This is where it begins, in the shadow of the opponent’s goalposts.
On first down-and-opportunity. With the cannons firing. With hope in the air.
With the Tampa Bay Bucs, trying once again to stop treating the red zone like the dead zone.
The Bucs had a sprightly little offense a year ago, with Jameis Winston throwing for more than 4,000 and Doug Martin running for more than 1,400 and Mike Evans catching passes for more than 1,200. In all, the Bucs gained more yardage than all but four other NFL teams.
But not in the red zone. In the red zone, the Bucs were only the 22nd-best team in the league. Translation: Too many field goals, not enough touchdowns.
And this year? This year, the Bucs have to be better.
Bad news: In Tuesday’s practice, Tampa Bay was 0-for-9 in the end zone.
“My impression was the defense kicked butt,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “The offense was 0-for-9 inside the 10; that’s a great job by our defense.”
Okay, okay. That’s the problem with scrimmaging. Every time you feel good about one aspect (“Yay, the defense played great.”) there is another side of the ball to consider. (“Ouch. The sky is falling.”)
“Our defense did a great job today,” said tackle Demar Dotson. “We went 0-for-9, and they just had the better day today. We have to come out here and the next time we get the opportunity, we’ve got to do better. We’re not going to harp on it, we are just going to watch the film and get better at it.”
If there is a bright spot, the Bucs play the Eagles Thursday. Philadelphia was 31st in the league in red-zone defense last year (one spot ahead of the Bucs).
For Tampa Bay, however, the challenge is clear. Conquer the red zone. It leads to the end zone.