The revolving door leading to and from the running backs’ meeting room at One Buc Place is no longer necessary.
Injuries hit Tampa Bay hard this season and the offensive backfield withstood one after another. First it was Doug Martin. Then down went Charles Sims III. Then Jacquizz Rodgers. Then Antone Smith.
The Bucs have started four different players at the position through 11 games and six running backs have taken a carry.
Despite that absence of personnel consistency, Tampa Bay has been able to stick with its ground attack and average a respectable 107.1 yards per game (16th in the NFL). What’s lacked, however, is explosiveness.
The Bucs have run the ball 322 times this season and are averaging 3.7 yards per carry. The attempts are fourth-most in the NFL and the average is tied for sixth-worst.
A big reason why that average is slumping is because Bucs backs have struggled to crack the first and second levels of opposing defenses this season. Of those 322 rushing attempts, two went for 40-plus yards and two others went for 20-plus. Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi’s been given exactly half of the carries (161) and taken three 40 yards or more and six others 20-plus yards by himself.
When asked to assess Sunday’s rushing performance against the Seattle Seahawks, head coach Dirk Koetter’s response focused on the lack of big gains.
“We had no explosive runs and we only had five explosives on offense for the game,” Koetter said. “That goes into what [we were] talking about only scoring 14 points. The way you score points is: A) You don’t turn it over and we turned it over twice, both times when we were moving the ball, so that’s costing us points. We missed a field goal and we didn’t have enough explosives. Only five, and the four of those five were in the first half.
“So, we’ve got to get some explosives out of our run game. We were close a couple of times and then we were really rolling with our offensive line there in the fourth quarter. Then we’d always make some mistake, whether it’d be a fumble or something else that would set us back. But our run game is still not where it can be. I thought our offensive line did a nice job; Seattle’s tough up front. But there was always just one little thing here or there. We missed a cut, we missed a block on the backside, we could’ve finished better. For us to achieve what we want to achieve, what we think we’re capable of achieving, we need to run the ball better.”
Tampa Bay got Martin back three weeks ago against the Chicago Bears and the 87 yards he picked up on 23 carries represents a season-high through five games played. During the fifth-year pro’s 1,402-yard campaign in 2015, Martin took four carries 40-plus yards and 10 others 20 yards or more.
Martin’s longest rush this year is 17 yards and he’s taken eight for 10 yards or more on 88 attempts.
“I do, the linemen, the tight ends – overall we just need to focus on some details to really get the running game going. But we’ll get it done,” Martin said from his locker Wednesday. “It’s about focusing on the details in the run game, whether it’s your step or how far I press into the line of scrimmage or if I’m missing the hole or just staying in the hole for a little longer – it’s those little details that are going to break the long runs. That’s why we practice and we’re going to get there.”
Even if Bucs rushers weren’t ripping off explosive gains against Seattle, they were able to pick up positive yards and set up manageable down-and-distance situations more often than not. That’s good, but still not where the offense wants to be, said left guard Kevin Pamphile.
“Yeah, it’s always great to have no negatives when it comes to the run game and always have positives chipping away, but we want to get explosives in the run game whenever we can,” said Pamphile, who played his first game after missing two straight with a concussion. “There were some points where we missed a few key blocks where Doug could have rushed out and made a couple more first downs. We’re still improving on that aspect and want to go out and be detailed in our assignments.”
The Bucs are close to adding options to their backfield. Rodgers, the team’s leading rusher with 393 yards on 88 carries, was a full participant in practice Wednesday. Sims has been on injured reserve for eight straight weeks and appears to be the player Tampa Bay will soon reactivate from that list.