It was the last time Bucs coordinators took to the podium for the 2019 season and it resulted in some reflection for both Byron Leftwich and Todd Bowles. Here's one big thing from each of their pressers on Thursday.
Leftwich talks improving on the ground.
The coordinators took to the podium for the last time this season to recap how far some individual aspects of their unit have come. Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich again addressed the run game and its lack of production. Leftwich echoed the same sentiment both he and Head Coach Bruce Arians have had all year: the production needs to be better, but it isn't deficient. The number of run plays they call is still there. Last game against the Texans, the Bucs went to the ground 21 times. On the season as a whole, the Bucs are 13th in rushing plays per game with an average of 25.9. They're tied for 13th in rushing snaps with 4,378. That in itself pays dividends for an offense like the Bucs that relies on play action, regardless of production.
But don't think that means Leftwich is satisfied with the run game. The reasoning behind the lack of production isn't so simple to quantify. Is it what the running backs themselves are doing? Or perhaps, not doing? Or does it fall more on the offensive line?
"I think it's a combination of both," Leftwich said. "[When] running the football, everybody has got to be on the same page. We've all got to move together – [it's] the timing thing I'm talking about – the run game has a timing to it, too. Sometimes we haven't been there because maybe our footwork was too quick. Sometimes we've gotten beat maybe up front. It's not one thing that you can really put your hand on and say, 'This is the reason why.'
"That's why you take the offseason, you look at it, you improve on it [and] get better. That way you can determine exactly what [were] the issues and you have a chance to fix them. It's really difficult to look at 15 games right now and say what [are] the issues of why we're not getting more in the running game. It's something we'll look at. It's something where we never feel as though we are shorthanded with the running game. I'll say that. Never as a play caller am I feeling that I'm shorthanded because of what's happening in the run game."
And indeed, he's not. The Buccaneers have the third-ranked offense in the league, averaging over 400 yards per game. They've also scored the most single-season points in franchise history, a mark they surpassed weeks ago, in fact. They're third in points scored per game this year.
A lot of that has come at the hands of quarterback Jameis Winston, though. And what he can get done through the air. A common sentiment seems to be that increased production in the run game could take some pressure off Winston. But Leftwich points to the personnel the Bucs have in that regard. He doesn't feel forced into passing more because the run game is lacking, he just simply feels the best option personnel-wise is often throwing the ball, instead.
"I think sometimes when you get in games – especially when we were healthy, when you've got Mike [Evans] and Chris [Godwin] – sometimes your best option is to throw Mike and Chris the ball," Leftwich explained. "Sometimes your best option is to throw two of the better guys in the league the ball [and] to throw Cam [Brate] the ball, to throw O.J. [Howard] the ball. I don't know if you have that personnel if you [can] ever just be a smashmouth team where you're lining up with two tight ends [and] a fullback. I don't know if we'll ever do that when we have this personnel. I think we can be more efficient in the run game and I think we will better at that. I really have no issues with that. We will get better with that once we get an opportunity to have an offseason and correct what we need to correct. Those are things we feel as though [and] I feel as though we'll get corrected."
Bowles notes growth in young secondary, looks forward to 'jump' this offseason.
Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles was also asked to reflect on different components of his defense, including his very young secondary. His 'veteran' cornerback is second-year player Carlton Davis, who may have just played the best game of his NFL career last Saturday, while defending one of the league's top receivers in DeAndre Hopkins.
"I think he's still a great receiver - I thought Carlton played a heck of a ball game," Bowles said. "I thought he had help from certain guys, and I thought he played him when he had the opportunity to play him. From a mental standpoint I thought I saw a lot of growth in Carlton from that game."
Davis leads a defense that has the most passes defensed of any team in the league. Davis has 18, where the team has 90 through 15 games. Rookie Jamel Dean is right behind him with 17 – and that's only since Week 9. That's just about the time the Bucs' pass defense, and Davis, seemed to turn a corner. More plays that previously would have resulted in flags for Davis, ended up as breakups.
"I think just film study and understanding how they're calling the game, and you growing as a player," Bowles said of Davis' improvement. "I think he's done a great job growing as a player and understanding the things he can and can't do to commit those penalties and he did something about them."
With a year in this system and in the league itself under their belt, the younger players will look to take a step forward this offseason. Bowles will be a big part of the continued development, too, but not before he relaxes a bit himself.
"Well, I'm going to try to enjoy my offseason first of all," Bowles laughed. "And then once we get back to work, you know I think after the first year, you usually see a mental jump the second year, so hopefully that continues and everybody stays healthy and they continue to grow together."