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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs notes: Third-and-long has plagued offense

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 06:40 PM
TAMPA -

Thursday was third-down day at One Buc Place, a day the Buccaneers devoted largely to improving their offense's 27th-ranked 34.1-percent third-down conversion rate.

What the Bucs really seem to need, though, is a day devoted largely to improving their play on first and second down.

The Bucs, who are riding a four-game losing streak, have faced 43 third-down situations the last three games. Their struggles on first and second down, though, have made those third downs almost impossible to convert.

Of the 43 third downs the Bucs have faced during their most recent three-game span, 31 have required a gain of 6 yards or more for a first down. And that's not the worst of it.

With poor execution, penalties and dropped passes derailing them on the early downs, the average gain the Bucs have needed to move the chains on those 31 third-and-long plays is 11.2 yards.

"Those (third-and-long) situations are something we definitely have to find a way to stay out of because the higher the distance the lower the (conversion) percentage," QB Josh Freeman said.

The Bucs are proof of Freeman's point. Of the 31 third-and-long situations they've faced the last three weeks, they have only converted six, for a 19.3-percent conversion rate.

The key to staying out of those situations? Freeman and Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan agree. It's all a matter of performing better on first and second down.

"That has set the wheels in motion for some of the bad things that have happened," Sullivan said of the Bucs' recent struggles on early downs. "It's created some of the adversity we've had to fight through.

"That's why we need to get back to the consistency that we were playing with a few weeks ago when we had that great stretch and things were really rolling well for us."

PRIORITIES

DE Michael Bennett needs one more sack to become the first Buccaneer since Simeon Rice in 2005 (14.5) to record at least 10 sacks in a season.

Bennett admits he'd like to reach the milestone, in part because he's on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent, but he says he has a more important goal that he'd like to achieve instead.

"Everybody's putting a big emphasis on me getting 10 sacks and it's a big thing but it's not as important as winning," Bennett said. "That's the most important thing. If we win, whether I get the sack or not, that's all that really matters."

EXTRA POINTS

The Bucs have scored an average of 21.3 points per game in their eight losses this year, making them the first team since 1985 to average that many points in eight losses. … RB Doug Martin needs 353 total scrimmage yards in his last two games to join Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only rookies to amass 2,000 total yards in their initial season.

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