Bucs head coach Todd Bowles has a simple principle that he bases his defense on. This principle can be summed up in three words: “Stop the run.”

You see it in the way the team makes personnel decisions. Consider Vita Vea, Keanu Neal, Lavonte David, Devin White, Shaq Barrett and Rakeem Nunez-Roches. All of these players are known for their abilities to help shut down opposing offenses in the run game.

And while the team’s run defense has traditionally been elite in Bowles’ tenure, it certainly took a step back in 2021. The team’s overall rushing yards against ranking was a still a very impressive No. 3. However, that was more a reflection of opponents choosing not to run the ball against Tampa Bay, rather than a relative lack of success when actually running.

Bucs ILB Devin White

Bucs ILB Devin White – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Of the 10 best teams against the run in 2021 in terms of yards allowed, the Bucs ranked dead last in yards per carry allowed at 4.29. That is backed up by Tampa Bay’s No. 11 ranking in PFF’s run-defense ratings from last year.

Looking over the Bucs’ 2022 schedule, the run defense is set to be tested more than ever. Between Baltimore, New Orleans, San Francisco, Arizona and Cleveland, Tampa Bay is set to face teams that finished in the Top 10 in rushing last year in more than one-third of their games. If you add in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, who have moved on from future Hall of Fame quarterbacks and look poised to emphasize the run game more, it’s possible Tampa Bay could play up to nine of its games against run-first teams.

Last Year

Last year was a similar story, with the Bucs matching up against Top 10 rushing units six times. How did the team fare in those matchups?

Dallas

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott – Photo by: USA Today

Week 1 saw the Bucs face off against the Cowboys. Dallas, as many teams did in 2020, decided not to test the Bucs’ run defense all that much. They managed to run the ball just 14 times for a mere 52 yards. Dak Prescott dropped back to pass 63 times in the season opener. The 3.7 yards per carry average was lacking, and Tampa Bay’s 69.6 PFF grade was a solid-if-unspectacular mark. The Bucs eventually won the game 31-29 in a passing shootout.

@ New England

In Week 4 against New England, the Bucs were able to get the Patriots to abandon the run completely. The Patriots only rushed the ball EIGHT times all game. Those runs netted them NEGATIVE one yard. That earned the Bucs a season-high 87.3 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus. This helped Tampa Bay win 19-17.

@ Philadelphia

The tests continued two weeks later against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6. Over the course of that game, the Bucs limited the Eagles to only 19 rushing attempts. This represented a 41% reduction from Philadelphia’s season average of 32.35. Now, the Eagles were able to generate some success on these carries, as they created 100 yards of offense and a healthy 5.3 yards per carry. Tampa Bay’s PFF grade in run defense also reflected this, standing at just 54.2. Despite the struggles defending the run, the Bucs still won 28-22.

@ Indianapolis

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Colts RB Jonathan Taylor

Bucs FS Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Colts RB Jonathan Taylor – Photo by: USA Today

In Week 12, the Bucs traveled to Indianapolis to face Jonathan Taylor and the Colts. Taylor was just starting to enter the MVP discussion and represented the most talented running back Tampa Bay would face all season. The Colts’ final rushing marks belie the true story, as Colts head coach Frank Reich would later discuss following the game. Officially, Indianapolis had 20 carries for a very efficient 107 yards. However, as Reich would explain, the team called many more run plays through RPOs and quarterback Carson Wentz ended up passing in many of those situations. The Bucs had trouble handling Taylor in the second half when he did get the ball in his hands, and their PFF grade showed that with a dismal 51.8 score. Tampa Bay did get the victory, winning 38-31.

Buffalo

This game will mostly be remembered for the Breshad Perriman overtime catch and run for the win. But looking beyond that exciting play, we see the Bucs had some real issues with the Bills’ running attack. Buffalo was able to rip off 173 yards on just 19 carries. Whether you look at the 9.1 yards per carry average or the equally abysmal 46.2 run-defense PFF grade, it was bad. Josh Allen led the way with 12 carries for 109 yards in a quarterback option masterclass, while Devin Singletary contributed 52 yards on just four carries. Despite these struggles, the Bucs were able to hold on for the aforementioned overtime win, 33-27.

Philadelphia (Playoffs)

Once the regular season concluded, Tampa Bay’s run defense was put to the test once more in a rematch against the Eagles. In the original matchup, Philadelphia was limited in opportunities but exploited Tampa Bay in efficiency. This time, the Eagles decided to commit to running the ball to the tune of 31 carries. Those carries created just 106 yards of offense. The overall 3.4 yards per carry was disappointing for the visitors. Now, this is a game where the PFF grade and the traditional stats diverge. Tampa Bay’s grade was one of its worst of the season (36.7) despite limiting the Eagles to minimal yardage.

This year, the schedule favors the Bucs to a certain degree defensively, at least when looking at philosophy. The defense feels it is at its best when it is effectively shutting down a team that is committed to the run. In practice, that has been a mixed bag. With several run-first teams looming in 2022, Bowles and his defense have an opportunity to re-establish that “stop the run” mentality.

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About the Author: Joshua Queipo

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fredster
fredster
1 month ago

This is an area where losing JPP could not be good. Hoping JTS can hold up against run. Sometimes he just blew past the runner or QB last year. Also hope whoever is the replacement for Whitehead is good. When Jordan was out this defense struggled more for sure. They have a rough schedule hope this d is going to be up to the task. On paper it looks thin in areas and lot of question marks there to me.

surferdudes
surferdudes
Reply to  fredster
1 month ago

What were you watching last year, JPP was useless against the run. Between his bum claw, his torn shoulder, and his completely dead legs he couldn’t tackle, or get to the QB. The last two years his play has dropped off a cliff. That’s why the Bucs aren’t bringing him back, and no other team has even had him in for a visit.

michael
michael
1 month ago

I think it’s worth mentioning that a lot of yards gained on the ground against the Bucs were QB scrambles. Josh Allen a was basically every yard on the ground in that game. I have a hard time faulting a run defense on a gimmicky QB scramble

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
1 month ago

We all know this so when will the Bucs choose to bring in a veteran defender or two to the front seven? It is obvious more reinforcements are needed for the front seven as it is going to be a long 17 game season. Plenty of depth for OL and the secondary now while the front seven is razor thin IMVHO.

Naplesfan
Naplesfan
1 month ago

YPA is a very poor measure of run game effectiveness, by either the offense or the defense. YPA can be leveraged by just one or two big runs, even though such big runs may have had little to no impact on the game outcome. The effective measures of a run game’s effectiveness is the number of runs attempted – when the run game is working well, teams run it more often, and when it’s not, teams run it less often – and total yards rushed. Additional measures of run game effectiveness are first downs gained, and rushing touchdowns scored –… Read more »

scubog
scubog
Reply to  Naplesfan
1 month ago

You’re right about one break-out run skewing the overall effectiveness of run defense. I remember the days when Barry Sanders would do absolutely nothing and then “boom” break one for 80 yards. It was one of the reasons why Detroit lost so many games. Consistency might have been better. In the Bucs case, it was QB’s dropping back to pass, finding no one open and running. Josh Allen was the best example.Defense tired in the second half and he became their whole offense. As you said, in spite of the flaws, the result was 13 dash 4 and top 5… Read more »

Horse
Horse
1 month ago

I’m all for making our team more competitive within and also planning that the other 31 teams are doing the same. Obviously, the key is to be able to adjust faster than our opponents. I don’t see how anyone thinks we aren’t attempting to be better than last season. My only hope is Trask gets some playing time this season and gets a chance to gain some real time NFL play experience, .over Gabbert as the back up.

Kimba
Kimba
1 month ago

We need interior linebacker depth, one twisted ankle away from disaster! Stopping the run is Vita Vea specialty, stop playing him 35% of the snaps and we might prevail.

Alldaway 2.0
Alldaway 2.0
Reply to  Kimba
1 month ago

Yeah the staff wants to increase Vea’s snap count which is not realistic for one and two like you said the Bucs don’t have the depth to roll the dice. Bring in a vet DT and let the vet DT with Nacho and the rookie Hall rotate so that Vea isn’t taking on a huge load and he can keep his feet and ankles healthy.

Dude
Dude
1 month ago

If you add in Pittsburgh and Atlanta, who have moved on from future Hall of Fame quarterbacks”

What in the world makes you think Matt Ryan is a future Hall of Famer? What has he done to earn such a nod? I don’t see it. He had one good year, the year they went to the Superbowl, and the rest he was mediocre at best.