After two weeks of struggling to find a consistent running game, the Bucs offense finally gained over 100 yards rushing in a 24-3 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Running backs Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman combined for 131 of the 182 yards rushing with most of those yards coming in the second half. Despite another disappointing game for running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, the Bucs were able to control the clock by running the ball in the second half.

Graham’s performance in the fourth quarter gives Tampa Bay a third weapon out of the backfield. The fourth-year running back had eight carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns, all coming in the fourth quarter to lead the Bucs running attack. Pittman also had 56 yards on seven carries and three receptions for 35 yards.

Graham and Pittman received carries in the fourth quarter due to Williams’ fumble to start the quarter that gave the Rams their only points of the game. Williams has yet to reach the 100-yard plateau in three games and seems to still have some lingering effects from his rib injury in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Even though Williams saw just one carry in the fourth quarter, head coach Jon Gruden emphasized on Monday that the third-year running back is still the starter.

“Carnell is our feature back and we will try to do much better than we have done against Carolina in the past running the ball,” Gruden said. “If we don’t run the ball any better then we aren’t going to run the ball at all. We might have to throw it a lot. Cadillac will be the starting tailback and we will do everything we can to incorporate Earnest [Graham] and [Michael] Pittman any way we can.”

Williams has scored three rushing touchdowns in three games this season – two against the New Orleans Saints and one against the Rams – but has fumbled the ball twice as well. Gruden has stated since training camp that if a player fumbles the ball, he won’t be playing long with the Bucs. Gruden, however, is confident in Williams’ ability and believes he will continue to improve.

“Carnell. we certainly need to get more out of him because he’s capable of delivering some home runs and some big hits for us,” Gruden said. “So we are going to keep giving him the ball and hopefully those runs are in our near future.”

With the Bucs heading on the road to face the Carolina Panthers in a crucial early season NFC South divisional matchup, the running game will be crucial in controlling the tempo and the crowd on the road. Tampa Bay’s offensive line seemed to wear down the Rams defense late in the game.

The Bucs will need that same dedication to the run against Carolina, which is allowing just over 95 yards rushing a game. Rookie left guard Arron Sears was seen pulling around on many of the carries in the fourth quarter opening up holes for the running backs. Gruden was pleased with Sears’ effort against the Rams, but wants to see more of that against the Panthers.

“I don’t want to say he did a good job, I think he did a hell of job pulling a couple of times,” Gruden said. “He’s doing a great job for us. He’s having some problems at times with some pass sets, but overall he’s doing some great things for us. He’s giving us a load in there with some physical presence, a guy that loves it. He can pull, redirect, operate on a second level and is good in space. We are going to need a lot of Arron Sears this week because Carolina has some really big guys in there. We are really pleased with what he’s done.”

Linebacker Barrett Ruud has been all over the field for the Bucs defense the first three weeks of the season. Whether he’s making a tackle, causing a fumble or intercepting a pass, Ruud seems to be around the ball on every play. He led the Bucs defense in tackles for the third consecutive week recording 11 tackles along with an interception against the Rams.

Ruud has 35 tackles so far this season along with two forced fumbles and one interception. Ruud was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his play against the Saints and is only getting better with every game.

“He’s played great, he really has. Stepping up in their as a physical football player on the inside runs and playing with great range and coverage,” Gruden said. “Making an unbelievable interception away from his body to end the game. He’s just been outstanding, his conditioning has been superb and he is making all the calls. He’s playing at a very high level.”

Ruud, who replaced Shelton Quarles at middle linebacker this season, is quickly becoming one of the leaders on the defense. Ruud has raised his level of play since becoming the starter and he never lost confidence in his abilities even after the Bucs signed veteran linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. Ruud is proving that he was the right choice to fill the shoes at middle linebacker after Quarles’ departure.

Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (knee) could get a chance to see some game action on the road against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. After practicing in a limited role last week, Gruden feels that Chukwurah might be back on the field this week. Safety Sabby Piscitelli, however, will not be on the field after sustaining a fracture in his right foot against the Rams. Gruden didn’t confirm how long Piscitelli would be out of action, but he won’t play against the Panthers.

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