Cleaning Up The Opening Act

June 28th, 2024

So many summer savings are flowing at Bill Currie Ford! That’s new and used vehicles, and don’t forget to ask GM Sean Sullivan for the Ira Kaufman discount. Pick-up, delivery and loaner vehicles are available for service appointments.


It’s time for the Bucs to flip the script. Or, better yet, create one.

The past two seasons have seen slow starts lead to sluggish results on the scoreboard for Tampa Bay. There’s no denying the depressing metrics — since Bruce Arians departed as head coach, this offense can’t get out of its own way in the opening quarter.

In 2022, even with Tom Brady still under center, the Bucs averaged only 2.8 points in the first 15 minutes. Only five teams were less effective from the start.

Despite a new quarterback and a new offensive coordinator, the early struggles continued last year as Tampa Bay averaged 2.9 points in the first quarter. Only the Jets, Patriots, Vikings, Commanders, Panthers, Giants, Steelers, Titans and Falcons were worse.

Most of those clubs were saddled with major quarterback issues.

Is that really the company you want to be keeping when it comes to scoring points? In the NFL, fast starts usually lead to dynamic scoreboards.

The top teams in first-quarter scoring last season were the Cowboys (7.2), Lions, Ravens, 49ers, Dolphins, Raiders, Eagles, Colts, Bengals and Bills. Eight of those 10 clubs finished in the Top 10 in overall scoring.

Playcaller Liam Coen, the architect of the new Tampa Bay offense.

A new approach is desperately needed at One Buc Place and Liam Coen should consider dusting off a tried and true line of attack: Coen needs to start games with a script of plays designed to score more points while probing opposing defenses for potential exploitation.

Designing a sequence of plays from the opening kickoff worked out pretty well for Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh in San Francisco, where Joe Montana proved to be masterful in forging early momentum.

“Scripting openers allows the coach to make decisions in a detached and thoughtful manner,” Walsh explained. “The offense can anticipate the defensive game plan and have some counters ready.”

Scripting plays from the start shines a klieg light on defensive tendencies. Knowing how a defense reacts to specific formations should help create mismatches later in the game.

Advantage, offense.

There’s no denying Tampa Bay’s dismal starts threatened to derail Buc playoff hopes in 2023. Including the postseason, the Bucs were 8-2 when opening the scoring and 2-7 when the opposition got on the board first.

Something has to change if the Bucs are serious about shedding this two-year offensive tailspin.

“You put plays together, combinations that you kind of like and that you want to see how the defense is going to defend different formations,” says Chiefs coach Andy Reid. “So it’s a feeling-out process, but it’s still trying to score points.”

While Walsh entered games armed with a road map for the first 15 plays, he left plenty of room for detours. The 49ers weren’t locked into a strict early protocol, but Walsh felt those weekly scripts provided his team with an early edge in confidence and efficiency. The Bucs could use a healthy dose of both.

There have been too many games in the past two years when Tampa Bay players walked off the field at halftime trailing 7-3 or 10-6. That’s draining for a defense that usually holds up its end of the bargain.

Coen should relish the challenge of squeezing some early juice into this attack. And if a revamped offensive line proves to be an upgrade, there will be no excuses for first-quarter scoring woes in Tampa.

When the Commanders come to town for the Sept. 8 opener, Coen should be standing on the sidelines, reading from a carefully selected sequence of plays designed to keep Washington’s defense off balance.

It’s hard to screw up any movie that features a sharp script. Let’s see if the same story line applies to an NFL offense.

27 Responses to “Cleaning Up The Opening Act”

  1. Crickett Baker Says:

    Yep, let us see. GO BUCS!

  2. Drunkinybor Says:

    I sadly have to disagree on this one. I think scripts are a detrement, but really what the he double hockey sticks do I know. I just feel like it’s a hard headed approach. What if the defense completely changes what it’s showed on tape or there’s a injury early and all the sudden you got evans on a crappy corner for a few plays. However Ira will forget more football knowledge than I learn.

  3. SlyPirate Says:

    The OC I admire the most is Steve Sarkisian. Yes, he has personal issues but he’s an offensive genius. He designs a first half and second half offense. His first half offense is designed to score. It’s also a setup. He sets up the other team to make adjustments at half that his second half offense is already designed to take advantage of.

    Why is this interesting? Well, it’s the opposite of Andy Reid’s approach. Andy runs plays to see how the defense is going to play. Sark runs plays to get the defense to play a certain way.

  4. BucsBeBack Says:

    “Only the Jets, Patriots, Vikings, Commanders, Panthers, Giants, Steelers, Titans and Falcons were worse.
    Most of those clubs were saddled with major quarterback issues.”

    Wait, didn’t Dan Marino QB the Vikings last year? Does that mean, by extension that our Bucs “were saddled with major QB issues”?

    Scripting plays has advantages for sure but, wouldn’t the defensive tendencies be discovered naturally, throughout the drives?

  5. Crickett Baker Says:

    I just watched the touchdowns in the SB from 2020. I did not realize it (or remember it, I guess) but not one touchdown was scored by anyone still on our team! For real! Gronk, Fornette, AB,
    NOT ONE by Evans, even. That bugs me.

  6. Hodad Says:

    Want to score first? When you win the toss accept the ball, don’t defer to the second half. We never do that.

  7. 74 Bucs Fan Says:

    BucsBeBack – pretty sure Cousins was hurt for a chunk of the year. That ole blown Achilles thing.

  8. Bucnjim Says:

    A Conservative coach is going to have a conservative game script which eventually leads to a low-scoring game. Bowles will never be Arians and he’s admitted as much. You knew what you were getting with Arians and unless you are unrealistic you should know what you’re getting from Bowles. I like the guy but he’ll have a very hard time winning a shootout. Ground and pound until we get behind.

  9. BrianBucs Says:

    Bowles’ philosophy his entire coaching career has always been to try to establish the run early in games which will cause you to get behind early.
    How about Bowles tries something new this season – early in games try to ESTABLISH THE SCOREBOARD!!!

  10. Gbobucsfan Says:

    Didn’t Leftwich start games with scripted plays ???

  11. Joe Says:

    Didn’t Leftwich start games with scripted plays ???

    Yeah, but from time to time he lost his crayons.

  12. Dave Pear Says:

    Todd is changing. He knows for enough wins to keep his job, he needs to score more points.


  13. unbelievable Says:

    “he lost his crayons” lololol Joe!

    @Crickett Baker – that always bummed me out too that Evans didn’t score in the SB. Pretty sure he only had 1 catch. It was all Gronk and Fournette that day.

  14. Defense Rules Says:

    BrianBucs … ‘Bowles’ philosophy his entire coaching career has always been to try to establish the run early in games which will cause you to get behind early.’

    Interesting analysis, and the 1st part is very likely true, but the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow IMO. Just for kicks, quickly looked at our 2022 season to see how your analysis played out (with the GOAT at QB). Just looking at the 1st series of plays, Bucs ran more than they passed in 4 games. They passed more than they ran in 9 games, and were ‘balanced’ (equal number of each) in 4 games.

    It’d take way too long to do a deep dive into 1st quarter plays, but on the surface it looks like the Bucs overall shot for some sort of a run-pass ‘balance’ more than anything else. I suspect that they were just ‘testing the waters’ to see what worked best, and to mix-it-up as best they could to keep the defense off-balance. No ‘patterns’ jumped out at me, even with Tom Brady at QB.

  15. Defense Rules Says:

    BucnJim … ‘Ground and pound until we get behind.’

    A generalization perhaps? As much as Bowles might like to run more to achieve a more ‘balanced attack’, the Bucs that he inherited were built as a passing team. As a result, in 2022 we only ran on 33.3% of our plays (the lowest run-pass percentage in the league). That percentage increased by quite a bit in 2023 to 41.9% but that’s still just slightly below middle-of-the-pack (18 teams ran it more percentage-wise than we did in 2023).

    Personally believe that the ideal offense is multi-dimensional, and can run or pass the ball equally well. If the pass isn’t working, run the ball down their throats; and vice-versa. If they start focusing too much on stopping 1 side of the attack, make ’em pay by pummeling them with the other. Keep your attack unpredictable, and it’s much easier to keep the defense off-balance. Of course, few teams have the capability to do that well. And no, the Bucs haven’t been one of them.

  16. heyjude Says:

    I have to admit there are many times in the 3rd and 4th quarter, when we are trying for a comeback, that I feel like I need a strong drink and I am one that rarely drinks. Can’t imagine how the team feels either. Same is true when we are not getting in the red zone in the first two quarters, and are living on field goals, no touchdowns. Yes, we need more of a lead right off the start. However, we need to keep the lead in the 3rd and 4th quarter. And not relying on only field goals to win. We have a great roster and coaches. Thinking we will be pleasantly surprised this season. Go Bucs!

  17. Senor Harry in Costa Rica Says:

    DR makes a very good point. The last two years the Bucs ran the ball a lot to start the game. That is not game planning according to tendencies and weaknesses of the opponent’s defense – that is just forcing what you as a couch want to do. Not very smart.

    Like Walsh said, you game plan the opening script to take advantage of the other team’s tendencies and weakness. Which means one week your team may pass a lot (the Bucs should do well with that, but we never used our strongest weapons) against a team that was weak against the pass. And vice-versa.

    It does kind of demonstrate that our coaching is not very good. The Bucs have weapons on offense. We should NOT be in the bottom third of NFL teams in 1st Qtr scoring.

  18. Bucfan Says:

    The script of the Bucs- run on 1st & 2nd down then pass on 3rd & long.

  19. BillyBucco Says:

    Sarah Walsh talked about Baker yesterday and said there will be 15 scripted plays and Baker will have options in the huddle. Music to my ears.
    If we score 6-8 TDs on opening drives we will win 12 games this year.
    The key after a couple games will be determining what the other team THINKS you are going to do and doing something else. Unless you are just superior and it doesn’t matter. I think if Jalen McMillan and Bucky Irving are real deals, there will never be a break defensively for the other team. Multiple ways of beating them.
    IMO, Baker throws for 5,000 and it looks easy because of screen plays that work, and play action that fools people.
    People are definitely sleeping on this team.

  20. BillyBucco Says:

    Losing his crayons was funny Joe.

  21. ModHairKen Says:

    Hodad: “Want to score first? When you win the toss accept the ball, don’t defer to the second half. We never do that.“

    That is a great point.

    If you want Offense, emphasize Offense. If you want to score first, do what Detroit does. Ignore 4th down and keep playing Offense.

  22. Bakersbucs says Says:

    Evans wasn’t figured into Brady offense he.wanted his little puppet in there if he didn’t get his way OMG what a pos that Brady was I just don’t understand why this post site backs up a cheating POS!

  23. Bakersbucs says Says:

    & this te is still paying that POS BRADY!

  24. Cobraboy Says:

    I don’t know what I would do if the Bucs scored on the first drive and had a credible O in the first quarter.

    That said, I’m OK deferring at the coin toss, especially with a tight D.

  25. Dave Pear Says:

    Bakersbucs — wtf are you trying to say?

    There is treatment for crank addiction.

  26. Hearty Dikerson Says:

    I’ve always been a fan of short, easy passes early in the game to get the O in rhythm and gain confidence. For the last 2 years we’ve seemed to do the opposite. Runs and low-percentage passes. It’s incredible to me we don’t seem to have a single slant pass in our playbook.

  27. garro Says:

    If our first two drives were scripted then they were poorly done without much thought of how to attack the defense and how best to use the talent we have in Tampa. the more I think about that one stat the more pissed I become. No TDs on opening drives! With Evans, Godwin, and Mayfield?

    When Canales abandoned ship on us I was a bit ticked. Now? Not so much.

    Thanks Ira as always.