Bucs' red zone woes spell doom
The Tampa Tribune, published 24 December 2012

Three whiffs and the Buccaneers' red zone offense struck out. On three occasions in Sunday's 28-13 loss to St. Louis, the Buccaneers were inside the Rams' 10-yard line only to be kept out of the end zone all three times.

The only score produced by those red-zone opportunities was Connor Barth's 29-yard field goal on the opening drive of the game. The other two times, Tampa Bay lost possession on downs.

"As an offense, we have to convert in the red zone,'' left tackle Donald Penn said. "It would have been a totally different game if we had scored some touchdowns or even some field goals. When we were down there, I thought we moved the ball great. I feel like we were on the field for a long time. We hit a standstill when we got in the red zone in this game.''

After looking downtrodden in an embarrassing shutout loss at New Orleans the previous week, the offense clicked on the opening possession as quarterback Josh Freeman marched the offense to first and goal at the Rams' 7-yard line. But a false start penalty on center Ted Larsen and a sack pushed Tampa Bay back to the 18-yard line and the drive eventually stalled at the St. Louis 11, where Tampa Bay settled for Barth's field goal.

With Tampa Bay trailing 28-13 in the third quarter, the offense was on the move again after a Freeman completion to Mike Williams set up first down from the St. Louis 14-yard line. After a run for no gain by Doug Martin and a 9-yard completion to Vincent Jackson, Freeman threw the ball away under heavy pressure on third down and couldn't convert a sneak play on fourth.

"That's one of our plays where we want to hurry up, get up and snap the ball and we get up there and the guy has yet to place the ball, he's standing over the ball where the whole premise of the play is to hurry up and get up there,'' Freeman said. "But it's another play where I have to find a way to get it, I have to get over and get that yard.''

Early in the fourth quarter, still trailing by 15 points, the offense pushed deep into Rams territory once again on a 46-yard completion to Jackson to the Rams 7-yard line. Three straight incomplete passes forced the Buccaneers to go for it on fourth down, but Freeman failed to throw into the end zone, instead settling for an underneath play to Martin, who was tackled three yards shy of the end zone by defensive tackle Rodger Saffold.

"I give it all to the defenses," Williams said of Tampa Bay's lack of red-zone production. "They are coming out and playing good zone defenses. They are making the reads hard and disguising their coverages a lot. And I would say they are kind of fooling us down there, they are making the better moves. We just have to look on film what they are doing to disguise it from us and try to get better from it.''