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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Will "Continue to Grind" in Run Game

Though they currently rank last in yards per carry, the Buccaneers are determined to make the ground game work and are looking for improvement from both the blockers and the ballcarriers

TAMPA, FL - September 25, 2023 - Running Back Rachaad White #1 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs lost the game, 25-11. Photo By Doug DeFelice/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
TAMPA, FL - September 25, 2023 - Running Back Rachaad White #1 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs lost the game, 25-11. Photo By Doug DeFelice/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished their 25-11 loss to Philadelphia on Monday night with 17 carries for 41 yards, which was a departure from their ground-game efforts in Weeks One and Two, by volume at least, if not necessarily by efficiency. The Buccaneers ran 33 times for 73 yards in their season-opening win at Minnesota, then 34 times for 120 yards in their victory against Chicago the following weekend.

Game situations obviously had a lot to do with this. The Buccaneers were leading or within a score for every minute in those first two games, but they got down 20-3 to the Eagles by the midpoint of the third quarter. And there was a stark difference in overall offensive volume on Monday night; after running 68 offensive plays in each of their first two games and compiling an average time of possession of 33:18, the Bucs only ran 44 total plays against the Eagles and had the ball for just 21:05 of the 60 minutes.

What is a bit more concerning is the team's average output on those carries. The Bucs averaged 2.2 yards per carry in Week One, 3.5 in Week Two and 2.4 on Sunday night. Both Head Coach Todd Bowles and Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales have explained that this is not always the best indicator of whether or not the run game is producing the desired results; if the Bucs are picking up four or more yards on at least half their carries and rarely losing yards on a handoff, they are often doing enough to support the rest of the offense. That was the case in the Week One win over Minnesota.

Still, the coaches can't be pleased with the team's 32nd-ranked average of 2.79 yards per carry so far. The Buccaneers ranked last in that category last season, too, and in rushing yards per game, and often didn't try to get it going. They called the fewest rushing plays in the NFL, about 23 per game, while Tom Brady broke the NFL record for most pass attempts in a season. The Bucs are determined not to go that route again, and it shows in the play-calling so far. Tampa Bay is tied for 11th in rushing attempts per game and tied for 24th in pass attempts per game. They are going to continue to pound away, though a different mix of play-calling, particularly on first downs, might lead to a more effective offense.

"I think people load up when they see certain things," said Bowles. "Maybe we start out passing a little more and open it up a little bit later, but we've got to block it better. We've got to continue to grind it. You don't want these guys [pinning] their ears back and trying to come after Baker [Mayfield] like that. We've got to do a better job of executing – it's really that simple."

Second-year back Rachaad White took 14 of the team's 16 handoffs on Monday night (there was also one Mayfield scramble) and often seemed to be playing the patience game, a la LeVeon Bell, waiting for holes to appear. That style can certainly work, and White has done it before, but it wasn't effective against the Eagles' extremely talented defensive front. White and Tucker were hit behind the line of scrimmage on more than 60% of their carries on Monday night, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Obviously one of those was on a White run that resulted in a safety when he was overwhelmed several yards behind the line.

"We've got to stay on our blocks a little longer," said Bowles. "Obviously, it goes hand in hand. Rachaad has to hit it. I think he tried to make too many big plays when it was a grind-it-out type of game. You're not going to get big plays on these guys. You've got to start hitting it up in there, getting two, three, and four yards and hope you can break one later on. He probably had too many cuts trying to make an explosive play – something out of nothing – as opposed to taking what they give him. Given the magnitude of the game, knowing it was going to be one of those types of games, just from an experience standpoint he can get better that way and he will."

The Eagles came into Monday's game with the number-one ranked rush defense in the NFL, allowing just 52.0 yards per game, and they are still in the top spot. The Bucs will try to get their ground game back on track next Sunday in New Orleans, but it won't be easy. The Saints rank 10th in rush defense, allowing 99.7 yards per game. No matter how stiff the challenge, though, the Bucs are going to continue the grind.

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