SR’s Fab 5 is exclusively sponsored by Edmonson Electric • AC • Security – the official smart home and security company of PewterReport.com.
Table of Contents
For the past 40 years, Edmonson Electric • AC • Security has proudly served central Florida with electric services and now proud to add state-of-the-art “Smart Home” technology, security systems and air conditioning to its roster. Whether it’s surveillance cameras, home theaters, or smart lighting, Edmonson Electric • AC • Security is automating your dream home.
Visit EdmonsonElectric.com to find out more about controlling, monitoring and securing your home or call 813.910.3403 for additional information.
Control. Monitor. Secure.
FAB 1. The Bucs Need A Better Running Game To Help Brady
Bucs general manager Jason Licht believes in running back Ronald Jones II, who was the team’s second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is capable of being the team’s feature back. Licht and head coach Bruce Arians saw enough improvement in Jones in his second NFL season when he rushed for 724 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 4.2 yards per carry following a disastrous rookie season.
“We do think that Ronald still hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can be,” Licht said on a videoconference call from his home with Bucs beat writers on Thursday. “He made a huge jump from year one to year two. He didn’t have to do much to do that because year one wasn’t very good for him, but year two, we felt very good about where he came from and we still think he has a tremendous amount of upside.”
That’s great – now what happens if Jones misses any significant time due to an injury?
The Bucs wisely let Peyton Barber leave in free agency, and only have Dare Ogunbowale, the team’s third-down back, T.J. Logan, Tampa Bay’s return specialist, and Aca’Cedric Ware on the roster. Licht is expected to draft at least one running back to compete for carries with Jones and to provide depth at the position.
That’s great – because Tom Brady is going to need a strong running game to be successful at age 42.
The stronger the better.
If there is one area that needs to be fortified in Tampa Bay this offseason, it’s the team’s woeful rushing attack, which ranked 24th in the league last year, averaging just 95.1 yards per game. Of course the Bucs had the league’s top passing attack with Jameis Winston’s 5,109 yards and a pair of 1,000-yard Pro Bowl wide receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Yet all those passing yards got Tampa Bay was a 7-9 record, thanks in part to Winston’s league-leading 30 interceptions, including an NFL-record seven pick-sixes.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Getty Images
What the Bucs would like to see is a more balanced attack in 2020 with a 4,000-yard passer and a 2,000-yard ground game instead of a 5,000-yard passer and a 1,500-yard running game. Tampa Bay will have to really reverse course for that to happen, as the team has only a Top 10 rushing attack twice in the past decade with seven years ranking in the bottom one-third of the league when it comes to running the ball.
Brady is used to having a solid ground game to rely on, and the Patriots’ play-action passing game has thrived when New England can run the ball effectively. Brady and the Patriots made the Super Bowl five times over the past decade, winning three. In all five appearances the Patriots had a Top 20 rushing attack, including a Top 10 run game in the last three appearances – two of which resulted in victories for New England.
It’s interesting to note that the Patriots have only had five 1,000-yard rushers in the 20 years with Brady under center. Antowain Smith rushed for 1,157 yards in 2001 during the Patriots’ first Super Bowl victory. In 2004, Corey Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards as the Patriots claimed the franchise’s third Super Bowl championship.
The next two 1,000-yard backs – BenJarvus Green-Ellis with 1,008 in 2010 and Stevan Ridley with 1,263 in 2012 – weren’t on Super Bowl teams. New England’s last 1,000-yard rusher was former Buccaneer LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 1,161 yards in 2016, which culminated in the organization’s fifth Super Bowl title.
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Sony Michel, the Patriots’ first-round pick in 2018, came close, rushing for 931 yards while helping Brady and New England claim their NFL-record sixth Super Bowl. It’s no wonder why the Patriots offense struggled last year and were knocked out of the playoffs at home in an upset loss to the Titans, as New England’s inconsistent ground game ranked 18th, averaging just 106.4 yards per game.
That was the Patriots’ worst run game ranking since ranking 30th in the league in 2015, averaging 87.8 yards per game. That year, New England lost in the AFC Championship Game and didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.
So the Bucs can’t rely on just Jones. While there have been some years where the Patriots have had a 1,000-yard feature back, most years the team has had an effective running back-by-committee approach.
Last year, Jones’ 724 yards led the Bucs, followed by Barber’s 470 yards. Winston’s scrambling gained 250 yards, which is about 200 yards more than Brady figures to get on the ground in 2020. Ogunbowale’s 17 yards rushing were fourth on the team.
The Bucs totaled 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground last year. Adding another 500 rushing yards would get Tampa Bay into the Top 10 in NFL. That will only come with an upgraded ground game in 2020.
“That doesn’t stop us from wanting to add to that group, which may be something we do depending on who’s there, where they’re at, what other positions we’re looking at, but we have a lot of faith in Ronald,” Licht said. “In fact, we have more faith in him not than we ever have, but that’s another position as you look across the league, some of the better teams have one, two or three guys, sometimes four, that they can rely on for different roles in their offense.”
Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor – Photo by: Getty Images
It’s good that Licht is thinking that way. The Bucs would be best served with a backfield that featured Jones, a rookie or two – perhaps Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift or LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire early in the draft, and Miami’s DeeJay Dallas and Memphis’ Patrick Taylor, Jr. late – in addition to a post-draft veteran addition. Carlos Hyde, Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson – all good pass-catchers – should be available to sign after the draft at a very cheap price considering the depth at running back in this year’s class.
Which Bucs’ backfield would you rather see Brady handing off to?
Ronald Jones II
Patrick Taylor, Jr.
Ronald Jones II
Group A is the easy, correct answer.
I spoke to former Tampa Bay quarterback and Pro FootballTalk.com contributor Chris Simms this week about Brady coming to the Buccaneers, and he agreed that the Bucs need to become a more balanced offense in 2020 to maximize Brady’s effectiveness. Simms spent the 2012 season on New England’s coaching staff as an offensive assistant, working side-by-side with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Brady.
“When you can run the ball, it just sets up looks in the passing game that are just optimal,” Simms said. “You look at some of those looks and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got Mike Evans one-on-one on this play out here? Holy crap, there’s no way they can stop this.’ The league is going the other way. People keep saying, ‘the spread offense is here, the spread offense is here.’ No. It’s already had its time. It’s over. New England, the Rams the year before, the Saints, the 49ers, the Titans – they are all run-first football teams. They are all playing with two running backs, one tight end and two receivers for a lot of the football game. There are a lot of creative ways to do things with two backs and two tight ends on the field because there are so many hybrid tight end-fullbacks to go around.
Bucs QB Tom Brady, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels & HC Bill Belichick – Photo by: Getty Images
“As for the spread offense, yeah, college football is still doing it. Most college linebackers don’t even know how to defend a pulling guard or a fullback coming at them. They’ve always been defending the quick pass this way or the quick pass that way, screens and draws. That’s how kids are coming out of college and I think that’s why [Bill] Belichick and [Kyle] Shanahan noticed that a lot of the front seven talent coming out of college doesn’t know how to defend the run when they get to the NFL. The number one stat aside from turnovers that determine the outcome of football games is the number of explosive, 20-yard plays. When you run the football it gets everyone to run up to the line of scrimmage and you get coverage benefits and that leads to a lot of explosive plays that change field position and leads you to points.”
Simms is all in favor of the Bucs beefing up their ground game, saying it needs to happen for them to end a 12-year playoff drought.
“The teams in the playoffs last year had balance – they had a run game to lean on,” Simms said. “The Vikings, the Ravens, the 49ers, the Titans. The Chiefs’ short passing game is their running game, so you really can’t count them, but I think when you get into everybody else they had a running game they could rely on. Even the Packers – it wasn’t the greatest, but they had Aaron Jones. That’s the thing that has to come along in Tampa. Not that it has to be the most dominant run game in football, but one that defensive coordinators have to really prepare for when they are playing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You want them thinking, ‘I want to play this coverage to stop Mike Evans, but if they are in this formation they are going to smash it down our throat and run for six yards every carry and put us in a bind.’”
Arians is the “Quarterback Whisperer,” and loves the passing game. Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich is a former quarterback and loves the passing game. Brady is the No. 2 all-time passer in NFL history and loves to throw the ball.
Bucs RB Ronald Jones II – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
But as the Bucs found out last year that a 24th-ranked rushing attack isn’t good enough to make the playoffs. Teams like Baltimore, San Francisco, Tennessee, Seattle, Minnesota, Buffalo and Houston all made the playoffs with a Top 10 rushing attack.
That’s what Tampa Bay needs to build this offseason – a Top 10 running game to pair with the greatest quarterback of all-time. Brady’s recent Super Bowl success in New England proved that’s the formula.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
PewterReport.com prides itself on being the most complete, comprehensive news source covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and delivering inside scoop on the team found nowhere else.