After five games of mixed results, interim offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo is showing few signs of concern with Tampa Bay’s rushing attack.
The Bucs are coming off three straight road games of sub-70-yard production on the ground and are averaging just 3.3 yards per attempt during that stretch. Starter Doug Martin, playing through a lingering knee injury the past two weeks, has yet to recapture the magic of his 1,454-yard rookie campaign in 2012. He rushed 14 times each in Pittsburgh and New Orleans and picked up just 85 total yards (3.0 avg.) and one touchdown.
But the focus of criticism shouldn’t be set on Martin, according to Arroyo.
“I like things that Doug [is doing],” he said Wednesday afternoon. “Doug’s creating some runs and doing some things hard. Our run game’s got to improve overall. We believe that as a staff, and it starts with us. At the end of the day it’s just about executing the scheme – beating the guy in front of you, one guy doing his job and another 10 following suit. That’s why this game’s so hard. It’s 11 guys doing the same thing against another 11.”
A major component of that formula is the five-man front assigned with opening holes for Martin and running back Bobby Rainey, currently the team’s leading rusher with 220 yards on 47 carries (4.7 avg.). Center Evan Dietrich-Smith spoke from the locker room Wednesday and said too many unaccounted-for bodies wearing different colors have been stymying runs at the line of scrimmage.
“I just think we have to be more assignment sound,” the fifth-year pro said. “That’s really kind of what’s hurting us now. When the running back is running and all of the sudden you have a guy right in the backfield, it makes it hard for him to press the hole or do anything like that. For us it’s more about being more assignment sound, getting bodies on bodies and covering guys up. If you cover guys up in the run game you’re going to have a good chance of having a successful run. It might not be a 40-yard run but a good four yards when the running back doesn’t have to dodge anybody in the backfield.”
Those openings were virtually nonexistent last Sunday in New Orleans during a game Tampa Bay rushed the ball 13 of 20 times off its left or right guards. The Bucs’ longest run of the game came when Martin went for 16 yards on the last play of regulation. Focusing primarily between the tackles was based on matchups in New Orleans, Arroyo said.
“I think each game plan has what you’d call your emphasis,” he said. “If your emphasis is, for example, direct runs, you’re working between the tackles because the defense is allowing you to do that. Other teams will allow you to get outside on the perimeter and your emphasis might be more of a wide zone or more of a multiple outside zone type of a scheme.”
The good news this week is that Tampa Bay returns to Raymond James Stadium this Sunday afternoon to host the Baltimore Ravens. In the season’s first two games, both at home, Tampa Bay rushed for a combined 259 yards on 47 attempts. Over 20 percent of those yards came on fullback Jorvorskie Lane’s 54-yard burst in the home-opening loss to Carolina, but Rainey also turned in the best game of the year by a Bucs back a week later when he went off for 144 yards on 22 attempts against St. Louis.
Just because the overall statistical results haven’t been flattering of late, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said he sees a rushing attack that can’t be forgotten about as Baltimore game plans this week.
“That’s the thing about the NFL and this sport – it’s week to week,” Harbaugh said during Wednesday’s conference call to the One Buc Place media room. “You just can’t take anything at face value. I know that they’re averaging about 120-130 yards a game at home running the football, and we’re playing there. So they run the ball very well there and I know they’re capable of running the ball because I’ve watched the tape.”
So far Tampa Bay’s 21.2 rush attempts per game ranks 30th in the NFL, ahead of just Jacksonville and Oakland. If Martin and Rainey are going to balance out the Bucs’ offensive attack this week, they’ll have to do it against a top-10 rush defense. Baltimore is surrendering just 89.4 yards per game on the ground, although Indianapolis did become the first team this season to crack the 100-yard mark against the Ravens while beating them 20-13 at home last Sunday. Ahmad Bradshaw’s 15-carry, 68-yard day for the Colts was the best individual effort by a running back against Baltimore this year.
“Very good, solid defense,” Arroyo said of this week’s challenge. “They’re going to make you do things right. They’re big up front. You’ve got to be able to find the seams in the run game and you’ve got to be able to block the back end because they’re going to come up in run support. They’re going to fill the box up. It’s a good run defense.
“On the back end they’ve got good DBs, big DBs. Jimmy [Smith’s] a big corner, he’s going to press you and he’s going to lock you down. You’ve got to find ways to create a matchup or create a seam against this defense and then you have to press it. We’ve got our hands full, they’re a good team.”