An Important Red Zone Review

May 21st, 2024


It’s that time again. Let’s talk about the Buc running game.

Sorry to spoil your appetite.

It’s a sore subject with Buc Nation — and it should be. For each of the past two seasons, no NFL club has done a worse job on the ground than Tampa Bay.

There are plenty of culprits to blame, starting with an offensive line that hasn’t opened holes consistently. Rachaad White’s vision as a runner has been underwhelming and there hasn’t been much imagination in the play-calling.

That could change under new offensive coordinator Liam Coen, who craves an attack with some balance. Dave Canales also stressed balance and yes, even Byron Leftwich wasn’t thrilled when Tom Brady led the league in pass attempts in 2022.

Here’s the good news.

When the postseason rolled around, the 2023 Bucs were actually productive on the ground. They ran for 119 yards against the Eagles and 89 at Detroit, averaging a very healthy 4.7 yards per carry in the process instead of the 3.4 mark that frustrated Todd Bowles during the regular season.

White led the way with 127 yards in 27 carries. That’s a 4.7 average rather than White’s pedestrian 3.6 mark over the first 17 games.

Guess what? With an enhanced ground game, the Bucs averaged 27.5 points in the playoffs. Only seven times during the regular season did Tampa Bay top 20 points.

Coincidence? Absolutely not.

The Bucs didn’t surpass 22 first downs in a game while going 9-8. Then they registered 23 first downs in each playoff matchup. They topped 400 total yards against both the Eagles and the Lions.

Few quarterbacks can thrive without a running game that can at least make defenses honest. Baker Mayfield had a nice season, but let’s not confuse the man with Dan Marino.

If the Bucs can show the same progress on the ground they displayed in the postseason, this offense can take a major leap. Rookie center Graham Barton could make a big difference in that regard.

For those who say the NFL is a passing league, no argument there. But a robust run game offers real advantages … especially in the red zone. First off, it’s far easier to play pass defense when the field shrinks.

Bruce Arians’ Bucs had 15 rushing touchdowns in 2021. Tampa Bay had only 8 last season after just 5 in 2022, including playoffs.

“Generally speaking, the teams that are better in the red zone are usually teams that are better running it in the red zone,” says Sean Payton, who will lead the Broncos into Tampa in Week 3.

For each of the past two years, the Bucs have been awful when it comes to rushing touchdowns.

It’s nice when you have a Jalen Hurts or a Josh Allen to pad those numbers, but Tampa Bay simply has to do better.

The Bucs scored 8 rushing touchdowns last season. Only three teams had fewer. In 2022, the Bucs were last in the league with 5 rushing touchdowns. In the first two years with Brady under center, Tampa Bay scored 34 times on the ground.

There’s more.

In terms of red zone TD rate, the Bucs were at 48 percent last season, 27th in the league. In 2022, Tampa Bay’s 51 percent mark ranked 25th. In 2021, the last time the Bucs featured a decent ground game, Tampa Bay’s 66 percent TD rate in the red zone was No. 2 in the league.

You can’t argue with the numbers — improving this run game is a top priority. Maybe the No. 1 priority for Mr. Coen. Strong ground attacks help you close out games, convert short-yardage situations and reach the end zone when you’re inside the 20.

This problem has gone on for too long. It’s time to change the narrative.

Ira Kaufman Fires Off Sage Schedule Wisdom, Takes A Fresh Look At The Bucs’ Pass Rush & More

15 Responses to “An Important Red Zone Review”

  1. D-Rok Says:

    Great article, thank you. Ira, do you think our O line is better on paper right now vs. last year?

  2. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    There was nothing more infuriating than seeing us call a run play up the middle every time we reached the red zone……stuffed….wasted down…..then a conversion short of the sticks and then another run stuffed or pass incomplete.

    This must stop…..

  3. Crickett Baker Says:

    Wow! What a great and well-researched article. Sure gives a lot to think about!

  4. 74 Bucs Fan Says:

    Baker lives matter. Run the ball!!

  5. robclwtr Says:

    Great Article Joe!

  6. Matt_PcAfee Says:

    Ira I love the data that makes your case, we have to get better. Nowhere to go but up!

  7. Show Me the TDs Says:

    Oooor, looking at the stats another way, the article proves the point that when you have a decent QB, the ground game improves.

  8. Joseph C Simmons Says:

    I love Ira but he used a lot of words to say “The Bucs need to improve their run game”.

  9. toad bowels Says:

    Hows the knee Ira?

  10. toad bowels Says:

    How is the hip, Ira?

  11. heyjude Says:

    Excellent and straight-forward analysis!

    Looking forward to what Coen has in stored for us. Optimistic that it is going to be a winning season.

  12. Defense Rules Says:

    Excellent article Ira! Seems strange though that so many were on Bowles’ case because he wanted to do a better job running the ball in 2022 & 2023, and all we heard was ‘We’re a passing team; fire Bowles’. Now it’s ‘Hmmm, maybe we should try to do a better job running the ball’.

    Reality was that the Bucs sucked at running the ball in 2022 & 2023 because of our OLine, our RBs, and our OCs. That’s personnel, and that’s the hand Bowles was dealt. Fortunately we’ve (hopefully) improved personnel-wise this off-season and now have a chance to truly improve our run game.

    Of note BTW, Bucs play 5 of the Top-10 rushing teams from 2023 (Ravens, Lions, 49ers, Eagles & Falcons) in roughly the first half of this season. Our run defense also needs to improve if we’re gonna stand a chance of winning any of those games.

  13. garro Says:

    You sir are amazing!

    I did not realize that our Run game was that much improved late last year.
    Optimistic we can continue that improvement.

    Go Bucs!

  14. Fred McNeil Says:

    I am pretty sure our running game will be much better this year. I realize that’s not saying much. Middle of the pack would be wonderful.

  15. BillyBucco Says:

    Im pretty sure those stats point more to the loss of Jensen and Marpet retirement than a better QB.
    We WILL run the ball better this year. How much better is the question?
    I agree top 20 even would be an improvement.
    Regardless, if we can score 25ppg we are going to win some games.
    This defense will be so much improved on the back end.
    Stopping the run should be interesting. I didn’t like being #1 there AND being poor at pass coverage. Give me Top 10 in both.
    We are closer.