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Tuesday, Oct 23, 2018
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The Bucs’ problem isn’t how they finish; it’s how they start

For the second straight week, the Buccaneers had the ball in the final minutes of a tie game.

For the second straight week, they could not finish.

As disappointing as that might be, they have a larger problem, and one that has existed all season: The Bucs don’t get started until it’s too late.

They have scored 107 points in the first half of their games, an average of 8.2 points per game. That’s the seventh-worst average in the NFL.

RELATED STORY: Lions-Bucs Turning Point, Week 14: A coach’s future hangs in the balance

Worse yet, they’ve shown no signs of improving. They’ve scored 10 points or fewer in the first half in nine of their past 10 games.

Consider the company they’re in. The Browns have scored 91. The Giants 99. The Bills 101. The Broncos, who have a three-headed monster of below-replacement-level quarterbacks, have scored 105.

The Bucs believed they would be better on offense this season. They signed DeSean Jackson, a receiver they hoped would help them blow the top off defenses. They drafted O.J. Howard. They expressed confidence in their offensive line. (Full disclosure: Count me among the people who expected the offense to improve.)

While Jameis Winston missed three games because of a shoulder injury, his health alone doesn’t explain the offense’s regression. In Ryan Fitzpatrick’s starts, the Bucs scored three points against the Jets, 20 against the Dolphins and six against the Falcons.

Just how much have they regressed? At this time last season, they had scored 151 points in the first half of their games. The season before, they had scored 162 points.

In terms of points scored, the Bucs of today are two-thirds as effective in the first half as the Bucs of two seasons ago, Winston and Dirk Koetter’s first in Tampa.

RELATED STORY: Tom Jones: Why Koetter won’t survive this

Before anyone walks over to One Buc Place with a torch in one hand and a pitchfork in the other, consider some data from Football Outsiders. The website’s efficiency ratings aren’t flattering, but they don’t paint as troubling a picture.

Football Outsiders quantifies team strength using a metric it calls Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. DVOA takes every play and compares a team’s success on that play with the league average. It is adjusted for situation and opponent.

By DVOA, Tampa Bay’s offense is 7.9 percent below average in the first half. That’s actually an improvement over last season, when it was 12.1 percent below average. Here are the Bucs’ offensive DVOA ratings by half since 2015:

By either measure, Tampa Bay has not been effective enough in the first half. Its point total is the lowest through 13 games since 2014, when it scored 90 points. The Bucs basically didn’t have an offensive coordinator that season. They had hired Jeff Tedford, but he had heart surgery late in the preseason and never called a regular-season play. His responsibilities fell to quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, who had no NFL play-calling experience.

Another comp: 2009, when the Bucs scored 98 points in the first half. Two things worth noting: 1.) That was Josh Freeman’s rookie season. 2.) The team fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski 10 days before the opener.

If Tampa Bay maintains this pace, it will finish with 132 points in the first half. That’d rank as the 26th-best total in team history.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

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