All is not well in the Sunshine State. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are spiraling after a solid 7-3 start to the 2020 season. They've lost two consecutive games at home, and neither was particularly close. Tom Brady looks like a 43-year-old man trying to play quarterback for a professional football team. Bruce Arians is not happy and continually lets Brady know that through the media. Tampa is still well-positioned to make a playoff run, but heading into a bye week, there is certainly trouble in paradise.
The downward slide of such a high-profile team with championship aspirations naturally leads to a whole host of discussion about said team and why they're struggling. There appear to be two camps in this discussion 12 weeks into the season: those that think Brady is at fault with his poor play, and those that think Arians should take the lion's share of the blame because he is the one designing the plays that Brady and the rest of the offense is failing to execute.
A good pair of examples came along this morning on Get Up. Ryan Clark is in the Blame Brady camp, while Dan Orlovsky has taken up residency in the Blame Bruce complex.
Both parties bring up legitimate points. Brady has not played well in the last two weeks. In the two losses, Brady has thrown for a combined 561 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions, completing only 59 percent of his passing attempts. Half of those interceptions were downright egregious throws that were head-scratching for everyone watching at home. No one expected a change in scenery to result in a Benjamin Button serum where Brady is reverted to his 2007 form, but he was supposed to be better than this.
On the flip side, Arians hasn't really given Brady much help. Orlovsky brings up the play-action problem above, and it's a valid criticism. Brady is averaging over eight yards per attempt on play-action passes, which is nearly a full yard more than what he averaged with the Patriots last year. Yet he's only on pace to attempt 110 of those passes, when he attempted 126 last season. As noted on ESPN, the Bucs rank 30th in play-action passes in the entire NFL and ran only five such plays against Kansas City on Sunday. Brady's prowess in the play-action game is not a secret by any means and the stats have backed it up for years, yet the Bucs have been reticent to make it a central piece of their gameplan.
With all that in mind, I will take on the role of party-pooper and suggest that both sides of this argument are, in fact, right, and should work together to prove that the Bucs have dropped these games because neither Brady nor Arians have made the right decisions. The Rams game contained two of the worst interceptions of the season for Brady. The pick below came on a heave with pressure in his face directly to a safety with intended receiver Chris Godwin at least five yards away.
Then there was this pick that ended the game. Brady was probably feeling desperate, but this throw was to nobody. It was terrible, no doubt about it.
Nobody is going to blame Arians for these. An offensive game-planner can only design so much of the play. The quarterback has to execute, and he failed to do so in this circumstance.
But the Chiefs game showed some flaws in Arians' gameplanning that suggests he should shoulder at least an equal part of the blame. The play-action issue was adequately described by Orlovsky above, but there are other things, too. Like the fact that Ronald Jones, after catching a 37-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to get the Bucs back into the game, was targeted exactly once the rest of the game. Or that Jones seemed like he was finding his feet after a 34-yard run in the third quarter and ran the ball once more after that. Or, just in general, that Tampa ran the ball only 12 times against a Chiefs team that gives up an average of 4.7 yards per carry, sixth-worst in the NFL.
The confusing division of duties between running backs has been a season-long issue. Another is the amount of pressure Brady is experiencing. Some of that falls on the offensive line, to be sure, but Arians isn't doing his quarterback any favors with how long plays can take to develop. Brady's offensive line last year was not particularly good, and the unit in Tampa has been slightly better this season, allowing pressure on 15 percent of his dropbacks. Yet Brady has already been hit more times this season (39) than he was in 2019 (37) and through 12 weeks has matched his 2018 total (also 39). On average, Brady only has 2.2 seconds before he gets rid of the ball or the pocket collapses. In his final two years in New England, he had, at worst, 2.4 seconds before that happened. That doesn't sound like a big difference, but it's resulting in more hits taken for Brady.
The Bucs, admittedly, were not exactly in a position to establish the run and things of that nature this past Sunday after going down 17-0 in the first quarter. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles should probably take the heat for that and letting Tyreek Hill gain over 200 yards in the first 15 minutes of play, but even if Arians doesn't have much to do with that side of the ball, he's still the head coach. It is not the first time the defense has fallen apart, either. We're still only three weeks removed from the Saints' obliteration of the unit on national television.
In essence, it has been a brutal two weeks for Tampa Bay. Brady is throwing the type of interceptions that makes one wonder if the Bucs actually changed quarterbacks over the offseason. Arians is sticking to his guns with his overall offensive philosophy and failing to adjust to Brady's strengths, piling it all on with his personnel issues. Nothing is going right-- which happens in the NFL. No reason to believe the Bucs are suddenly going to miss the playoffs or exit the postseason with a whimper come January. But both Brady and Arians have a whole lot to figure out during this bye week.