The Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit at somewhat of a crossroad heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Browns. Get to .500 and you’ll have something to build on or lose a fourth game in a row and your chances get very slim. One of the most important offensive tools for any NFL team is the running game. Having that balanced attack of passing and rushing the ball will keep opposing defenses from making a team one dimensional.
Even though Tampa lost to Atlanta this past Sunday, the Bucs finally had some resemblance of a run game. For this week’s roundtable discussion, Marc and I asked our writers the following question: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their best performance from their run game on Sunday. What was the difference from weeks prior, and why has Tampa struggled with running the ball?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were committed to running the ball on Sunday. As a result, they ran the ball efficiently and effectively. Running the ball is like chopping down a tree, you don’t chop a tree down with one strike. It takes continual chopping, but eventually, the tree will fall. In the first two games of the season, the Bucs were successful throwing the football.
In both of those games, they tried to run the ball in the second half to chew clock. It didn’t work because Barber never quite got into a rhythm. With that being said, the Bucs’ offense faced some really strong run defenses early on in the season. The Falcons were allowing 4.9 yards per carry coming into the game. This gave us a chance to see a glimpse of the Bucs’ running offense and what it can be. I hope to see it continue. The key will be staying committed to running the football. If the Bucs stay committed to running the ball the offense as a whole, will be much more efficient and explosive.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their most successful running game this past weekend against the Atlanta Falcons, but it might be a little fluky. The Buccaneers have barely been able to move the ball on the ground previously and this game may be more of a result of who they were playing, not what they were doing.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were ranked 30th in the league in running the ball before going against the Falcons, but Atlanta was ranked 25th in yards allowed. Barber saw an increase in touches and going against a depleted defense, an NFL starter is expected to show some improvement. The bonus yardage that the Bucs saw in their total rushing yards came from Jameis Winston.
Jameis averaged almost six yards per carry on five attempts, most of which came on the final scramble. Winston, while not the most mobile quarterback, is more athletic than Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Jameis is smart with the ball, he could pick up a couple chunk plays every game with his feet. I don’t expect Tampa to have one player average more than 75 yards per game, but with a combination of Barber, Winston, and even Ronald Jones getting an uptick in carries, the team should average around 100 yards per game.
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense doesn’t improve, the Bucs may not even get the opportunities to run the ball( I.E Pittsburgh). I think the offensive line is gelling and the play calling might be better with Winston under center, but I don’t see this team finishing in the top 20 in rushing yards per game.
In Atlanta, it was nice to see Peyton Barber look like the same guy we saw in the preseason. Without a doubt, Sunday was the best rushing performance we have seen this season from the Bucs. The Falcons have a pretty porous run defense and Barber had no trouble finding running lanes. The Buccaneers should have similar success this week against the Browns as they are worse than the Falcons. When playing against better defenses I don’t have much faith in the run game and I think the reasons are twofold.
So far in the 2018 season, Monken and Koetter haven’t exactly been great at being committed to the run. Some of this could be a result of the team falling behind often and early. The running game typically gets stronger later in the game and it’s on Koetter and Monken to put the team in a better situation to succeed in the run game.
While the pass blocking has been decent this season, the run blocking has been less than adequate. More specifically, the right side of the line has been bad. Caleb Benenoch has been a liability at right guard. Dotson has been just average at right tackle. Both of these spots need to be upgraded if the Bucs wish to be dominant in the run game. Without an upgrade in the foreseeable future, the Bucs will continue to struggle to run the ball.
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Several factors contributed to the success that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had running the ball on Sunday against the Falcons. The biggest factor was the presence of Jameis Winston. When Ryan Fitzpatrick was quarterbacking the first few weeks of the regular season, teams were forcing him to throw the ball. Opponents knew that Fitzpatrick has a tendency to make mistakes, so they were stacking the box in order to eliminate Tampa Bay’s rushing attack.
It almost seemed as though teams were okay with losing to a 400-yard passing game from Fitzpatrick rather than a 100-yard rushing game from Peyton Barber because other teams did not believe that Fitzpatrick still had the ability to throw for 400 yards in a game. With Winston returning and the Falcons knowing that Winston has the ability to shred their defense, the Falcons played more coverage, which opened holes for the running game. Linebackers spent more time dropping back than they did rushing the passer and clogging up running lanes.
Another factor that contributed to Tampa Bay’s success running the ball in week six was their opponent. The Falcons played without Grady Jarrett (their best run-stopping defensive lineman), Deion Jones (their best linebacker and playmaker), and hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal (their best defensive back). The Falcons have struggled to stop the run all year. They are currently allowing 5.1 yards per carry to opposing running backs and 121.7 rushing yards per game. I expect the running game to continue to be successful this week against the Cleveland Browns as they are allowing 138.2 rushing yards per game to opposing offenses.
The reasons why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled to run the football has to do with the way their team is built. The Bucs have an offensive line that, as of late, has strived at pass protection. They can run the ball against a balanced defensive front, or when the number of personnel in the box is in their favor. But, when defenses load the box with extra defenders, the Bucs’ run success is very slim
In their first two games, the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles defenses opted to load the box to stop the run. The Bucs had limited running success, but they countered with explosive plays in the passing game. Looking back at the ensuing games versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Bears, the defenses adjusted to pass and put two safeties deep. Thos were the only times the Bucs needed to depend on the running game. Because of underwhelming first-half performances from their backup quarterback and the less than stellar defense having Tampa down early on, the Bucs were forced to abandon the run early.
The Bucs had their best rushing performance of the season against Atlanta. They totaled 123 rush yards and 82 came from Peyton Barber. I think their success came from Atlanta’s defense being light up front and from their patience with the run. The Bucs offense kept the score close enough so they didn’t have to abandon the run like they did in previous games.
Conventional wisdom says that if a team has a backup quarterback, make him beat you. No one expects a quarterback to come in off the bench and throw it all over their defense. Thus, shutting down the run is a top priority.
I believe that had a lot to do with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early struggles running the ball. Defenses key in on stopping the run and took their chances against Ryan Fitzpatrick beating their secondary. Now with Jameis Winston back in the lineup, opponents know that the Bucs have one of the most dangerous and explosive passing attacks in the game.
Stopping that has to be the priority.
This means shifting the focus from stopping the run, to dropping more guys into coverage to slow down the passing attack. We saw that in full effect on Sunday against the Falcons. Linebackers were much less aggressive to step up versus the run because they had to sit back a bit and make sure that they weren’t burned by the play action, which Winston is very effective at using to his advantage.
I expect Peyton Barber and the rushing offense to have more success in the future with teams forced to control the line of scrimmage with just the defensive line and not being able to consistently blitz the linebackers.
While Tampa Bay’s rushing attack was more present against the Atlanta Falcons this past Sunday, it still is not a consistent factor in their offensive scheme. Head Coach Dirk Koetter likes to run the ball in his offensive scheme which allows for the play action to be a weapon for his quarterback. History has shown us that Jameis Winston biggest strength is the play action pass and a balanced offensive attack, more times than none, wins football games.
Looking back at the rushing performance from Sunday displayed signs of improvement in not only the actual running of the ball but also the blocking up front. Minus a few blown blocks by the guys up front, the offensive line was aggressive in the aspect of keeping running lanes open enough for Peyton Barber to run through.
Now looking at what Atlanta did, their defensive woes were on full display on Sunday, especially in their front seven. Missing key players along the defensive line and their linebacker corp have been sorely missed. With such a banged up front, was Tampa’s running game really that much better than weeks prior?
I don’t believe so.
Jameis Winston directly affected the run game with 30+ rushing yards due to his escapability and missed blocks from the offensive line. The Bucs need to show more consistency in their run game before they are taken seriously as a complete offense and not just a passing offense.