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Bucs have to improve in red zone to get better as a team

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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.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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