Situational football is what's holding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense back, at least, in the eyes of its coordinator Byron Leftwich.
The Buccaneers struggled to open their Week 12 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, with four consecutive punting drives to begin the game. Tampa Bay was able to nearly match first half scores with the Los Angeles Rams the week before, but six of their eight second half drives ended in a turnover or punt.
Head coach Bruce Arians has pinned early third downs, specifically creating manageable third downs, on the board as the root of the offense's issue. Leftwich expanded on those issues this week noting that the team has dropped off on third downs from earlier in the season.
"First, it's just making guys aware, because we were really good at it the first half of the season. I think we probably were one of the best teams in the league, and it's amazing how if you don't stay on things, things can change quickly," Leftwich said on Thursday.
"It gave us the opportunity to look at the beginning of the year, look at why we're not doing as well early in ballgames and give us an opportunity to see what it was, to self-scout and try to correct it," he continued. "It really comes down to just converting third downs early. You've got to be able to convert third downs early, and if you don't, you're going to get to slow starts ... It's really a situational football thing that I believe we need to get better at."
The Bucs currently rank No. 12 in the NFL in third down conversion percentage, doing so 42.95% of the time. Not bad, but not the season-high 45.1% mark (which actually ranked No. 13 in the league at the time) that Tampa Bay was hitting on entering Week 5.
And to make matters tougher, Minnesota, this weekend's opponent, owns the NFL's No. 6 third down defense, allowing offenses to convert just 36.36% of the time.
Leftwich took responsibility by saying he needed to do "a better job off putting us in positions to really just play the way we need to play to win football games." He added that he'll be looking for improved ball control from the offense down the stretch.
"In order to control the ball, you have to play well in situational football – third downs, red zones, not have negative plays," Leftwich said. "As long as we continue to do that, I feel fine about where we'll be at in our execution. We just have to go out and get it done."
Tampa ranks No. 6 in the league in red zone scoring percentage this year, albeit No. 11 over the last three weeks. That isn't the main issue here, however, seven interceptions in four games for quarterback Tom Brady confirm a need for fewer turnovers.
At the end of the day, though, you'd hope bye-week self-scouting will allow the Bucs to create new scripts and open games with more third-down success. We'll see if that comes to fruition this weekend. It won't be easy.