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After struggling to run the football for weeks, the Bucs’ 30th-ranked rushing attack exploded to life against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, propelling the team to a 46-23 victory and a 7-3 record.

How did it happen? Who deserves the credit for the sudden emergence of a Tampa Bay ground game that has averaged just over three yards per carry over the past three weeks of action before Sunday’s 210-yard performance against the Panthers?

Ronald Jones II will get most of the love, and he’s certainly deserving. The second-year running back made some great plays with the ball in his hands, just as it looked like he’d used up the last of his nine lives in a Bucs uniform after a fumble on the second play of the game. But a dominant performance by the Bucs offensive line and some wrinkles by the Tampa Bay coaching staff were key catalysts in opening things up for Jones’ big day.

One thing the Bucs consistently did was use motion in the run game, either to give them a play-side numbers advantage when the Panthers were in man coverage, or to force defenders to shift and still communicate and maintain proper gap assignments.

On this G/T Counter, the Bucs move tight end Rob Gronkowski across the formation to the backside, bringing the strong safety with him. Now they’ve got the numbers they want play-side to run this counter against the Panthers under front. Right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Tristan Wirfs maul the 3-technique, with Wirfs quickly working down to the backside linebacker.

On the pull, left guard Ryan Jensen is the kick out man, popping Brian Burns out just enough despite a solid box technique from the second-year edge defender. Because Wirfs has created such exceptional movement on the 3-technique, left tackle Donovan Smith has the hole he wants to work through to get the play-side linebacker and give Jones clear sailing to the second level. Textbook stuff by the Bucs offensive line.

Sidebar: I love G/T counter and wish the Bucs ran it more often.

The play below is a second-and-10 run, which I hate because statistics show it is one of the lowest percentage plays you can run in football. But the Panthers are totally unprepared for the run, with Jeremy Chinn as the lone linebacker in the box behind Carolina’s over front. The Panthers are thinking pass all the way here, as linebacker Shaq Thompson begins to flare to the flat and the play-side defensive end flies way up the field off the snap.

Even nose tackle Derrick Brown is lost, going from the playside A-gap to the backside B-gap as the Bucs interior offensive line rolls over top of his position to get playside. Chinn never steps up, making it an easy block for Jensen at the second level. Check out the numbers game pre-snap though: from the center over, the Bucs have three blockers for three defenders, which quickly becomes three over two once Brown is scooped by the backside guard (Cappa).

Those are the kind of numbers you want to run to, and that’s hard to do when every other run is in the A-gap. You don’t have to be an outside running team to not run up the center’s back every play. Some lateral flow in your run concepts can go a long way when trying to get the ball in the B and C gaps. These huge, eight yards on second down set up third-and-short on the Bucs’ first touchdown drive of the game.

But if Tampa Bay wants to truly get outside outside with its run game, the Bucs’ best shot has been this crack toss play that they’ve worked into the offense sparingly over the past few weeks. Motion by Gronkowski pushes the Panthers to call the strength to the tight end, and adjust their front late. They slide to an over front once again, which gives the Bucs more favorable angles play-side to make all of their blocks, especially if their wide receivers can hold up on the edge.

Many things to note here:

• The late rotation of the defensive tackles makes it easy for Cappa to work down to the second level and cut off the backside linebacker.

• Center A.Q. Shipley does an outstanding job to scoop the 1-technique and stay on him.

• Again, because of the motion and the Panthers’ late adjustment to their front, Jensen now has an open play-side gap and a clear path to the second level, where he perfectly picks off Chinn in space.

• Excellent work by the receivers on their cracks. Not looking to ear hole anyone or over-commit and pick up a holding flag trying to hang on for dear life, but rather just push those guys down the line of scrimmage or run them up-field, as Tyler Johnson shows by sticking on his man.

• Donovan Smith! A tackle being able to crush a cornerback in space like that is not easy, but Smith’s power and athleticism are on full display on this rep. He obliterates Panthers cornerback Troy Pride Jr., paving the way for a big Leonard Fournette gain on third-and-short.

The use of motion was huge for the Bucs’ run game on Sunday, catching the Panthers in a late shift of their front on multiple occasions. In the play below, Carolina again wants to play from that over front, but Brown, the rookie tackle, gets caught unprepared as he slides over to the 3-technique, allowing Cappa to knock him over and roll him up out of the gap.

The result is a massive hole that could bust open big-time if Fournette hits it on time, especially with Jensen doing a great job working to the second level and Mike Evans working down on the safety with a good block.

But, alas, Fournette’s vision remains a befuddling mystery, as he diverts from the open hole to cut this run backside into the only unblocked defender for a one-yard gain. It’s plays like this that make us understand why Jones is still the starting running back in Tampa Bay.

On Jones’ 98-yard touchdown, motion again destroyed the integrity of the Panthers defense. As wide receiver Chris Godwin comes across the formation to add another gap that the Carolina defense has to account for to the boundary side of the field, linebacker Tahir Whitehead moves with him to the strength of the formation. The result is 4-on-4 in the box from the center over to the tight end on the left side of the Bucs offense, which is the numbers you want to run against offensively.

Someone definitely messed up for the Panthers, but I’m not totally sure who it was. Someone smarter than me could probably tell you, but the fact that they are in two-high safeties against 13 personnel with the Bucs backed up against their own goal line, even if both defenders are rolled up a bit, is pretty questionable. Carolina should have gone single high safety and loaded up the box with an extra defender.

Simply put, everyone on the offensive line does his job perfectly here. Smith cuts off the 5-technique, Jensen gets to the second level, has nobody to block at first, then manhandles the strong safety buzzing into the box and Shipley handles the nose well enough.

Jones does a terrific job seeing the nose shoot to the opposite A-gap, working right downhill at the defender before cutting at the last moment. The vision, timing and footwork to hit this run perfectly by Jones is simply outstanding. Then he shows off the balance to make the free safety miss in the open field, and then it’s off to the races. You can clearly see the outstanding talent that makes Jones so alluring as a runner if he can ever iron out the inconsistencies and develop the rest of his skill set.

As the game went on, Jones’ natural talent began to flash more and more. The Bucs ran a counter play in the second half that Panthers linebacker Tahir Whitehead sniffed out wonderfully, but Jones still found a way to create a big gain.

The left side of the Bucs offensive line demolishes the right side of the Panthers defensive line, but because of the pile up, no one is able to get to the second level to block Whitehead. With Cappa pulling across to kick out the force defender, safety Juston Burris, Jones obviously wants to cut this run right in behind his guard. Whitehead’s presence causes him to commit a huge no-no as a running back on counter, bouncing outside the kicked-out defender.

It works, however, due to Jones’ burst and the fact that the Panthers have a safety setting the edge, who gets totally overwhelmed by Cappa’s block and can’t disengage. These are the rules you can break when you have Jones’ talent as a runner, and when the defense, well, sucks.

More creating by Jones late in the game. The Bucs again dismantle the Panthers front line, with Cappa knocking Brown to his knees again. But the Panthers’ run blitz from the backside causes another pile-up in the A-gaps, and nobody can get free to work to Thompson at the second level.

Jones simply makes the defender miss in the hole, bouncing outside of some quality blocks by Wirfs and Antony Auclair. Godwin gets enough of the cornerback to allow Jones to slip upfield for a big gain. It’s a team effort, but Jones’ ability to create when things break down is one of the characteristics as a runner that sets him apart from Fournette, even if that trait isn’t always on display.

Running for over 200 yards on an opponent in the NFL is always a testament to more than one guy, as the Bucs’ big victory over the Panthers has shown. The revamped Tampa Bay offensive line, playing without its best player in left guard Ali Marpet, got the job done in a big way and on a variety of different run schemes. A lot of credit goes to the coaches, who implemented motion heavily to confuse and disorient the Panthers defensive fronts, allowing the Bucs to run to advantageous play-side numbers on a consistent basis.

But Jones deserves plenty of love, too. On a day where it seemed another mistake might finally cost him further opportunities to prove his worth, the third-year back rebounded from an early fumble to put forth one the best performance of his young career. Jones may always be a maddening player, but on Sunday he was our maddening player, helping carry the Bucs to a crucial victory.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

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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TB2018
10 months ago

haha “second year running back”. guess we can forget about 2018? ;-)

DT25
Reply to  TB2018
10 months ago

In short, yes lol. Koetter never even bothered to attempt to develop or use Jones in his rookie season. As far as I’m concerned, Arians got a rookie RB last season that he has developed significantly in just 2 years.

fredster
Reply to  DT25
10 months ago

Yeah but I wouldn’t blame it all on Koetter although he wasn’t great “run” coach. Jones was too small first year, lacked confidence, and don’t forget with Dotson over hill there were no holes to run through for most part.

DerLutz
10 months ago

The NFL is a passing league but when you can run even the pass heaviest coach will do it all day long. Great job from all men.
Let’s see if the bucs can do it in other games as well and not only aganist the panthers

chefboho
10 months ago

I like fournette as a bruiser in the 4th quarter but his vision has always sucked. The fact that he missed that gaping hole you could’ve drove a truck through is telling. It’s something that he’s always struggled at. Hopefully Rojo keeps this up and takes control of most of the carries.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  chefboho
10 months ago

Some “bruiser”. Jones finished 2019 ranked 4th in the NFL in attempts per broken tackle with 7.5 (meaning that he broke one tackle for every 7.5 rushing attempts). Fournette finished ranked 32nd in the league with 16.6.

DT25
10 months ago

Agree the OL deserves a ton of credit Sunday, but let’s not ignore the fact so many people blamed Jones and our RB group (including several of the writers here at PR) for the putrid running game the past few years when the OL has been among the worst units in the league at run blocking. A successful running game requires both the OL and RB to play well, and you damn sure don’t get to 200 yards rushing without both doing so. This is the type of game people who have been high on Jones all along have said… Read more »

Last edited 10 months ago by DT25
lambeau
10 months ago

Excellent analysis, Jon. A pleasure to read.

PatrioticChief
10 months ago

If all goes well this offseason moving past Leonard will be an easy decision.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  PatrioticChief
10 months ago

So with all the preseason hype on Jones over at BucsNation, do you think it was fair?

eaustinyoung
10 months ago

Bucs need to get him running against LA. Aaron Donald is looking to kill Brady.

BucRy
10 months ago

Cappa is solid, just another great find for Licht.

Virtual_Camel
10 months ago

I really enjoy breakdown articles like this with the corresponding video to go with each play. You can watch it over and over and over each time watching a different guy. I haven’t paid this much attention to play calling since I played in high school.

Horse
10 months ago

Jon, totally disagree with your logic on this one. We are the same as before. I can look at the same film and see how Panthers defense was out of place and they were the reason for the large gain Jones ran. Let’s have this same conversation in 2 weeks and see where we stand as to our run game. I believe we have a ways to go before this statement can be credible.

fredster
10 months ago

Bucs will need solid run game to make a deep run. You have to have balance and they have been an unbalanced team too often. Didn’t work throwing 50-60 times game with Winston and no defense and still doesn’t work with the GOAT and a better defense and O line.
RoJo had great game, but seriously needs to secure the ball better.
Fournette stinks for his draft position. Never seen dude that big run with less power and he has vision of Mr. Magoo LOL. At least he can catch ball I guess.

drdneast
10 months ago

Wow, what Einstein came up with the concept that if you use motion you might create some confusion on the part of the defenses and keep the off balance. I’ve only been screaming for it since the first Saints game when they used a ton of motion on us to create confusion with our over pursuing defense. Instead, week and after week we would try to smash mouth the ball up between the A gaps for two to three yards a carry. I loved the toss play and I noticed the Seahawks got some big yards using it against the… Read more »

Spitfire
10 months ago

I love how Jones has been able to develops his little spin move. It’s not too fancy and could still clean it up a bit but it works when he needs it to. I think the Oline has learned to trust Jones a little more after they negated like 5-6 big runs of his with holding penalties. They seem to be realizing that it’s better to let him try to create something big and end up with a no gain at worst instead of hanging onto their blocks too long and costing them 10 yards. I really hope Marpet is… Read more »

Naplesfan
10 months ago

The way the run game has been up and down all season it is really hard to detect any real trend lines in performance. Part of it is obviously due to playcalling (pretty hard to gain any yards when the team has only three called runs in an entire game, as against NO), some of it due to offensive line performance (the line performed a lot better against the Panthers than it did against the Saints – was that due to the competition, or due to the lineup change? Or both?). But the other factor that affects the run game… Read more »

James Taylor
10 months ago

Great article really breaking down these plays and the contributions from motion and the tight ends and receivers as well as the offensive lineman. But I have a few questions: How much of this was good execution by the Bucs and how much of this was bad run defense by the Panthers and how effective will this running game be when they face the Rams and the Vikings? Will the Buccaneers be more effective in 12 personnel with Brate or Auclaire with run first and then throwing out of play action when the safeties drop into the box or playing… Read more »

toofamiliar17
10 months ago

That Fournette run made me so angry live. I saw in that moment that he completely missed the hole, but seeing it from the endzone is even worse. You could literally have driven a Toyota through that hole, but the dummy with the ball instead cuts it back right into the only area of the field with a defender waiting to greet him. Good Lord, that play is terrible. Jones regularly creates yards with the ball in his hands. Here, Fournette left at least 10 EASY yards on the field, very likely far more than that. If he hits that… Read more »

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