TAMPA, Fla. — The Big Top at One Buc Place has camped over two predictable targets: coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman. But the attention is misplaced, the scope incomplete, because like all tightrope acts worth watching, there are more crew members to consider.
Now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense resembles more Ringling Brothers than a unit capable of producing rings. There are a comedy of errors to consider on that side of the ball through the first three weeks, beyond the Schiano/Freeman narrative that has clogged bandwidth in the Bay Area and beyond: an illegal-formation penalty in Week 2 that took away a 73-yard touchdown pass from Freeman to Vincent Jackson, dropped passes by Jackson and Tim Wright in Week 3, a lukewarm running game in Weeks 1 and 3.
Oh, it’s fair to throw barbs at Freeman. He’s 43-of-94 passing with 571 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He owns a 59.3 passer rating, which ranks last in the league. (Peyton Manning is first with a 134.7.) Freeman’s 45.7 completion percentage also ranks last in the league. (Manning is first with a 73.0 completion percentage.)
But this is no solo job. Freeman’s shoulders don’t deserve the two-ton bricks of blame hung on them for a 0-3 start, the Bucs’ worst since stumbling to 0-7 in 2009.
No surprise: This offensive pickle is about the details. Tampa Bay’s devil is found in the small stuff, and the blame should go around and around.
“Yeah, details,” Schiano told reporters Monday. “There are schematic issues (where) we have to be more precise. We left way too much on the table there. If we just do our jobs, we’ll score a lot of points.”
Time to get to work then, because the Bucs need them fast. They rank No. 31 in each of these major offensive categories: scoring (11.3 points per game), passing (174.7 yards per game) and total (282 ypg).
Whew, thank goodness for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Meanwhile, the running game, powered by Doug Martin’s 297 yards with one touchdown, fares a bit better. Tampa Bay ranks No. 15 in the league with an average of 107.3 yards on the ground, but in losses to the Jets and Patriots, Martin never averaged more than 4.4 per carry.
There’s no easy answer to any of this. The Bucs’ offense is an enigma wrapped around a mystery, given the star power around Freeman. There’s no way a huddle that includes Jackson, Martin, Mike Williams, Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph should have this much trouble scratching the end zone.
“I think it’s spread all around,” Schiano said of the offensive issues. “We have some new guys, and we have some returning guys and everybody’s making their share (of mistakes). I go back to that we have to do a better job of communicating exactly what we want and then we need to hold people accountable. (Those are) the tenets of this program, it’s the foundation of what we do. We’re not doing a good enough job of it, starting with me, so we have to do better.”
There’s that chance on the horizon. The Arizona Cardinals, who visit Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, are no world-beaters at 1-2. They are tied at No. 19 in the league in total defense (370.3 ypg). They rank No. 26 in pass defense (297.0 ypg) and No. 22 in scoring defense (26.3 ppg).
So the opportunity is there to salvage one victory before the bye week, to kick start an offense that suffers from problems that extend beyond Freeman, beyond the circus. Will the Bucs take advantage? They better, or their season will fade even more, with more pointed questions for Freeman and Schiano to come.
“We have flashes and sparks of greatness, but we’ve just got to be more consistent,” Nicks said Tuesday. “We’ll make a play and everybody will be like, ‘Wow,’ then the next play will be a minus play. We’ve just got to be more consistent.”