“Fistfight” Prep And A Run Game In Waiting

September 22nd, 2018


Another week, another stiff challenge for the grinders up front, the guys who make it happen for the NFL’s top-ranked offense.

You heard me correctly — No. 1.

Ryan Fitzpatrick deserves all the plaudits coming his way, but it doesn’t happen without the trench warriors. Those long completions don’t happen unless Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen. Caleb Benenoch, Demar Dotson and Evan Smith excel in the protection racket.

Tampa Bay’s ground game may be struggling at the moment, but those concerns have been eclipsed by a passing attack we’ve never seen in these parts.

The Bucs’ O-line

And it’s not like the offensive front has had it easy. Cameron Jordan, Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett are among the NFL’s elite defensive linemen and here comes Pittsburgh’s T. J. Watt, who opened the season with three sacks against Cleveland.

And guess who’s waiting on deck? Jon Gruden’s blood brother, Khalil Mack.

First Look

The Browns and Chiefs shredded Pittsburgh’s blitz-happy defense, but the 3-4 alignment is designed to cause havoc.

“That scheme’s been around for a long time and it still works in the NFL,” says Evan Smith, who has been spelling Benenoch at right guard.

“It’s going to be a fistfight of a game. They’ll blitz you in run downs, they’ll blitz you in pass downs. They blitz more run formations than other teams, canceling gaps, guys running free.

“If you see it and you can catch them in it, you can get explosive plays. They’re there to be had, but everyone has to be on the same page … communication has to be at an all-time premium this week.”

Continuity always helps up front.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line is healthy, but there’s more to the script than the medical chart. The Bucs didn’t make a change up front last year through 11 games and nobody was gushing about a clean pocket.

August Extension

Signing Jensen as a free agent has already paid big dividends, shoring up two positions. He has added a nasty tone as the anchor while Marpet is mauling opponents at his natural guard spot.

Ali Marpet

“In the preseason, we felt we were playing at a high level,” Marpet says. “A bunch of us have been in this system for awhile and Fitzy has really been getting the ball out pretty quick. He’s having fun and we pick up on that. At the same time, our run game is not where we want it to be. We need to be better, cleaner technically.”

Watt has been very effective lining up wide on the left side of Pittsburgh’s defense. At times, Watt will be Dotson’s responsibility, but Tampa Bay’s tight ends will also be asked to slow J.J.’s younger brother down.

Give Buc running backs some street cred for helping out through two weeks. Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers have blocked effectively, giving Fitzpatrick enough time to find all those play-makers.

“I’m having a blast,” Barber says of the 2-0 start. “Our line is doing a great job protecting Fitz. As a back, I know my time’s coming.  I just have to be patient. If we stick to our game plan and we execute, I feel like we’ll have a big day, passing and running.”

Now in his 40th year covering the NFL, Ira Kaufman is the most revered sports personality and writer in the Tampa Bay area. He scored a full-time seat at JoeBucsFan.com world headquarters in July of 2016. Tampa Bay’s only Pro Football Hall of Fame busts out columns here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and his award winning podcasts fire Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can also hear Ira on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio Wednesdays at 5 p.m. Also a TV star, see Ira . Ira is part of the FOX-13 Tailgate Sunday NFL show at 10:30 a.m. He’s also on BayNews 9 Mondays & Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. He enjoys beet salads, Riesling, tennis, Bette Midler, Chiefs victories and needling Joe.

13 Responses to ““Fistfight” Prep And A Run Game In Waiting”

  1. Big Stinky Says:

    Nice article Ira

  2. Defense Rules Says:

    Fantastic piece Ira. That’s the first one dedicated solely to our OLine during this 2-game win streak & it really got me curious about how well our offense might perform against Pittsburgh. Their defense has given up a LOT of points (total of 63), but their offense has also scored a LOT of points (a total of 58). Sounds eerily like our Bucs team this year. Their 2 games were very much different however (just like ours?).

    Steelers were leading the Browns 21-7 with about 10 mins left in the game, but allowed Cleveland to score TWO TDs in the last 8 mins to tie the game (it ended in the tie). Steelers won convincingly in total yardage (477 yds total to 327 yds for the Browns) BUT lost big-time in 3 critical areas: (1) rushing … gave up 177 yds to Cleveland; (2) turnovers – Steelers committed SIX total turnovers to only ONE for the Browns; and (3) penalties – Steelers had TWELVE penalties for 116 total yds. TOP was almost exactly even, but the Steelers’ defense did sack the Browns’ QB (Tyrod Taylor) SEVEN times & held him to 15 completions on 40 attempts (for 197 yds). Looks to me like a TEAM that lost that game because it didn’t secure the ball AND played undisciplined football.

    Steelers were losing 21-0 to Kansas City at the end of the 1st qtr, but came alive to tie it 21-21 by the end of the half thanks to THREE passing TDs by Roethlisberger to 3 different receivers. Steelers then allowed the Chiefs to score 3 TDs (all from passing) in a 15-min span to give Chiefs a 42-28 lead before Steelers scored 9 pts in the last qtr to lose by the 42-37 score. A scary back-and-forth game that saw Pittsburg compile 475 yds of total offense (only 33 yds of which was from rushing), get 33 first downs, but only convert 3-11 3rd downs. Cleaned up their act though … had ZERO turnovers and only THREE penalties. Steelers won the TOP battle (32 to 28 mins) but gave up a lot of rushing yds (127 yds … 5 YPC average) to the Chiefs.

    IOW, Pittsburgh is a scary-good team, very much like our Bucs. Personally expect a high-scoring affair Monday night that could very much be back-and-forth. Even without Bell & (maybe) Brown, their offense is LOADED with ‘weapons for Roethlisberger’ (Conner, Jesse James & JuJu Smith especially). Expect a real dog-fight at the OK Corral Monday night.

  3. ATLBuc Says:

    I may be unrealistic but I think the defense will stiffen up this week and the game won’t be that close

  4. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    This should be a really great MNF game……I do believe it will be high-scoring and we will have our first INT…..

    We have to win the turnover battle and limit the sacks…..play a clean game with few penalties and we can win.

    Thanks Defense Rules for all the stats….that took you some time and I know most appreciate you for that.

  5. Dooshlarue Says:


    The Steelers and Browns tied didn’t they?

  6. ClwJB Says:

    Steelers have been gashed in back to back weeks in the run game – look for the Bucs to run the ball more often this week -also, they can’t cover a TE at all -look for OJ and Brate to both get lots of targets in the seams – Bucs win by 7 again – this season is sizing up nicely!! Go BUCS!!

  7. Tampabaybucfan Says:


    Yes they did and the Steelers are pissed…..

  8. TheBucsAnthem Says:

    This will be one of the hardest games all season long…..why???

    Cause the steelers are desperate for a win and you know what they say: “Desperate times calls for desperate measures”

    Mike Tomlin will pull out all the stops because they know that if they lose monday night that the steelers season is on life support

    It will be a slugfest and the last man standing will win the game

  9. FreeTheSecretWeapon Says:


    Barber says,


    I add,


    Super Bowl Super Bowl



    Pits…… Burg……

    Go Bucs

  10. BucNole Says:

    Agree this game looks like its gonna be a tough one for sure.
    Steelers are coming in like a wounded animal and will do anything to avoid going 0-2-1
    We must get off to a fast start and play sound Defense. . . oh yea, and run the ball to limit their opportunities.
    Both teams have big play potential

  11. Defense Rules Says:

    Dooshlarue … Yes they did, 21-21. But the Steelers were leading 21-7 until they let the Browns back in it with 2 TDs in the last 8 minutes. Sound familiar? (Similar to what we went through in New Orleans in the 4th qtr?).

  12. Mike Johnson Says:

    This will be a tough one. Pittsburg Media has called out the Steel Curtain. Saying this is a..Must Win for them. They will play desperate. Big Ben is a hard one to bring down. Defense must rise to the challenge.

  13. Alanbucsfan Says:

    Agree with Mike Johnson
    Bucs DL is banged up, Big Ben and Antonio Brown will be motivated.
    Will probably take at least 30 pts to win