Football is the ultimate team game. You know that. Therefore, behind every stellar individual performance, there is often a larger cast that helped make it happen.
Such was the case in running back Ronald Jones' 192-yard day in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers. Don't get me wrong, Jones had a lot to do with it. He still had to run and hit the openings given to him. Jones shattered his previous single-game high of 111 yards on Sunday and recorded the longest offensive score in Buccaneer history with his 98-yard touchdown run on a play that according to NFL Next Gen Stats was only supposed to gain four yards. Simple maths tells us that was 94 yards over expectation, which is the most of any play this season in the NFL.
After the game, Jones ended up paying it forward with the praise on his 98-yard house call.
"You have to thank the big boys up front for getting that push – make my job look easier, and [thank] the coaching staff, too, for believing in me and keep giving me opportunities," he said. "That's really what it really came down to. It felt good to get back in the win column."
Give me all the big-man love for this offensive line, which has been a top 10 unit all season. Upon further inspection, which we'll get to in a bit, not only was the offensive line helpful in getting Jones free on that 98-yard scamper, it was the two of the five starting offensive linemen that were either out of position or filling in for left guard Ali Marpet's absence that made the difference. That's right - the Bucs had their biggest rushing day of the season since Week Seven of 2016 with two-fifths of the line out of position. In a unit where continuity is king, that's no small feat. Starting center Ryan Jensen had been shifted to left guard, a position he hadn't played since he was a rotational guy with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016, while A.Q. Shipley was brought in at center. Shipley had been brought in midway through training camp and was already familiar with a Bruce Arians offense from his days under Arians in Pittsburgh while Arians was offensive coordinator of the Steelers and then again in Arizona under Arians as head coach. The guy he lacked a little bit of familiarity with was the guy he was actually snapping to: Tom Brady. But it still worked seamlessly, with Shipley changing out his sweat towel at halftime as told on the Pat McAfee show.
He only got yelled at by Brady once.
And he was part of a larger effort that gave Jones – and the Bucs – a career day on the ground. Here are some highlights.
2nd & 7 @ TB 28
In a game where the Bucs used a lot of 'heavy' personnel sets to help jumpstart the run game, they're relatively light on this play in 11 personnel with Rob Gronkowski as the tight end and Jones in the backfield offset to Brady's left. Gronk initially starts on the right side of the formation before motioning to the left. This takes the safety with him to the left side, which ends up helping out Jones.
Both Jensen and left tackle Donovan Smith pull across to the right side as the rest of the line blocks down. Jensen absolutely demolishes defensive end Brian Burns as Smith shovels the incoming linebacker out of the way, which creates a lane for Jones to squeak through. It results in a first down.
1st & 10 @ TB 25
The game itself was tied with the Bucs fighting to essentially make it a new game in the second half. They had deferred after winning the coin toss, meaning it was up to the offense to create the spark they'd need. And the first play of the second half belonged to RoJo, yielding a healthy six yards on first down. The Bucs are again in 11 personnel with Gronk attached to the right side of the formation. This time, Brady is under center with RoJo alone in the backfield directly behind him.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin motions inside the numbers and ends up providing the key block along with Gronkowski in helping Jones find a hole. How about Jensen taking on a double-team, too? Wirfs provides an excellent push here that gives Gronk space to move his defender in time for Jones to get through with his speed.
1st & 10 @ TB 2
The piece de resistance of Jones' 192-yard day. On a play where Brady was just looking for some breathing room being backed up at their own two-yard-line, Jones just shows off. This is the perfect example of how it may have taken others to help Jones out, but he still had to run. In this case, it was running 98 yards at a speed over 20mph, as he outpaced Carolina rookie safety Jeremy Chinn with a little help from the jumbotron. But check out what happens first.
The Bucs deployed one of those aforementioned heavier personnel sets, trotting out three tight ends and attaching them all to the line with Cam Brate on the left side and both Antony Auclair and Gronk on the right side. Godwin goes in motion from right to left behind Brady under center with Jones in the end zone. Despite having the extra blockers to the right side, Jones opts to shoot the open A gap behind Jensen, who has already climbed to the second level as Smith holds off the defensive end. Shipley has his man locked up and because Godwin motioned over, he had taken the linebacker that could have had a shot at Jones into a different gap. From there, it's just Jones and his speed as he blows past the Panthers' last level of defense for the score.