Grounding The Ultimate Air Show

June 20th, 2023

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For virtually all of last year, the Bucs found themselves running on empty.

When an 8-9 season concluded, Tampa Bay’s rushing game had landed in the NFL basement, looking up at 31 rivals. Poor efficiency on the ground was a major factor in a dysfunctional offense, leading to the departure of Byron Leftwich.

It’s a very new day in Tampa Bay, writes Ira Kaufman.

New coordinator Dave Canales made his bones in Seattle, where Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have traditionally featured a balanced attack.

Buc coaches emphasize offensive balance at the start of every season, but the metrics suggest that objective has proven elusive in recent years. Simply put, the Bucs have been pass happy since 2017, Dirk Koetter’s second year on the sidelines.

Here’s how Tampa Bay ranked in most pass attempts during the past six seasons:

2022: No. 1
2021: No. 1
2020: No. 6
2019: No. 4
2018: No. 4
2017: No. 3

That’s a whole lot of footballs flying through the air and only two winning seasons in that span.

It’s time for this ultimate air show to end. Whether it’s Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask under center, Todd Bowles wants to give opposing defenses a lot more to think about.

That doesn’t mean Canales is going to adopt a ground-and-pound philosophy.  Instead, the Bucs will be more committed to the run, especially if the results generate confidence.

“An improved run game keeps them (offense) on the field and gives us more time to get back together,” says new safety Ryan Neal. “Running the ball is really, really important. If you can’t move the ball on the ground, you can’t get nothing done in the pass game, either.”

Perspective from a new Buccaneer.

Neal was playing for the Seahawks last November when Rachaad White carried 22 times for 105 yards as the Bucs won 21-16 in Munich. It was one of only three games all season that Tampa Bay topped the 100-yard rushing mark.

“The feel I get – for me right now – to me, it’s just balanced,” says White, who enters the 2023 season as the primary back. “They harp on it all the time – Coach Bowles and obviously Coach Canales about, ‘You’ve got to be able to run. You’ve got to be able to do both.’ That’s the feel I’ve been getting honestly.”

To be fair to Leftwich, it’s not easy to stick with the run game when you’re constantly facing 3rd-and-7. The Bucs will feature an overhauled offensive line, banking on the return of feisty center Ryan Jensen. Bowles is hoping to set a nasty tone up front that will change the dynamic.

“Just the chemistry starting out — you want it to be different,” Bowles says. “I’ll be more confident once it happens in pads, but I see the cohesiveness coming together right now, so that’s a plus for us. Everybody is learning the same thing at the same time, so the communication has been good.”

Bowles selected Canales as his new playcaller, noting a change in scheme could result in a change in production.

“It could make a difference,” Bowles says, “but if somebody is taking away the run and we have to throw, we’re able to do that, too. We’d like to run it more – you say you want to run it more – but you have to take what the team is giving you to win the ballgame.”

When Mayfield led the 2020 Browns to an 11-5 record, he averaged only 30 pass attempts. in his three seasons with the Bucs, Tom Brady averaged 41 throws. In his final appearance as a Buccaneer, Brady threw 66 times against Dallas — the second-most pass attempts by any quarterback in a playoff game.

“We obviously have a lot of potential to be explosive, but it’s just going to have to be about taking care of the ball,” Mayfield says. “To me, it’s about just staying ahead of the chains and taking care of the ball, and good things will happen. I think everybody here will see the difference in the run game that we will be able to do and that truly will establish what this offense is about. I’m excited about that. I know the guys up front are, as well.”

Ira Kaufman, The Sage of Tampa Bay Sports, has been covering the NFL since the 1970s and hopped on the Bucccaneers beat in 1985. The Pro Football Hall of Fame representative for the greater Tampa region enjoys hot coffee, beet salads, tater tots, a good bagel, quality beach chairs, a well-executed screen pass and his iconic dog Cosmo.

15 Responses to “Grounding The Ultimate Air Show”

  1. dls5492 Says:

    Teams that run the ball and can stop the run are in a good position to win games. Love Coach Canales!

  2. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    Remember Chucky’s ” Pound the Rock”…..oh how I loved Chucky….put him back in the ring.
    Count TBBF among the surprised if we have a good running game this year…..the pleasantly surprised.

  3. Dooley Says:

    “An improved run game keeps them (offense) on the field and gives us more time to get back together,” says new safety Ryan Neal. “Running the ball is really, really important. If you can’t move the ball on the ground, you can’t get nothing done in the pass game, either.”

    That’s it right there, thanks Mr.Neal

  4. SlyPirate Says:

    Offense: Seattle vs Tampa
    Total Yards: 5,976 – 5,894
    Pass: 3,934 – 4,586
    Rush: 2,042 – 1,308
    Points: 407 – 313

    Seattle had slightly more yards with a 60% pass, 40% rush.
    77% of Tampa’s yards came from the pass.
    The result was Seattle scored nearly 100 points more.

    Take away: Don’t be one dimensional.

  5. Pickgrin Says:

    Evans and Godwin will combine for about 2400-2500 yards in 2023.

    The dedication to (and capability of) running the ball along with much better creative scheming will lead to both our stud WRs getting “open” more often and many more explosive plays than what we saw in 2022.

  6. destinjohnny Says:

    when you have awful line talent, do you really expect anything else?

  7. BillyBucco Says:

    Even ME13 said in Mini Camp, “Man I haven’t been this wide open in a minute.
    All those shots to a wide open Lockett in Seattle come to mind.
    I mean do we even know yet if Russell Wilson can play outside of Seattle?
    Sometimes a QB comes into the right situation and shine.
    Others become an afterthought.
    Let’s pray this offense is what Baker Mayfield needs.
    Also that Trask can develop in it if needed.
    I hope this is a permanent change and in 10 years we are still on a West Coast offense.
    Tampa won both championships with a solid defense either way and we still have a potential Top 5 defense.
    This team is hungry again and half the team knows how to win championships.
    Let’s enjoy the season and root hard.

  8. Crickett Baker Says:

    Bowels gives me little hope with more comments like “we gotta take what the team gives us”–how defensive-minded! Why in the heck do we have to wait for the opponents to GIVE us something?? And, Ira–“to be fair to Leftwich..” we wouldn’t BE in so darn many 3 and 7s if our offense was doing its job to begin with! I am so sick of wimpy Todd quotes. I keep thinking he will change this season but I see VERY little aggression in his talks.

  9. Fred McNeil Says:

    That was an exceptional column Ira.
    Excellent comments too.
    This is why this is my favorite Bucs site.
    And echoing everybody else: you don’t have to have a Ravens or Titans like run game. It just has to be effective and efficient.

  10. Crickett Baker Says:

    At least Jamel Dean talked about “creating opportunities”. I heard nothing like that from Todd.

  11. TombsEN Says:

    This article proves the Joe’s opinion that it was Bowles who changed the offense. They led the league in pass attempts they just weren’t good on offense, you can blame, BL, TB, an ineffective rushing attack as some of the main reasons why but I do not blame Bowles at all.

  12. Thisisouryear!! Says:

    I agree with several of the above comments. I think we’re being underestimated. Our defense should be solid and I think our offense is going to surprise a lot of people. I think Canales offense fits Mayfields strengths perfectly. The other thing I’ve thought about is how Geno flourished in that offense last year and Russel Wilson struggled terribly without it. Was it the scheme that made the Seahawk offense? I think it was and I think we’re going to see that here.

    And from the article yesterday that Brady was hiding flaws. He was hiding a broken down offensive line and SpongeBob’s ridiculous play calling all while he personally played the worst he’s played during his career. I think we’ve fixed the SpongeBob problem and if the offensive line gels- watch out. We could easily be one of the best teams in the nfc with our defense.

  13. AtlBuc Says:

    Mayfield doesn’t have a history of taking care of the ball.

  14. garro Says:

    I have heard all of this before from every head coach and OC since forever.
    Bottom line is execution. Gotta have the horses up front and the backs who can run.

    Go Bucs!

  15. geno711 Says:

    SlyPirate Says:
    June 20th, 2023 at 3:04 pm
    Offense: Seattle vs Tampa
    Total Yards: 5,976 – 5,894

    Ok let’s do the same for 2021 Seattle v Tampa:

    Total Yards 5506 — 6901
    Passing Yards 3432 — 5229
    Rushing Yards 2074 — 1672
    Points 395 — 511
    Record 7-10 — 13=4

    Seattle 62 percent pass and 38 percent run.
    Tampa was 76 percent pass and 24 percent run.

    My thought is there are lots of ways to win in the NFL.