Leftwich’s Days Are Likely Numbered

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Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds answers your questions from the @PewterReport Twitter account every week in the Bucs Monday Mailbag. Submit your question to the Bucs Monday Mailbag each week via Twitter using the hashtag #PRMailbag. Here are the questions we chose to answer for this week’s edition.

QUESTION: The win is great but the process was bad again. Once again can’t get a yard or two when needed. The offense didn’t click until desperation time. The coaching staff should still be under fire after another bad performance against a backup QB. What change is going to happen?

ANSWER: If the Bucs win the NFC South division title – even with a losing record – Todd Bowles will be back as the head coach next year. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. Bowles inherited Bruce Arians’ coaching staff when he took over as head coach on March 30 following Arians’ sudden retirement. By then, all of the other quality assistant coaches were on other teams’ staffs, and the NFL was two weeks past the start of free agency. Bowles really couldn’t make any changes if he wanted to in the offseason.

Bucs Qb Tom Brady And Oc Byron Leftwich

Bucs QB Tom Brady and OC Byron Leftwich – Photo by: USA Today

Plus, even if he saw this train wreck of an offense coming this season back in the summer, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was coming off back-to-back seasons where the offense scored 30 points per game. If Bowles went in a different direction at offensive coordinator in the offseason, he would be deemed crazy or incompetent. He really had no choice but to roll with Leftwich.

But now that Leftwich has been exposed as a bad play-caller without all of the Super Bowl talent – ​​look no further than three straight failed runs up the middle when the Bucs needed a yard at Arizona – it’s pretty clear he won’t be back next year. Perhaps if Leftwich had figured out a way to score more points over the second half of the season, he would earn the chance to stay, but Tampa Bay’s offense has only averaged 19 points per game over the last seven games while the Bucs have gone 4 -3.

Tampa Bay’s offense, which ranks 28th in the league in scoring, has averaged less than 18 points per game for much of the season. So, that’s barely any improvement.

Leftwich isn’t to blame when penalties occur that wipe out touchdowns off the scoreboard. Nor is it his fault when two of Tom Brady’s bad throws result in interceptions. But his predictability and lack of creativity as a play-caller is a big part of the offense’s problems. Running up the middle three straight times while needing one yard and turning the ball on downs on Christmas night is a prime example. So are the screen passes to receivers that have been so predictable that they’re nearly getting picked off late in the season. Bowles has to go in a different direction at offensive coordinator next year.

QUESTION: Tom Brady knows offenses better than most coordinators. Hear me out, but what if the Bucs had Brady be the offensive coordinator and starting QB next year? Baseball has players/managers every so often. So, why not?

ANSWER: One thing I’ve uncovered this year is that Tom Brady does not like calling the plays during the game. He’s not like Peyton Manning, who he liked to be in command of the play-calling and running the offense. Brady prefers to execute the plays on the field, not call them. Now, he does have a large role in picking the plays that are in the game plan every week. He and Byron Leftwich collaborate on that. But in terms of the actual play-calling and sequencing, that’s all on Leftwich.

Brady doesn’t want to be charged with the responsibility for calling personnel groupings, understanding the down and distance and anticipating what play will work best against a suspected defensive play call. He’d rather determine if the play Leftwich calls will work against the pre-snap look he’s getting from the defense, and even then, Brady usually trusts the play and does his best to execute it.

When Brady does take over the play-calling is when the Bucs are in hurry-up, no-huddle mode during their two-minute offense. That’s when Tampa Bay’s offense usually clicks, and there are some within the building at the AdventHealth Training Center that would love to see Brady in command more often, but it just does n’t happen because that’s not his preference.

What you are proposing isn’t something that Brady wants. Instead, the Bucs would be wise to just hire a new, better play-caller next year – whether Brady returns to Tampa Bay or not.

QUESTION: Who are your top predictions for offensive coordinators in 2023? Bill O’Brien perhaps?

ANSWER: I’ve written about this before, so I won’t be lengthy in my reply here. But my first choice for offensive coordinator would be Georgia’s Todd Monken, as I mentioned in a previous Bucs Monday Mailbag and more recently in Friday’s SR’s Fab 5 column.

Georgia O.C. Todd Monken

Georgia OC Todd Monken – Photo by: USA Today

“He was the receivers coach in Tampa Bay from 2016-17 and the offensive coordinator in 2018. Monken also was the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2019, so he has experience calling plays at the NFL level. And he would be coming from the college ranks, where offenses are more creative. Monken has worked for a defensive-minded head coach in Kirby Smart for the last three years, and the Bulldogs have gone 35-3 over that stretch, including a national championship last year and a perfect 13-0 record so far this season.

“Monken is a pass-first coach who also knows how to mix in the run game and make it effective. Georgia has always had a strong ground game through the years. He’s the highest-paid assistant in college football at $2 million per year, so the Glazers would have to pony up to get him. The chance to coach Brady (possibly) in 2023 would be one hell of a lure for Monken to come back to Tampa Bay.”

And yes, I think Bill O’Brien would also be a wise choice. He is my other favorite candidate for the Tampa Bay offensive coordinator role and I also wrote about him in SR’s Fab 5 due to his relationship with Tom Brady.

“Speaking of Brady, if he’s the QB in 2023, Bill O’Brien would be another nice option at offensive coordinator. The former Texans head coach (2014-2020) was Brady’s quarterbacks coach from 2009-11, and called the plays for the Patriots in the ’11 season. O’Brien has been the quarterbacks coach for Bryce Young at Alabama, where he’s also called the plays since the 2021 season under Nick Saban.”

QUESTION: Why doesn’t Rachaad White get more snaps? It’s pretty obvious to everyone watching that the Bucs are more dynamic when White is on the field. Should we just continue to expect this weird rotation for the rest of the season?

ANSWER: I agree with you, but the coaching staff does like the fact that Leonard Fournette has veteran experience and Tom Brady trusts him in the passing game. That may not be the answer you want to hear, but it’s the truth. Rachaad White started the game and had a dynamic 18-yard run on her first carry. He wound up with 36 yards on seven carries and a healthy 5.1-yard average. He also caught a game-tying, 3-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

Bucs Rb Leonard Fournette

Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: USA Today

But Fournette had the hot hand, statistically speaking. He ran for 72 yards on 20 carries (3.6 avg.), including a season-long 23-yard jaunt. He also led the Bucs in receiving with nine catches for 90 yards (10 avg.), including a season-long 44-yarder. Those two big plays skewed his averages and teased Byron Leftwich enough to make him want to keep giving Fournette the ball, hoping another big play would come.

But what Leftwich didn’t realize is that out of Fournette’s 30 total touches, 10 of them resulted in either a gain of just one yard, no yards or negative yards. That’s one-third of all his touches of him. And one has to believe that if it was the faster White who ripped off that 23-yard run or that 44-yard catch, those gains would have been longer if the ball was in his hands than him. White finished with 11 touches for 53 yards and a touchdown in Arizona, while Fournette had 162 yards on 30 touches.

QUESTION: Is there something scandalous going on behind the scenes that explains what’s going on? You don’t have to say what it is. I’m just wondering if there is something.

ANSWER: If you only knew. There isn’t anything scandalous, but the Bucs offense has been a calamity this season behind the scenes, as you could probably imagine. And I think head coach Todd Bowles might have seen this coming back in training camp and the preseason. That’s about all I can report right now.

QUESTION: I think Tom Brady has lost his mojo and the Bucs need to start Kyle Trask the remainder of the season. After the past two losses, things can’t get much worse. Prove me wrong.

ANSWER: You do realize that Kyle Trask has yet to play in a regular season NFL game, right? Yes, it could get much worse for the Bucs starting Trask over Tom Brady at quarterback. Especially this week with the NFC South title on the line with the Bucs hosting the Panthers. You either have to be a diehard Florida Gators fan or a Trask family member to want the Bucs’ unproven second-year quarterback to replace Brady this year.

QUESTION: Miss the playoffs and get a higher first-round pick or bank on one of the worst teams in the league doing a complete 180-degree turn entering the postseason?

ANSWER: I’m not in favor of tanking to the point where a team misses the playoffs. Tanking for a higher Top 10 or Top 5 pick? Sure, I can see the potential benefit of that if the difference is a 3-14 or 4-13 record, which is inconsequential outside of the draft order. But if a team like Tampa Bay has a chance to make the playoffs, that’s not worth missing the postseason just to improve draft status by a few slots.

Bucs Qb Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch

The goal of every team each year is to make the playoffs. The Bucs still have a shot at holding that goal in Week 17 when the Carolina Panthers come to town. This Sunday’s game is essentially a playoff game. The Bucs can clinch the division with a win over the Panthers, and ensure a home playoff game. Strange things can happen in the playoffs. Look no further than San Francisco upsetting No. 1 seed Green Bay at Lambeau Field last January.

I don’t have high hopes that the Bucs would last long in the playoffs given their crappy offense. But all Tampa Bay needs is for Tom Brady to play like old Tom Brady for one Sunday afternoon in January and the offense to click. Todd Bowles has fielded a playoff caliber defense all season. If the Bucs offense can muster up 24 points in a postseason game, I could see Tampa Bay beating whoever it would play in the Wild Card round.

The offense would have to suddenly come alive and be able to score at least 24 points per game throughout the postseason to have a chance to go further. And I don’t see that happening based on what’s transpired throughout the year. The Bucs have scored 20 or more points just six times this season. And they’ve scored 24 points or more only once. That came in a 41-31 loss to Kansas City in Week 4. Tampa Bay can only dream of scoring 30 points in a game right now without a touchdown coming on defense or special teams.

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