TAMPA – Winning has a tendency to mask a lot of flaws, but not even their first win in more than a month could mask the fact the Buccaneers remain a very flawed team offensively.
In particular, it is the Buccaneers running game that remains flawed, and it appears to largely be the result of the poor play of the offensive line that it remains that way.
Though it’s been relatively strong as a pass protecting unit, the Bucs O-line has struggled all year to create openings in the run game and it was that way again during the Bucs 15-10 win over the Jets on Sunday.
The ran 31 times for just 90 yards, or 2.9 yards per carry during, their slump-busting victory when the best thing they did was break off a few sizable runs at key times.
The most notable of those was a 21-yarder by Charles Sims on a third-and-15 play in the fourth quarter, but for the most part, running the ball was yet another struggle for the Bucs.
It was such a struggle that after one of the many runs in which he was bottled up before he could even reach the line of scrimmage on Sunday, Doug Martin walked away from the pile just shaking his head.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was doing same after the game, except that he was shaking his head no, when it was suggested that the line play was largely to blame for the lack of an efficient running game.
“You guys always want to just go right to the offensive line,’’ he said. “And some of (it is on the line), but there are tight ends and wide receivers and a quarterback involved in there, too.’’
That’s a good point but most of the problems the Bucs have had with their run game have begun long before the tight ends and wide receivers even have a chance to get involved.
Remember, it was only a week ago at New Orleans that the Bucs running backs actually gained more yards after contact (49) than they gained officially (41), which only happens if they’re constantly being hit behind the line of scrimmage.
Now, that may be a result of the play of the quarterback, who can audible in and out of run plays, but what’s more likely is that lineman aren’t getting the right assignment or they’re blowing their assignments.
Either way, it’s up to a lineman, usually the center, to make sure everyone knows who they’re supposed to block and finally it’s up to each lineman to carry out his specific blocking assignment.
More often than not, that’s where the breakdowns appear to be because once again on Sunday, the Bucs failed to run the ball effectively between the tackles, where the assignments are pretty simple.
Martin, for example, ran 13 times between the tackles against the Jets. He gained just 25 yards on those plays, according to Pro Football Focus, which also noted that Martin gained 38 yards after contact.
For a player who gained just 51 yards total (on 20 carries), that’s a lot of yards after contact, and that’s a sign that Martin isn’t getting much help, which is something even Koetter can’t deny.
“No, we’re not where we want to be,’’ Koetter admitted of the run game. “Our run game is still not where it needs to be. We’re not explosive enough in our run game, but we’re not going to quit trying.’’
The Bucs tried just about everything on Sunday. All four of the backs who dressed for the game touched the ball, but only Sims averaged more than 4 yards per carry, gaining an average of 6.7 on three touches.
But one of those was that 21 yard gain. Take that away and Sims gained minus-1 yard on his other two carries, which tells you something. What it tells you is this team’s run game remains flawed. Flawed indeed.