Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Hit Peak Run Efficiency Versus Bears

Tampa Bay's best rushing effort of 2021 included a very high percentage of 'successful' plays and 10-plus-yard jaunts, and only ran into trouble when it got close to the goal line

Tom Brady threw for a season-low 211 net passing yards in Sunday's 38-3 steamrolling of the Chicago Bears but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense still produced its fourth 400-plus-yard outing of 2021. The Buccaneers didn't really need anything more from Brady – he did throw for touchdown passes, of course – because their running game was the best it's been all season.

"Oh yeah, I think our run efficiency was way over 70% until those plays down there in tight in the late third quarter," said Head Coach Bruce Arians on Monday. "I thought the backs all picked the holes really well, all three of them, but our offensive lines and tight ends just did a heck of a job blocking that unit."

Indeed, Tampa Bay's offense, which is justifiably known for Brady and his merry band of pass-catchers, was highly efficient on the ground Sunday, other than when it neared the goal line in the second half. The Bucs ran for a season-high 182 yards and averaged a season-best 5.9 yards per carry. It's the most rushing yards the offense has produced since a 210-yard outing at Carolina last year, but that one memorably featured a 98-yard touchdown sprint by Ronald Jones. This time, the Bucs beat the Bears with a million small and medium cuts.

A run play is considered successful if: 1) It gains four or more yards on first down; 2) It gains half or more of the yards necessary for a first down on second down; or, 3) It produced a first down on third or fourth down. The Bucs ran 31 times against the Bears, and by those measures they were successful on 21 of them. That may not be the same criteria that Arians is using to rate the team's running efficiency, but it produces almost the same answer: 67.8%. The Bucs used that efficiency to pull away from the Bears early, scoring all but three of their points before halftime. Of their first 14 runs, 13 were successful.

And these were not all four and five yard runs, as pleasing as those are, particularly on first down. The Buccaneers ripped off eight runs of 10 or more yards in the game, three each by Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones and one each by Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Jaelon Darden. Darden's 11-yard gain came on an end-around, but that's the only carry in the game that wasn't by a running back. There were no QB scrambles to pad the stats.

That's an uncommon occurrence for the Buccaneers. Before Sunday, the most carries of 10-plus yards they've had in a single game since 2017 was five. The last time they had even seven in one outing was in 2013 at Seattle. And the last time they had more than eight carries of 10 or more yards in one contest was at Oakland in 2012, which was the famous Doug Martin game. The Bucs broke off nine double-digit carries in that one, but even then two of those were Josh Freeman scrambles.

If Arians had any gripe about the rushing attack on Sunday – and it's a very mild one after a 35-point win – it was the two sequences inside the Bears' five-yard line in the second half that resulted in a total of three points. One the first one, Jones got the ball from the two-yard line on third-and-goal and gained just one yard, after which he tried another dive over the top on fourth-and-goal and was stopped, losing the ball in the process. A few minutes later, the Bucs were back at the Bears' one-yard line but Fournette was trapped in the backfield for a three-yard loss on first-and-goal. Of the Bucs' 10 runs that were not 'successful,' four came from inside the 10.

"Yeah, for us it's finishing," said Arians. "Offensively, we ran the ball probably the best run-efficiency we've had until we got to the two and we allowed penetration a couple times on basic plays. We went no-huddle on one of them but it's still a base play and we should never allow that much penetration."

All of which led to a day in which Brady did most of his damage around the end zone – all four touchdown passes were shorter than 10 yards – and got to rest on the bench for the last eight minutes of the game. When he was in the game, Brady was notably not sacked and only took one hit from a defender the entire game. Obviously, the combination of 182 rushing yards and zero sacks means Tampa Bay's offensive line had another outstanding game.

On Monday, Arians was asked specifically about a perceived lack of attention being given to center Ryan Jensen, but he widened his answer to include the entire offensive line. That also includes left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Ali Marpet, right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Tristan Wirfs. In addition, Josh Wells and Aaron Stinnie saw some action in jumbo packages. That group has enjoyed great continuity this season, with all five starters available for every game so far.

"I think Ryan, I think all those guys have all the respect they need from their peers," said Arians. "But yeah, the national media, for whatever reason…this offensive line is playing really, really well and knock on wood we stay healthy."

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