Change, Trust & The Running Game

May 3rd, 2019


It’s time for a rush to judgment around these parts.

Somehow, some way, the 2019 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have to construct a credible ground game. It’s been missing in action since 2015, when an offensive coordinator named Dirk Koetter orchestrated a well-balanced attack that set a franchise record for total offense.

Doug Martin ran wild and Charles Sims excelled in a backup role, easing the burden on rookie quarterback Jameis Winston. The starting offensive line, from left to right, was Donovan Smith, Logan Mankins, Joe Hawley, Ali Marpet and Gosder Cherilus.

That’s two rookies (Smith, Marpet), two linemen older than 30 (Mankins, Cherilus) and a journeyman center in Hawley. The 1973 Dolphins, they were not, but they opened holes — and opened Koetter’s playbook.

So here we are four years later, with a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a run-game coordinator all fixated on restoring balance to an attack that has been out of whack since Koetter was bumped upstairs into a bigger office.

Very few teams run more often than they pass anymore. That’s a fact and you can’t argue with the way this league is trending. But that hardly means a robust ground game is no longer necessary to thrive.

Championship Formula

New Bucs running backs coach Todd McNair

From 2014 through 2016, the Saints reeled off three consecutive 7-9 seasons. Drew Brees, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, was under center and healthy, but the defense and run game were subpar.

The addition of Alvin Kamara, a third-round pick out of Tennessee, had an immediate transformative effect on the franchise as he averaged a stunning 6.1 yards per carry and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. And without the crazy Minnesota Miracle, those 2017 Saints would have advanced to the NFC title game.

Look at New England’s championship run last season.

Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback in league history, but the Pats averaged 38 rushing plays per game in the postseason, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and dominating time of possession.

“I think you do have to run the ball in this league,” Byron Leftwich said during his introductory press conference. “You watch these games … late-December football, January football, you’ve got to have the ability to run the football.

“Guys throw the ball around, but as you guys watched [in the playoffs], they’re turning around and handing that ball off because it’s extremely important.”

If it’s all about Winston and this is his football team, developing a better ground game must be a top priority. The numbers are the numbers.

Since Winston came aboard in 2015, the Bucs are 0-11 when attempting 20 or fewer runs. In that same span, they are 16-1 when running at least 30 times.

Fixes, Trust & Blame

Belted early and often

Yes, part of that disparity is due to falling behind early and abandoning the run, but the Bucs would have undoubtedly called fewer passes if they had a more efficient ground game. Although Tampa Bay’s offensive line was remarkably healthy last fall, Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones were hit in the backfield far too often.

Too many breakdowns, not enough breakouts.

Blame it on poor technique or lack of physicality, but the group up front has to take a major step forward. A solid run game will make Winston’s play-action come to life and keep the Buc defense refreshed.

In Arizona, Bruce Arians was blessed with a veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer. Those Cardinals threw the ball all over the field because Arians trusted Palmer to make the right reads and deliver on time.

Winston has to earn that trust.

He’s not a rookie, but Winston has much to prove to a new coaching staff and an ambivalent fan base.

“If I’m a GM and I have a top young quarterback,” Arians said, “the first thing I’m investing in is the offensive line. Not receivers, not running backs. I want an offensive line that can protect this guy a little bit. And then try to run the football and let him learn to play third down.”

Allow me to translate: if you can’t run in this league, you can’t hide.

Or win.

Ira Kaufman began covering the NFL as a New York Giants beat writer in 1979. He arrived on the Buccaneers beat in 1985, Finally, the corporate leash was removed from his neck when he joined in July 2016. The award-winning Ira Kaufman Podcast fires twice per week, and Ira’s columns appear thrice weekly, except when Ira is on special assignment. Tampa Bay’s only Hall of Fame voter also is a popular guest on various national radio and on local TV. He’s also co-host of TAMPA TWO at The Identity Tampa Bay, which returned to its regular format in March.

20 Responses to “Change, Trust & The Running Game”

  1. Rod Munch Says:

    Dirk was insanely predictable in the run game, that’s a huge part of why the run didn’t work. He had all sorts of tells, with the biggest being in the first half of games where if he wanted to run on 1st down, he’d come out under center, then instead of using the PA pass if he wanted to throw, he’d go to shotgun. Literally every time. He’d eventually use the PA pass in the 2nd half, maybe, but by that point the defense normally had the team down by 20 and the running game had been abandoned so it didn’t matter. Anyways if I could sit at home and correctly predict not just run/pass, but what direction and depth, what do you think defensive coordinators were doing? Just mix it up, don’t be ultra predictable, don’t have obvious tells and you’ll see a big improvement.

  2. destinjohnny Says:

    After 6 Jason drafts this is our backfield……. Is anyone truly stoked or am I just missing something?

  3. Todd Says:


    Can’t wait to play Dirk. Bowles will filet his predictability.


    I’m stoked! Was a little pissed, though, when we didn’t pounce on UDFA Devine Ozigbo. I would have drafted him in round 6 or 7.

    I suspect we’re far from done in building our roster.

  4. Defense Rules Says:

    Coach Arians … “If I’m a GM and I have a top young quarterback, the first thing I’m investing in is the offensive line.” Aah yes Ira, BA certainly does have a way with words. Now Joe will be reading into that … “See, it says right there that Bruce Arians wanted to FIX THE OLINE but Jason Gump screwed the pooch in this draft”. After all, if it was up to BA, we would’ve obviously drafted at least 3 OLinemen instead of CBs. Hmmm, and yet we didn’t. Strange, very strange.

    Actually Ira, your BEST LINE IMO was … “A solid run game will make Winston’s play-action come to life and keep the Buc defense refreshed”. IF we expect to win more games, we’ve GOT TO FIX THE RUNNING GAME. If for no other reason than that it eats up the clock, whereas dropped passes kill it (and potentially the drive of course).

    Since 2015 our Time of Possession (TOP), excluding OT, has hovered around 30 mins/game … 2015 – 28:33 TOP (#26 in NFL); 2016 – 30:48 TOP (#8); 2017 – 29:43 TOP (#19); 2018 – 30:12 TOP (#16). That’d put us, on average, pretty much in the middle of the pack (#17 average). Not nearly good enough for a team with a marginal defense. Our best year record-wise (9-7 in 2016) also saw us with the biggest TOP (30:48 mins/game) AND giving up the fewest points on defense in that 4-year span. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

    You know who ranks near the top of that TOP list almost every single year? Yup … New England. The concept is a no-brainer: keep the other team sitting on the bench as long as possible and good things can happen. Like us scoring more? Like our opponents scoring less?

  5. kyle Says:

    i love all of the quotes from the new staff regarding how to build a team…

    Quoted above, “If I’m a GM and I have a top young quarterback,” Arians said, “the first thing I’m investing in is the offensive line.

    Im scratching my head..he did nothing to address the line…lol They are selling the smith contract…

    i was very excited about the direction of the team, however, they seem to be disorganized in their messages to the public. Gm contradicts coach, coach contradicts current players, then the draft strategy completely defies all the bullspit we have been fed.

    there is no way we are competing for a wild card with the current roster. IMO, might as well tank for a college qb, on a rookie deal, and look to 2022.

  6. Todd Says:


    Disinformation is part of the strategy. I love the fact everyone is off balance. Once the final roster is set, you’ll see all the pieces fall into place.

    We’re going to go 10-6 and make the playoffs.

  7. Destinjohnny Says:


  8. kyle Says:

    @todd, love the optimism..go bucs

  9. 813bucboi Says:


    i agree…..10-6 with playoffs!!!!!!

    LETS GET IT!!!!

    GO BUCS!!!!

  10. JabooBuc Says:

    All you need to do is go back and watch FSU with JW win the NC in 2013. They had a great line with Freeman and Wilder in the backfield. Play action was deadly.

  11. geno711 Says:

    Cameron Brate is a problem for the Bucs this year. Dirk liked two TE’s – Arians does not. Brate has been an above average pass catching TE his whole career but last year was not as good as OJ Howard.

    Both Brate and Howard have been less then average running blocking TE’s. Arians likes tight ends that can block better.

    Brate has a 7 million dead cap if we cut or trade him. He has no dead cap next season. He will be gone after this season.

    I expect fans to be upset when Brate gets less time this year and we have a game where our offense did not look that good.

  12. Rod Munch Says:

    Todd – The only downside is that Dirk, in the both and not on the sideline, is a much better and different coach. In 2015 the Bucs mixed it up, once Dirk was burdened with being the HC and the OC and was on the sideline, it was basically a different offense. Yes, some of that had to do with Lovie being gone who demanded more balance, but I really think it had to do with preparation and Dirk simply not “seeing” the field well from the sideline. Personally I liked Dirk as the OC, he was just an awful HC and clearly it was too much for him to handle. I’d be careful on wanting to face him, it’s not like the Bucs had issues moving the ball and scoring points (remember the best Bucs offenses in history were under Dirk).

  13. TampaTown Says:

    Vegas set the O/U on the Bucs at 6 1/2. But I’m with you. Something has got to give! BTW- Ira took the under

  14. Zzbuc Says:

    I agree Munch…… I Think Dirk is an extraordinary OC who has no clue on defense an relieve on to Smitty and he will have to Leave with it for the rest of his life. I would also add, he has a very bad GM with no running game, with his best RB with serious personal issues, with a bad OL and with an errant QB……
    My respect for DK will be forever!!

  15. Petra...Sec147 Says:

    Jameis Cannot throw 30+ times I love him to death but that is a bad formula. we need that balance, run it 30+ and throw 20-28 range

  16. Defense Rules Says:

    @Petra…Sec147 … “we need that balance, run it 30+ and throw 20-28 range”. Agree totally with the need for BALANCE, but not the running it 30+ and throwing it 20-28 times a game. Bucs average in the range of 950-1050 plays per season on offense (1055 last season was our 2nd highest this century). That’s about 60-65 plays per game average on offense (minus a couple of sacks per game average in there).

    In our only 2 winning seasons in the past 10 (2010 & 2016), we had relatively high rush-to-pass ratios. In 2010 we had 431 rushes & 494 passing attempts, plus we took 30 sacks (955 total offensive plays). That’s 45.1% runs vs 51.7% pass vs 3.2% sacks (boo). In 2016 we had 453 rushes & 578 passing attempts, plus we took 35 sacks (1066 total offensive plays … most this century). That’s 42.5% runs vs 54.2% pass vs 3.3% sacks (boo).

    A good historical BALANCE for the Bucs it would seem would be around say 43% run, 54% pass, and expecting around 3% sacks (boo). That’s be an average of around 25-28 runs per game and 32-35 passes per game. The key IMO though isn’t so much hitting the numbers as it is using runs & passes in such a way that you keep the opposing defenses guessing … keep them off-balance. Predictability seems to be our biggest enemy. Well, that and an OLine that can’t run-block.

  17. TouchDownTampaBay Says:

    Lol @ Todd. Kyle there is optimism and then there is just not dealing with reality. This team will be lucky to have 5 wins. What pieces are going to fall into place exactly? Dotson and Cappa going to play lights out on the right side of the line? This line that can’t run block at all is suddenly going to figure it out? This team lost talent in the offseason and has replaced them with a WR that has been considered a complete bust up to this point, a 6th round WR that weights about 90lbs, and 17 CBs who are either busts to this point or rookies who were considered reaches when drafted. Oh, and one RB who appears to be a colossal bust and another who is mediocre at best yet many in Tampa appear to love this guy and those attributes. This team has last talent than last year when they went 5-11 and seemed to have one of the worst draft strategies in NFL history.

  18. AwShbucs Says:

    Rod Munch… one little issue with your Dirk in the smooth theory. In 2015 when Dirk was the OC only he still called plays from the field. I remember this because they would routinely show Dirk talking to Jameis and Glennon on the QB bench after drives.

  19. AwShbucs Says:

    Booth… stupid auto correct changing words for no reason..

  20. TOM Says:

    So instead of taking care of the OL, they draft 3 DB’s & a kicker. Way to go.