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.

Bucs RB Doug Martin - Photo by: Getty Images
Bucs RB Doug Martin – Photo by: Getty Images

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.

Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers - Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Bucs RB Jacquizz Rodgers – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR

“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.

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About the Author: Eric Horchy

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4 years ago

I would be in no rush to bring Sims back. Lets see how these next two games pan out with Martin, Rodgers, Barber. I hope the team is focused on San Diego as this is not a bad team; they are very similar to us in talent. Again the test will be our Defense and can we stop Rivers from getting 31 points and our Offense getting more points than that. They have a good RB and a huge TE plus a good WR. We need to blitz and not so worry about Rivers deep passing; he hurts tou on… Read more »

Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

I can’t wait until he’s back. Sims is a dangerous 3rd down back. Plus he can line up at WR and create a mismatch against a LB. He’s not a feature back, but he definitely brings an added weapon to our offense. Just look at his TD from the ATL game. Doug and Quizz should handle the running duties. but Sims could definitely help us score points.

Reply to  RootsCrew
4 years ago

Roots , you stole the words from right out of my mouth. I can’t wait to have Simms back. Unlike Martin, he’s explosive. He’s clearly not an every down back, but out at wide is what I would like to see more of him doing.

4 years ago

Outside of two games, the running game has been serviceable at best. Which, given the injuries, is totally understandable. Having Doug back, even though he hasn’t cracked 100 yet, can’t be understated. He poses a real threat to the defense, which opens up what Dirk loves to do, PA pass. Getting Quizz and Sims back will only help. We’re facing average to poor defenses the rest of the way. Would love to see the OL and running game really dominate the last 5 games.

Reply to  RootsCrew
4 years ago

Agreed ROOTS, but Dallas is not a poor defense. They have Rod Marinelli , he is a fantastic coach. Another one the BUCS let slip away.

Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

That’s why I said average to poor. Saints are really bad on D. Chargers are average. Dallas is maybe a little above average? Panthers are average/poor this season. I think we’re gonna score a lot of points over the next 5 weeks. Just got a feeling the team is gelling at the exact right time. OL is playing confidently. Dirk, with a healthy offense, can call a game like he wants. Jameis is dialed in. Defense is flying around making plays. Go Bucs!

Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

As I recall Rod took a HC job and failed.