A common refrain during the Bucs 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys was the lack of playing time for Giovani Bernard. In a game in which the Bucs threw 50 passes to 14 runs, the script seemed to be tailor-made for more reps for Bernard.
That feeling only intensified when Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette hearkened back to 2020 with back-breaking mistakes in key moments. Jones fumbled a first down carry after a Cowboys missed field goal, giving Dallas a short field for a touchdown drive. On the very next offensive play for the Bucs, Fournette dropped an easy screen pass that deflected for an interception.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: USA Today
But when asked if he saw more opportunities to get Bernard involved when reviewing the tape, Arians was quick to reject the notion.
“No. He’s our third down back and two-minute back,” Arians said. “No. Not at all.”
Considering Jones “struggled mentally” to get over his fumble, per Arians, perhaps the team should consider using their safest back more often. When Jones didn’t return to the game, the team was forced to rely on Fournette the rest of the way. The passing game has always been an adventure for Fournette, who led the NFL in drop percentage last year.
“Very average,” Arians said when asked to assess his running backs performance in the passing game. “We dropped a screen pass for an interception. We don’t like to throw to running backs if we don’t have to. They’re checkdown people. We don’t bring backs in here to throw them a hundred passes. We got enough guys outside to throw a hundred passes to.”
However, a quick examination of the tape shows a couple designed passes to Fournette, one of which was the drop resulting in a turnover. Yet Bernard played just 17 snaps to Fournette’s 42 on the night. Bernard also finished the night with two catches for 12 yards, while Fournette had five catches for 27 yards.
If the Bucs are looking to improve on the performance of their backs in the passing game, playing Bernard more would help. Also, is Bernard so unimpressive as a runner that he can’t match Fournette’s 3.6 yards per carry?
Bernard is never going to be the feature back in Tampa Bay, and that’s ok. But what has Fournette done to earn the lion’s share of the work if Jones is mentally hung up? If the Bucs want more reliability and playmaking from the position, playing Bernard more often is the answer. Hopefully it doesn’t take more mistakes from Fournette and Jones for the coaching staff to see that.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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