Short-yardage struggles continue in spite of a changing of the guard
It sounds simplistic. The Bucs aren't winning, because the two legs of Leonard Fournette cannot advance the football 3 feet. One yard was all the running back needed on two tries from the Carolina 25-yard line to sustain a drive and possibly tie the game in the third quarter of Sunday's 21-3 loss to the Panthers.

Trailing 7-0 with more than seven minutes left in the quarter, the Bucs faced third-and-1 when Fournette took an inside handoff from Tom Brady and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain. On fourth-and-1, the Bucs tried Fournette again, only this time on a toss play to the right.

Panthers cornerback C.J. Henderson knifed into Fournette, along with linebacker Cory Littleton, and again dropped him for no gain, forcing the Bucs to turn the football over on downs. Short-yardage failures are nothing new to the Bucs.

Last week at Pittsburgh, the Bucs had second-and-goal at the Steelers 1 yard line. Fournette was dropped for a 3-yard loss, and quarterback Tom Brady was sacked on the next play.

"It's a matter of want-to," tackle Donovan Smith said. "Mano y mano and man to man, we've got to out there and get that yard no matter what, whether they have all 11 in the box or six in the box. Regardless of what they do, we've got to get that 1 yard."

Of course, the Bucs entered the game as the league's worst rushing offense and managed to produce just 46 yards on the ground, well below their 67.5-yard average. Fournette was held to 19 on eight carries.

The Bucs attempted to make some changes to their lineup. While struggling rookie Luke Goedeke started the game at left tackle, he alternated at times with Nick Leverett.

Goedeke, who injured his right foot in the game and was in a walking boot in the locker room, was in the lineup during the failed short-yardage plays. "I was in on that series, and yeah, I mean, we just didn't get enough movement," he said. "Too much penetration. We just have to do better."

Goedeke took the demotion in stride. "I knew it the beginning of the week," he said. "I don't really think it had any effect on me, on my play or anything. Whatever the coaches want, that's whatever they want. I'm just here to play football and give it my all. If that's what they see is in the best interest with Nick, then that's what it is. I'm just going to do my job."

Leverett said he thought he played well. Given the Bucs' short-yardage failures with Goedeke in the game, he may earn more playing time or even a start Thursday against the Ravens.

"It's tough going in and out of the game like that. But I had to prepare all week for playing either guard spot or center," Leverett said. "When it was my time to play, I thought I went in there and played the best I could. But you always would prefer to be into the flow of the game as an offensive lineman instead of coming in cold. That's just the position I'm in right now."

What will turn the short-yardage situation around? "It's everybody doing their job," Smith said. "Paying attention to details, staying true to technique. All of those things. Everybody could help everybody."

Rick Stroud, The Tampa Bay Times, published 24 October 2022