbed 36 sacks this season, the most in his career. Some of those have been the result of him holding onto the ball too long when a throwaway would have been a better option, but that was more of an issue earlier in the season. Winston had a couple laudable throwaways in the Saints, and he even got creative once and avoided a sack by getting off a short flip to Dare Ogunbowale with his left hand.
"It's a combination – bad blocking and not getting open," said Arians. "[Winston's] done a good job in the last three weeks of throwing the ball away. Some of it was on him, trying to make plays early in the season, and he's finally adjusted to getting rid of the ball – some left-handed. I'd rather see it right-handed, but he's getting rid of it."
Obviously, Arians wants to see his quarterback be decisive, but the solution for problems with pass-rusher pressure isn't always to get rid of the ball more quickly.
"Yes and no – the guys still have to get to their depths and we all [need to] block a little bit better," said Arians. "Our backs – I thought Dare blocked pretty well, but the rest of the guys didn't block as well early in the ball game. The first third down, Chris [Godwin] was open, he's ready to throw, but RoJo [Ronald Jones] didn't get across fast enough to block his blitzer and he's got to pull the ball back down and now he's covered, so [it's] little things like that."
2. The Falcons look different on their recent game tape, especially on defense, and that's not a good thing for the Buccaneers.
Sunday's game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium pits two 3-7 teams, but two of the Falcons' three wins have come in the last two weeks and they have been particularly impressive victories. Atlanta won consecutive road games at New Orleans and Carolina, allowing no touchdowns and just 12 points in the process. Prior to those two games and the Falcons' bye, they had been allowing the most points per game in the NFL.
Arians is getting a look at that recent Falcons tape this week, of course, but he also saw it last week when he was preparing for New Orleans by watching the Week 10 Saints-Falcons game. Among the things Arians has seen on those two sets of game tape are 11 sacks by Atlanta's resurgent defense.
"Yeah, just watching the New Orleans film, when they beat them in New Orleans, it was a different group of guys," said Arians. "Same guys, but it was a different group of guys. There seems to be more energy, especially defensively up front for them. Their coverage and their pass rush is syncing very well right now."
View some of the top photos from the Buccaneers' Week 12 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
3. Don't look for Arians, who had always called plays as a head coach before coming to Tampa, to take those duties away from Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich.
"[I'm] ecstatic," said Arians when asked his opinion of Leftwich's performance as the play-caller. "I think he's doing a heck of a job."
4. It's obvious, but it must be said: Turnover differential is killing the Bucs' chances to stack wins together.
Five weeks into the season the Buccaneers had a plus-four turnover ratio; since then, they've coughed it up 14 more times than they've taken it away. That has made it nearly impossible for the team to pull out close games at the end, and in Week 11 it put them in a hole from which they ultimately couldn't climb out.
Against the Saints, the Bucs nearly got an early jolt when Alvin Kamara fumbled on the game's third play, deep in his own territory, and Lavonte David gave choice towards the sideline. David pinned the ball to the turf with one hand before it could go out of bounds, but unfortunately one of his feet had clipped the sideline. New Orleans, on the other hand, did get that first-quarter game changer when a bobbled ball by O.J. Howard turned into a diving interception by Demario Davis.
On Wednesday, Arians agreed that any analysis of the Bucs' struggles didn't need to go any deeper than the turnover issue.
"No, especially when it's in the first quarter," he said. "That game changes if Lavonte's toe isn't that far out of bounds. It's a game of inches, but that turnover changes a lot of the makeup of that ball game. We've got to quit giving it away, and when we [have a chance to] take it away, get the damn thing.
"When we're getting hands on balls, we're dropping interceptions – things like that. Fumbles are on the ground [and] we're not getting them. They usually come in bunches, so hopefully we've saved our share for the last six."