General Manager Rich McKay meets with Tony Dungy and the rest of the Bucs' coaching staff after every game to discuss personnel issues
Two years ago, on the way to the 1999 NFC Championship Game, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ran the ball 502 times and dropped back to pass on 489 snaps. They were the only team in the NFC to run more than it threw.
Now, in the fall of 2001, the same man is at the Bucs head coaching helm and the same general manager is running the show, and Tampa Bay is second in the conference and third in the NFL in pass attempts, already tossing it up 406 times in 11 games.
In the two-year interim, there was no sea change in organizational philosophy, no cadre of speed receivers drafted, no brain transplant for the old-school Dungy. There's a new offensive coordinator, but he was promoted from within and had visions of a gigantic rushing year for RB Warrick Dunn.
Simply put, the Bucs' offensive coaching staff would love to be on pace for 502 carries again.
So, the fact that the Buccaneers are neck-deep in another frantic playoff chase while carrying the league's 29th-ranked rushing attack and the busiest quarterback in the league is a source of discomfort at One Buccaneer Place.
That topic got significant air time on the Pewter Power Hour Monday night, when General Manager Rich McKay and Director of Player Personnel stopped by to fill the guest seats for 40 minutes. As always, the guests on the Pewter Power Hour spent their time on the show speaking directly with Buccaneers fans across the nation, and the team's struggling run attack was topic 1A.
McKay made it clear that he agreed with Dungy's assessment earlier in the day that the Bucs would have to find some measure of ground efficiency to make their playoff chase a success. Ruskell spoke to the organization's run-dominant philosophy when preparing for various manners of player acquisition. Callers agreed that the issue demanded attention.
Bob from New Port Richey, Florida got the conversation, uh, running when he asked McKay if he regularly conferences with Dungy after games regarding the team's effort.
"We do," McKay answered. "We meet as a personnel department and a coaching staff in the afternoons after games and we try to break down, basically, position by position how did guys play? What is our injury situation? What is our thought process from a personnel standpoint for the coming week? Do we have to replace players? Does Tim have to go out and get us a new guard or a new linebacker or whatever?
"We don't sit there and talk strategy, necessarily, because really, strategy has always been left in the hands of the coaches. But we do talk about personnel and how they're playing and so forth."
What Bob really wanted to know, though, is how seriously the organization is taking the running-game problems. McKay left no doubt on that matter.
"With respect to the run game, if you're concerned about the run game, then realize we're concerned about the run game also," he said. "The numbers speak for themselves. We've not run the ball to the level we would like, or to the level we need to in order to be a, quote, championship team. The running game has been a big part of our offense for a number of years, and this year it just seems like we haven't been as effective and there are a number of reasons for that.
"Now, we have been effective throwing the football, and maybe that becomes something we'll have to do more of. But, as of this time, we're the leading pass-attempt team in football, so it's not that we need to start throwing the football more, we just need to start running the football a little more effectively."
According to Ruskell, the team has been constructed with that goal in mind. Ruskell was just elevated to his current position this summer after spending the previous decade as the team's director of college scouting. As such, he has spent hundreds and hundreds of hours searching for the type of players that could sustain the type of success Dungy has built in Tampa.
"You have to go in with a mindset that you want to know what the coaches want to do, what our scheme is and what our philosophy is," said Ruskell. "Then you want to get players that fit that scheme. So, yes, we go into the draft or free agency with the mindset that Coach Dungy and the coaches want to run the football – let's get offensive linemen that are going to be able to do that, in addition to their pass protection possibilities. Let's get running backs that are going to run tough and also be able to catch the ball and have vision to find the holes. You do go into the draft or free agency with that philosophy and every year you try to upgrade it as you go along."
The Bucs thus signed free agent QB Brad Johnson in the offseason not because he had a 4,000-yard passing season and a history in the Vikings' high-powered offense, but because he was uncannily accurate, and smart with the football. Even with the run game nearly stalled at times, the Bucs still want to play ball-control football, and Johnson has allowed them to do that many Sundays by completing 65.4% of his passes.
Tampa Bay's average time-of-possession of 31:58 per game ranks third in the league, behind only the top two rushing teams in the NFL, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
It's an issue because it's not by design that we are," said McKay of the Bucs' pass-happy attack. "We came into the season wanting to be a very balanced offense, if you will. But (Offensive Coordinator) Clyde (Christensen) has done a nice job of adjusting to what we're doing well, which is throwing the football and being effective doing it. Brad's completion percentage is quite remarkable when you look at it. And with 406 attempts, to only have seven interceptions, is also quite remarkable."
That being said, the bottom line is that the Bucs are still convinced they must improve tremendously on their 79.8 rushing yards per game over the season's last five weeks. McKay believes his team can accomplish that goal.
"Are we concerned about the run game?" asked McKay. "Certainly we are. When Warrick Dunn averages 2.8 yards per carry, you're not doing it the way you'd like to do it. But Warrick's been a little banged up, and I still say there's plenty of football left. Last year at this point, we really were not a very effective run team. We had struggled running the football and we hadn't run it a lot, then all of a sudden Warrick Dunn caught fire in the last five weeks and we really ran the ball. I don't want to say it's a closed chapter, but we haven't done it as well as we'd like."
In addition to this lengthy debate, McKay and Ruskell addressed a variety of other issues during their time on the Pewter Power Hour, answering fan questions on such topics as safety Dexter Jackson, the NFL's Competition Committee and its views on pass interference, rookie fullback Jameel Cook, kicker Martin Gramatica and how to get into the business of pro scouting.
You can listen to the entire audio results of McKay and Ruskell's appearance on the Pewter Power Hour by visiting the Pewter Power Hour archive. Inside the archive, you'll also find previous shows featuring such prominent Buccaneer guests as Dungy, Dunn, FB Mike Alstott, DT Warren Sapp, S John Lynch, CB Ronde Barber and others.
The Pewter Power Hour is broadcast live on Buccaneers.com every other Monday evening.