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« : December 04, 2012, 12:16:37 AM »

Bucs offense falling off pace set in win streak

Doug Martin has found little room to run and Josh Freeman hasn't had ample time to find his targets during back-to-back losses.

 By ERIK ERLENDSSON| The Tampa Tribune
Published:  December 03, 2012 - 7:26 PM


As teams continue to pile up points against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, the once-prolific offense capable of outscoring teams has suddenly been slowed.
Not that teams have shut down the Bucs offense completely – Tampa Bay has scored 20 or more points in nine consecutive games – but at key times the past two weeks, the offensive execution hit a lull. It has kept the Buccaneers out of the end zone and been the difference in two consecutive losses as their record dropped to 6-6 heading into the final four games of the season.
Some of that can be attributed to a makeshift offensive line that is missing Pro Bowl guards David Joseph and Carl Nicks, forcing position changes and turning reserves into regulars. Quarterback Josh Freeman has come under more pressure from opposing defenses and rookie running back Doug Martin has found fewer holes to burst through up front.
"We didn't play our best game up front this week, that's for sure,'' head coach Greg Schiano said Monday, one day after a 31-23 loss at Denver. "I don't think there are issues with them playing together as unit, (but) we've had where it's (not) been continuous smooth, even with the replacements. So, they'll keep fighting. It's a good group.
"I anticipate that this group will be ready to fight back and be ready to go on Sunday.''
In the loss at Denver, Martin was held to 56 yards rushing on 18 carries. It was the second consecutive week in which the rookie tailback was bottled after gaining 50 yards in a Nov. 25 loss to Atlanta. The past two games, Martin was held to 106 yards rushing on 39 carries.
"Just sticking to last game, Doug had 48 yards rushing in the first half against the (No. 9) ranked rush defense, so usually if the game remains a close game, those runs only get more, they don't get less as you wear people down,'' Schiano said. "So, I thought he was right on stride to have a nice rushing production day, but then we got behind three scores.
"So, from 18 minutes on, it was it was purely passing. So, you take away the prime real estate for rushing the football in the fourth quarter.''
That might be true, but Martin's average per carry the past two games is a paltry 2.7 yards.
"The last two defenses that we played are pretty good,'' wide receiver Tiquan Underwood said. "And we know we have to run the ball better. We just have to block guys up better and execute and we are looking to do that in practice this week. Hopefully, it will carry over into Sunday.''
With the running game stifled, that put the burden on Freeman to make plays in the passing game. To an extent, Freeman has been able to do that. But with opposing teams able to get a strong pass rush against Tampa Bay's offensive line, the Buccaneers quarterback has not had ample time on a consistent basis to sustain drives and get Tampa Bay into the end zone with the same effectiveness as during the team's four-game winning streak.
During Tampa Bay's recent 5-1 stretch, the Bucs averaged 34 points per game. In the past two losses, however, they averaged 11 points fewer while failing to score more than 23 points.
In the third quarter against the Broncos, heavy pressure by the Broncos defensive line forced an errant Freeman pass that resulted in a game-changing interception return for a touchdown by Denver's Von Miller. And though Freeman was sacked only once, the Denver pass rush disrupted the offensive flow.
"He was under some pressure, but I think he's doing fine,'' Schiano said. "We just have to continue to make everybody on the same page. When things happen, they happen quickly so you have to make sure everybody is on the same page – receivers, quarterbacks, line, running backs …the whole deal.''
To get back on the winning track, Schiano knows there are improvements to be made leading up to Sunday's game against Philadelphia. So, as the defense continues to give up points – an average of 26 the past seven games – the offense is going to have to go drive-for-drive with opposing teams to stay in the playoff chase.
Though the Bucs have shown some steady improvements each week, even with the many personnel moves necessitated by injuries on both sides of the ball, Schiano knows there is more to be made.
"As we enter game 13, this Philadelphia season, we have to make big improvements this week out on the practice field in order to come back and get a win this week,'' Schiano said.
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