RB Cadillac Williams turned in his first 100-yard game of the season on Sunday in the Superdome
With a rookie behind center on Sunday in the Louisiana Superdome, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew it was time to get their running game going. Lo and behold, the Bucs' rushing attack, led by Cadillac Williams in a more diverse game plan, was the most active and effective it has been all season.
Success on the ground didn't translate into a win, unfortunately, but it did help the Buccaneers turn in their best overall offensive performance of the season, prompting Williams to label it the first glimpse of light in the Bucs' early-season darkness.
"I won't say I'm excited, but I feel like I can see a light there in the tunnel," Williams said after the 24-21 defeat to the New Orleans Saints. "I definitely feel bad. It was a tough loss for us today, but what we did is we got down and didn't quit. We got the guys the guys up front to control the line of scrimmage. Bruce [Gradkowski] came in and did a heck of a job. The breaks just didn't go our way."
Not only did Buccaneers' running backs consistently find more running room on Sunday than in their three previous games, they helped Gradkowski in his first start by forcing the Saints' defense to respect the run. In total, the Buccaneers rushed for 187 yards on 33 carries, nearly as much as they had managed in their first three games combined. Williams gained 111 of those on 20 carries – his first 100-yard effort of the season after six such efforts last year.
The Buccaneers' commitment to the run was evident in their first drive of the game, a march that produced the team's initial first-quarter points of the season on an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Joey Galloway. On that six-play drive, Williams carried four times. His longest run, a 15-yard scamper from the Saints' 33-yard line, was followed by another run. It netted no yards, but as the fourth run of the drive, it kept the defense focused on Williams. A play later, Gradkowski looked left and found Galloway for the score.
"I think it was real important for us to get the running game going [with Gradkowski]," Williams said. "But you've got to tip your hat to Coach [Jon] Gruden, too, for his play calling. The way he mixed things up was really good today."
The Buccaneers' reinvigorated rushing attack Sunday was the product of several factors, including the presence of a mobile quarterback who scrambled for 19 yards in the game and drew defenders to him on numerous bootleg passes. There were also the heavy sets employed near the goal line that featured rookie first-round selection Davin Joseph at right guard, offensive linemen Cornell Green and Sean Mahan as tight ends and the bruising running of fullback Mike Alstott, who found the end zone Sunday for the 69th time in his career.
But the biggest factor Sunday was undoubtedly a game plan that relied on creating running room on the perimeter. Throughout the game, the Buccaneers experienced success running sweeps and stretch plays, particularly around left tackle. Several of Williams runs went in that direction, and Michael Pittman gained 27 yards on two carries on toss plays that got him to the perimeter. Even a reverse from Galloway to fellow wideout Michael Clayton attacked that part of the field, netting 27 yards.
"We tried some other things to get the running game going," said Gruden. "We tried to get the ball on the perimeter sometimes. The reverse worked. We tossed the ball repeatedly today trying to make the defense a little bit more accountable. We did have some good perimeter running today. Carnell Williams is just a great back and competitor."
Those stretch plays, Williams said, were effective because teams had been scheming to stop the power running game of the Buccaneers. Focused on stopping Bucs running backs between the tackles, the Saints defense was exploited by Williams and company along the edges.
"What Coach did was try to get me more on the perimeter," said Williams. "It was going to be a lot of toss plays, a lot of stretch plays where I could get out and run because, if you notice, everybody's been crowding up and attacking the middle."
It's quite possible that the Buccaneers' continued attack of the perimeter helped soften up the defense in the middle of the field later in the game. When Williams did run between the tackles in the second half, he was able to burst through the line of scrimmage on several occasions, and he did so as if he were on a mission, often running through arm tackles and leaving defenders in his wake. In the fourth quarter – a period in which Williams has traditionally been at his best – he struck the Saints with his longest run of the day, a 34-yard jaunt up the gut of the defense to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
"It felt good," said Williams of being out in the open field. "I hadn't had that feeling in a long time, and I've got to tip my hat to my offensive linemen. They basically created everything I got today.
"The guys came out and got great push up front. They definitely controlled the line of scrimmage and they gave myself, Pittman and some of the guys running room to do something."
Despite his personal success, Williams was clearly dejected at the loss, though he commended the team's collective character.
"Personally, this game was big [for me], but I'd be lying to you if I told you I felt good right now," Williams said. "All I know is we're 0-4, and no matter what I did, I just feel disgusted right now.
"We're not going to quit no matter how much we're down or what's going on. We're not going to quit as a ball team. And when we've got players who are not going to quit, a win has got to come soon."