The Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a 27-23 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday. On Monday, Buccaneers Head Coach spoke about the game and some of its key moments in his weekly day-after-game presser. Here are some of the more interesting topics on which Arians touched:
1. Red Zone Problems Reemerge
Failure to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns hurt the Buccaneers severely in their first two losses of the season, to the Giants and the 49ers, but in the last three games the offense had converted 11 such trips into touchdowns. The Bucs were also five-for-six in goal-to-go opportunities in that same span. However, the offense was only two-for-four in both situations against the Titans, which is why they needed a touchdown on their last real scoring opportunity rather than a field goal.
The Bucs had first-and-goal from the four-yard line on their first drive after Mike Evans drew a pass-interference call but got no closer and settled for a field goal. They got to first-and-goal from the five shortly before halftime on another sublime play by Evans, but failed again. That sequence included the worst red zone moment of the day, when wide receiver Breshad Perriman went in motion and collided with Dare Ogunbowale right after the running back took the handoff.
"[We had] turnovers early in the ballgame, poor red zone offense and poor red zone defense," said Arians. "Poor coaching in some of those situations also, especially offensively. The third down-and-[four] play – we screwed that play up in practice, we fixed it, we liked the play – I should've vetoed that play."
The Titans' offense also got two early goal-to-go situations thanks to a pair of first-quarter turnovers by the Buccaneers. They capitalized both times with touchdowns to take a 14-3 lead. After a fumble recovery at the 10-yard line and a neutral-zone infraction to make it first down at the five, Tennessee scored immediately on a five-yard pass to tight end Jonnu Smith that looked far too easy.
"Yeah, we totally lined up wrong," Arians explained. "It started with our safety, who didn't cover the right guy, and that led to three guys talking back and forth, and the ball was snapped. On the first touchdown, it was just poor communication."
2. Conditions Must Be just Right for a Trade to Happen
The NFL's trade deadline is Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. ET. Some of the teams that are down in the standings, such as Atlanta, Denver and Miami, have already begun dealing away players in search of future assets. The Buccaneers are 2-5 but Arians remains focused on winning and doesn't appear to be in trade mode. That said, anything is possible if a trade offer would seem to benefit the Bucs' chances to win right now or be too good to pass up for the future.
"Yes, if there's a trade that helps us win right now, or if the price is right, the deal is real – trade for help in the future – then yeah," said Arians. "But I'm just all about winning, and winning as many games as we can, because when you sell the farm, you don't know what you're buying next year anyway – and you're playing with a bunch of young guys that have to learn how to play again."
3. Mike Evans's Huge Day Possibly Could Have Been Bigger
Evans provided more than half of the Bucs' offense in Nashville with 198 yards and two touchdowns on 11 catches, and that doesn't even count the 43 yards the offense got on the opening drive when he was mugged at the four-yard line to draw a pass-interference call on one of many deep shots. By the end of the third quarter, Evans had…198 yards. He was not targeted on any of Jameis Winston's 11 pass attempts in the fourth quarter (not including one spike to kill the clock).
The reason for this was clearly obvious to anyone watching the game: With how thoroughly Evans had thrashed the secondary in the first 45 minutes of play, the Titans were determined not to let him beat them in crunch time. The constant double-teaming of Evans made him an unappealing target for Winston but should have made it easier for other players to get open.
There was also one play in the Bucs' last drive into Tennessee territory on which Winston successfully threw a short pass to Godwin on first down but, according to Arians, missed out on an opportunity to get the ball to an open Evans deeper down the field.
"You don't throw into double coverage, but just because it's Cover 2 doesn't mean Mike's covered," said Arians. [Winston] hit Chris [Godwin] when Mike was open, so as a quarterback, you take what they give you. But there are times – we tried to move Mike around to get him open, and we didn't get the ball to him."
Dispersal of the football will always be affected to some degree by how the defense chooses to cover potential targets, but Arians said the Bucs need to do a better job of making sure that a great player like Evans isn't completely eliminated from the attack.
"Yeah, you can't just leave him back there," said the coach. "You've got to move him over, get him in the middle, which, there were probably eight or nine snaps of that – somewhere in there. But maybe you don't catch Cover 2 then – all of a sudden, it's man-to-man, then he's doubled some other way. You can't force balls to guys, but you can still, as a coach, get him open."
4. Fourth-Down Calls Reviewed
The Bucs' last real chance to score at the end of the game ended when Peyton Barber took a handoff out of the shotgun and tried to power for one yards up the middle on fourth-and-one from the Titans' 32. He was stopped short by Jurrell Casey and Kenny Vaccaro. On Sunday night, Arians said the offense had been given both a run and a pass play to call in that spot and the final choice was based on what coverage the defense showed.
The problem lay in the execution.
"It wasn't blocked properly, and we didn't get to the Mike linebacker," said Arians. "Again, part of it was design, part of it was the play, part of it was our execution of it and I'll take it for that one.
"Something's not happening from Saturday to Sunday, and to take our base run and run it against a front that we saw every day in practice, and not block it correctly, is baffling to me. Again, it starts with coaching – it starts with me."
However, Arians was not second-guessing a decision earlier in the game to punt on fourth-and-one from the Tennessee 43-yard line. That occurred midway through the third quarter, with the Bucs leading, 23-17. Bradley Pinion kicked a high floater that was fair caught by Adam Humphries at the eight-yard line, the second of two times the Bucs' punting unit pinned Tennessee inside its own 10-yard line. Unfortunately, the Titans escaped that bad field position and drove 68 yards for a touchdown. Two interceptions erased by penalties didn't help.
"It's not tough at all," said Arians of the decision to punt in that situation. "You've got a three-point lead. Now, if you've got a seven-point lead, [you might consider it], but a three-point lead – no. You're two first downs from a tie. Pinion did a great job. Our special teams – we [make them] start at the one, the eight, the 10. So, yeah, our special teams I thought won the battle for us. We just didn't do a good job of backed-up football, holding them down there. That one little play out, that one little play out, that third down-and-four, third down-and-six, that's where we've got to improve."