The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs. This week’s topic: Is Starting RoJo The Right Move For The Bucs?
Scott Reynolds: I Really Don’t Know, Nor Does It Matter
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There is a lot to unpack in Bruce Arians’ decision to start Ronald Jones II over Leonard Fournette at running back in the Bucs’ game this week against the visiting Falcons. I think Arians is trying to boost the kid’s confidence, especially after telling the media that RoJo “struggled mentally” to get over his fumble in the season opener. If that’s the rationale, okay, fine. I get it. But if I’m being honest, that’s the only rationale that makes sense. It’s not like Jones outplayed Fournette against Dallas. Jones had 14 yards on four carries, fumbled, and then was benched for the rest of the game.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Fournette had his own gaffe, letting a catchable screen pass bounce off his hands and turn into an interception in the second quarter. The difference is that Fournette stayed in the game and was the main running back the rest of the game because the coaches have more trust in him. He finished with 32 yards rushing on 14 carries and caught five of the seven passes thrown his way for 27 yards. Fournette had 21 opportunities compared to RoJo’s four against Dallas. And while he wasn’t great by any means – save for a tough, contested, clutch catch on third down to move the sticks in the second half – Fournette didn’t do anything to lose the starting job over his Thursday night performance.
Jones is the more talented runner. That’s a fact. He was a few yards shy of 1,000 yards last year and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. I understand that Arians wants that version of RoJo – the guy capable of running for 100 yards a game – on a weekly basis. But he’s got to earn it. Jones didn’t earn it on Thursday night.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Arians will play both backs in every game, as he has done with the first- and second-string runners since 2019 when it was Peyton Barber and Jones. The starter usually gets the first two series and the reserve gets the third series. Whoever is more productive – the hot hand, as Arians calls it – will get most of the work the remainder of the game. Why not stick to that formula and let RoJo try to win back the starting job rather than hand it to him? That’s how he wrested the starting job away from Barber in the first place at the end of the 2019 campaign.
Jon Ledyard: Start RoJo As Often As He’ll Let You
I’m not dense. Well, at least not that dense. I recognize that Ronald Jones’ struggles to consistently stay on the field are largely due to battles with his own demons. He struggles with confidence and mistakes can often take his mind out of the game. The Bucs coaching staff is tasked with dealing with that, as is Jones, and I don’t envy any of them.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: USA Today
But if RoJo is right, he’s the best pure running back on the team. He’s probably the worst pass protecting and receiving option, but he’s the best with the ball in his hands. Evidence of this was on display all of last season, when Jones achieved greater success running behind the same offensive line as Leonard Fournette. If not for injuries causing him to miss two games, Jones would have finished with over 1,000 yards rushing on the 2020 season.
So, despite the mistakes and the limitations, Jones should be the starter. If there were a less-mistake prone, safer option behind him, I would change my mind. But there isn’t, as Fournette’s drop-turned-interception on Thursday night indicated. Both Bucs running backs could make a play (or fail to make one) that could derail the team at any moment. And Arians won’t play Giovani Bernard more often, so forget that. I’ll go with the back that has the greatest chance at making a big positive play to offset the mistakes in Jones.
Matt Matera: RoJo Still Gives Bucs Run Game Best Chance At Success
You can’t let one bad game determine whether Jones can be helpful to the Bucs for the 2021 season. Tampa Bay is a vertical running team. It likes to get a hat on a hat and head up field. Jones is a north-south type of runner more than Leonard Fournette is, and I still think he gives the Bucs their best chance at success in the run game.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Based on Bruce Arians’ comments post-game and during the week, it looks like it came down to a confidence factor for how Jones dealt with his psyche after losing the fumble. Again, after the fumble, not before. Arians named him the starter to boost that confidence up instantly, and why not? Not every player is the same, so if Jones needs a little extra push, that’s okay. If it will get the Bucs the best possible outcome that’s what Arians is striving for.
Fournette was able to bounce back following his egregious drop that turned into an interception. There’s no question that Jones will be able to do the same. With the Falcons surrendering 173 rushing yards in their loss last week, this is a great opportunity for Jones to turn the page and move forward.
JC Allen: Committee Approach Still The Best Option For Bucs
The Bucs don’t have a true three-down bell cow running back, so who starts the game is irrelevant in my opinion. While Ronald Jones II is the best pure runner on the roster, he is limited as a complete running back. The hot hand is still going to determine who gets the bulk of the carries once the game is underway. While it may be a bit of a confidence boost for Jones II to be named “the starter,” it will still come down to who makes the most of their opportunities.
Bucs RB Leonard Fournette – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Leonard Fournette started Week 1 on the Bucs first drive, but saw Jones get the nod on the second drive. That rhythm and ebb and flow should continue to change week in and week out. For Jones it’s being able to have a short-term memory and move on from any mistakes. Arians said that was part of the reason why he didn’t return to game action against the Cowboys. Fournette, who had a pass go off his fingertips and turn into an interception, was able to move forward mentally from his mistake and still contribute to the Bucs’ 31-29 win.
The forgotten man in this conversation is Giovani Bernard. Not as talented a runner as the aforementioned backs he still offers enough in the run game to warrant more touches than he did in Week 1. Bernard’s expertise as a third-down back, in both receiving and pass blocking, will prevent Jones from really being a full-time starter in this offense. With three capable runners on this team but no true alpha, sure, give RoJo the start. But the title is meaningless in this multifaceted, talented Bucs offense.