Whether it’s been Leonard Fournette or Ronald Jones II that’s led the way on the ground this season, the one constant between the two of them has been the play of the offensive line.
Both running backs have taken their share in the spotlight at different points in the season. Jones was the feature back for most of the season and had a great stretch early on where he ran for over 100 yards in three straight games from Weeks 4 through 6. Jones fell just 22 yards short of his first 1,000 yard season, had he not missed two games from being on the COVID list.
As good as a season Jones had leading up to reaching Super Bowl LV, he wanted the offensive line to be the ones to get the credit.
“You can say that one again,” Jones said. “They’ve definitely been doing a great job all year, all playoffs. A lot of guys are battling injuries and still going out and playing every snap in the game. Salute to the big boys up front, there’s still interchanging parts and things like that but it starts with them. I’ll be the first one to tell you that.”
Each member has found one way or another to make a contribution to the Bucs during this run. Left tackle Donovan Smith picked up his game and has won against some of the best pass rushers in football while right tackle Tristan Wirfs has played at an all-pro as a rookie with no offseason.
Ryan Jensen has continued to establish himself as one of the best centers in football and Ali Marpet, who is considered the best lineman on the team, battled through a concussion scare to finish off another good season. Even when we thought there could be a dip in production with Alex Cappa out for the rest of the playoffs due to a fractured ankle, backup guard Aaron Stinnie has stepped in and played well in replacement.
One could argue that the postseason is where the offensive line has put in some of their best work, reaching over 100 yards in the first two rounds of the playoffs to the tune of 142 and 127, respectively. While the run production dropped to 76 yards in the NFC Championship, the line has done a good job protecting Tom Brady, who was sacked just once in that game.
The postseason is where we’ve seen Fournette make his mark as well. After a series of ups and downs in the regular season that saw Fournette be inactive for a Week 13 game following a bye, it all came to fruition in the postseason as Fournette has compiled 313 total yards over three games with another three touchdowns. He’s been given the moniker “Playoff Lenny” but knew it couldn’t be done without the guys at the line of scrimmage.
“Those are my guys,” Fournette said. “They’ve been doing their thing the whole year. I think a lot of credit goes to them for protecting us, to Tom [Brady], to getting off still blocking to get the passes off to the receivers. Their work ethic doesn’t go unnoticed, I know how hard that is. Big shoutout to my guys up front who get the job done.”
The key to any good offensive line is continuity among the group, and that’s resonated to the whole team as the Bucs have played their best football since after the bye. Not only have they been on a seven-game win streak, but the Bucs have scored at least 30 points in six consecutive. Players have been executing when given the opportunity.
“I think coming in every week and seeing it was right there in front of us,” Jones said. “We definitely had to get in there and go for the kill. A lot of guys have never been in this position, never made it to the playoffs or have gotten this far before. You definitely got to seize the moment, like we say, just one more to do it. It’s everything we’ve been hoping for.”