RB Michael Pittman has averaged nearly 100 rushing yards and more than one touchdown per game at home this year
Last weekend in San Diego, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded a season-high 436 yards of offense in a narrow loss to the Chargers. Only 63 of those yards, however, came on the ground.
That wide split was a function of several things, including the Chargers' second-ranked rush defense, the Bucs' confidence in their passing game plan against San Diego's secondary, and the need to catch up several times in the game.
This Sunday, the Bucs play the league's 32nd-ranked rush defense, and they hope to have more balance in their attack.
Even though they won in New Orleans in Week Five with only 81 rushing yards, the Buccaneers believe that it will be critical to get their ground attack going in this Sunday's rematch.
"It's important every week, because the run obviously opens up the pass," said right tackle Kenyatta Walker. "It's always good to be balanced. We're going to stick with it and go at it with [Michael] Pittman. It's a big thing in our offense to get Pitt going, and I like to see him when he's hot."
This year, Pittman has been particularly hot in front of the home crowd. In the five games he has played in Raymond James Stadium this year (he missed the home opener while serving a suspension), Pittman has averaged 96.6 rushing yards per game, chewed up 5.3 yards per carry and scored all seven of his rushing touchdowns.
That's encouraging, as the Bucs go for their fifth straight home win on Sunday. However, left tackle Derrick Deese said the venue shouldn't be a factor.
"Running the ball has nothing to do with whether you are at home or away," said Deese. "It is really a mindset and basically, dealing with the teams you are dealing with; what they give you, what you take, what plays break, which plays don't, whether or not you get ahead in the game, whether or not the game is close, whether or not you put yourself in a hole and you can't run the ball as much as you would like to based on that. You look at those kind of things."
Basically, Deese's argument is one of cause and effect. The Buccaneers are 3-0 this season when they run the ball at least 30 times and 4-1 when they gain at least 100 rushing yards. But are they winning because they are calling that many running plays, or are they calling more running plays because they're winning?
In the end, the Bucs don't care. They just want to be running the ball on Sunday, and running it effectively. That will probably depend on a fast start, such as the one they got against Atlanta two weeks ago but failed to produce in San Diego.
"If we get down 14 points or 17 points away, obviously we are not going to run the ball as much because we have to try to catch up," said Deese. "Time is your enemy at that point."
Clayton Wins Award
Despite breaking the Bucs' receptions and receiving yardage records, averaging more than five catches per game and leading all NFL rookies, running backs included, in yards from scrimmage, Michael Clayton went the first 14 weeks of the season without winning the NFL Rookie of the Week Award.
Well, he's on the board now, having edged out Detroit running back Kevin Jones in an on-line vote at NFL.com that attracted more than 34,000 voters. Michael Clayton is the NFL Rookie of the Week for the games played on December 12-13, it was announced on Friday.
Though he just got his first weekly award, Clayton should be a prime candidate when NFL.com holds a vote for the NFL Rookie of the Year Award at the conclusion of the regular season. His prime competitor figures to be Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is 11-0 as a starter and has won the weekly award eight times.
Clayton finished on top this week due to his nine-catch, 145-yard effort at San Diego. Those totals set new season highs for Clayton and, by pushing his season totals to 70 catches for 988 yards, made him the most prolific rookie pass-catcher in franchise history.
Clayton was initially surprised to be playing so extensively in his rookie season, but he has met the opportunity just as he thought he would.
"I never expected it would be like this, but mentally I prepared for it just in case," he said. "If it ever did happen, I was going to be prepared for it. It just worked out to my best interests that I was ready for the challenge. When Coach Gruden called on me, I was ready and prepared. It's just been great for me. Coach has been patient with me; I made a lot of mistakes early but I learned from them. Here we are now, all these games into the season and I've been doing a great job. I'll continue to stay positive, keep trying to take one game at a time and finish out the season strong."
Preparing for Rain
The Bucs had a uniform cloud cover and cool temperatures in which to practice on Friday…perfect football weather, in other words. That may not be the case on Sunday, however.
Preliminary weather reports have the Bucs suspecting rain on game day, so just to be safe the Bucs will be dunking footballs in barrels of water for Saturday morning's walk-through.
"We're going to obviously prepare for the rain a little bit," said Gruden. "That would be the first time for us in awhile. We'll use some wet balls tomorrow, take some wet snaps, make sure they're as secure as possible. [Equipment Manager] Tim Sain will have some nice gear for us."
The quarterback obviously has the most difficult adjustment in inclement weather, but the Bucs are confident that their passer can handle a slick football. Brian Griese's winter experiences in college and with the Bronco should negate the effects of a little rain on Sunday
"Brian's had good experience with the wet, slippery football at Michigan and in Denver," said Gruden. "So he's confident. Obviously, we've got to see what exactly the forecast says. We'll adjust if we have to."
Griese isn't just adept at handling bad weather. He likes it.
"Yes, it is a different game," he said. "For quarterbacks, it makes it a little more difficult to throw the ball, but at the same time, I think back to the old days when they played in any kind of weather, whether it was when it was lightning out or mud or blood, whatever it was, I think that is football weather."