By J.T. Olson
Special to Sports Talk Florida from Bucs Report
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a rough start to their 2022 season. They sputtered out to a 3-5 record and the season felt all but lost. The fan base was looking for someone to blame.
Most fingers pointed towards offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. And this was rightfully so. The offense has been one of the worst in the NFL despite much of the same talent they had last season.
Many people, myself included, called for Leftwich to be fired. Between his predictable play calling and his illogical decisions there was really nothing good to say about him. And the worst part was that he seemed unwilling to change.
Until last week.
Over the last two weeks the Bucs have put together a two game winning streak to bring them back to .500. It’s no coincidence that the offense has begun to make subtle adjustments in those weeks. Could this be a sign that Leftwich has started to figure things out? Here’s what I mean.
The Buccaneers offensive line has struggled this year. The interior is inexperienced, with Luke Goedeke, Robert Hainsey and Nick Leverett all getting their first starts this season. The results had been very rocky, as you might expect.
This was all the more magnified with these players consistently being asked to block some of the best defensive tackles in the league one on one. Not helping the weakest links of the line was a very flawed play by Leftwich and company. That is, until recently.
Against the Los Angeles Rams we saw the Bucs consistently double team Aaron Donald, the best defensive tackle in the NFL. While this may seem like common sense it certainly wasn’t the case when they played against All Pros and Pro Bowl defensive lineman earlier this year. Dare I say that Leftwich has learned from his mistakes?
That is yet to be seen. In the more recent game, the Seattle Seahawks had no defensive lineman worth double teaming or chipping with a running back. So if this common sense approach becomes common practice is still unclear. However, to have seen this adjustment at all gives me a sliver of hope.
The Buccaneers have begun to redefine who their go to guys are. While we all expected veterans like Cameron Brate and Leonard Fournette to be staples of this offense, neither have impressed this year. In fact, their backups have looked noticeably better.
Rookie tight end Cade Otton has adjusted nicely to the NFL level. His quickness and agility have stood out compared to Brate, as has his blocking. As a result, he has started to get more opportunities over the likes of Kyle Rudolph and has eaten into Brates playing time as well.
Rachaad White has had a similar story. The rookie running back has impressed with his vision and patience. So much so that he got the start over Fournette in Germany when they played the Seahawks.
Giving these rookies more opportunities shows some self awareness. For Leftwich to not just lean on the guys he knew shows some flexibility that I didn’t believe he was capable of. This is cause for optimism.
In the past, the Bucs could be a power rushing team. With the likes of Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen Tampa Bay could out muscle many opponents in the trenches. Sadly, those days are over.
With the additions of Shaq Mason and Luke Goedeke, the Buccaneers had clearly shifted to more athletic guards who worked well in space. Unfortunately, Leftwich didn’t get that memo. After attempting to be a heavy running offense for the first nine weeks (with no success) the team has finally made a change.
We saw the Buccaneers run out of the shotgun against the Seahawks more than I can remember them ever doing this. This allowed their guards to get into space more and do what they do best. It also made them less predictable compared to when they had two tight ends on the field.
If this can become the foundation of their rushing attack then it makes me very excited about what this offense can do moving forward. It plays to the strengths of their roster and we saw that on full display last week. Let’s hope Leftwich can realize this and build off that success.
These are all minor adjustments that made a big difference. Does this mean that Leftwich is off the hook for his many flaws and mistakes? Of course not. Are these things a sign of something bigger? Perhaps.
The very fact that Leftwich has made these adjustments is a positive. It says that he won’t be stubborn to a point of futility. This leaves the door open to more growth down the line.
With that said, Leftwich is on a week to week trial. The Buccaneers have seven games left to figure this thing out before their playoff run. How the offense grows over that time will determine the fate of this team.
I can’t tell you I have much faith in Leftwich. Or that I believe he’s done a good job, even with these improvements. All I can say at this point is that there are minor but meaningful signs to indicate that Leftwich might not be a lost cause. At this point, that’s as much as we could hope for.