Offensive Line or RBs: Who’s to Blame For Last Year’s Run Game?
The words “Tampa Bay Buccaneers” and “running game” are more Antonyms than Synonyms.
Since the days of Doug Martin running for 200+ yards against the Oakland Raiders, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Have had a hard time figuring out their running identity.
For the past two seasons the Buccaneers have ranked 26th and 22nd in rushing yards per game. While it’s clear the Buccaneers’ offensive line needs a complete revamp, outside of D3 hidden gem Ali Marpet, and the aggressive center Ryan Jensen. Demar Dotson, Caleb Benenoch, and even the usually-solid- Donovan Smith struggled at times during the season, but the offensive line still showed signs of capability. Which brings me to my question: Is it the offensive line or the running back talent that is to blame for the lack of rushing attack?
Diving into who the Bucs have in their running backfield, there are three different types of runners. Peyton Barber, who was the starter for 2018, is a shifty nimble runner with great feet, who has the balance needed to break tackles, but has struggled to break off “big” gains of 20 or more yards. Then there is Jacquizz Rodgers, who primarily comes in during the two-minute offense. Rodgers was the Bucs RB1 when Doug Martin was suspended a few years ago, and when Peyton Barber was hurt. Rodgers amassed 560-yards that season, but during his last two in Tampa, he’s only had 350-yards rushing, and another 300-yards receiving. The Buccaneers also have an interesting prospect in rookie Ronald Jones, who was a star for the USC Trojans, gaining over 3,500-yards in his 3-year tenure, and 39 rushing TDs. Jones suffered a hamstring injury that would keep him sidelined for multiple games, but was strangely held inactive when healthy under Dirk Koetter, as he “had guys in who he thought gave the Bucs the best chance to win.” Jones would end his rookie year with only 23 carries total.
The biggest reason the Bucs running game faltered again this season, was due to the lack of commitment to the run game. Barber averaged only 14 carries per game as the starter, which is nearly RB2 numbers. The Buccaneers would end up down multiple scores early, and would then pass constantly in an attempt to claw their way back into the game. Even averaging 14 carries a game Barber still averaged 3.7 YPC. Barber was also forced to do all his running between the tackles due to Caleb Benenoch and Demar Dotson’s season-long struggles with pass protection and run blocking. Benenoch and Doston earned PFF grades of 43.6 and 63.7, respectfully.
Although Doston’s grade seems rather average, his tape shows his decline in play since 2016, and at 33-years old the Bucs may want to start looking for possible replacements.
As far as Benenoch is concerned, 43.6 is unacceptable. Many felt that the rookie Alex Cappa should have stepped in for him as it was not just run blocking he struggled in, but he constantly missed blocks and allowed pass rushers a free shot at QB Jameis Winston. Barber and company were being met constantly in the backfield and only had a yard to work with before contact.
The problem seems to tie in with a combination of coaching and offensive line play. The Bucs already solved one of these issues by firing Dirk Koetter and hiring Bruce Arians, who immediately fired the longtime RB and offensive line coaches, and brought in Joe Gilbert as the new offensive line coach. Gilbert, last season at the University of Arizona, led the PAC-12 in rushing and allowed the 4th fewest sacks in the conference. Harold Goodwin, who has worked under Arians for 11-years, and has had proven success by turning a 32nd ranked team from worst to 5th. He has worked as an offensive assistant, offensive Lines coach, and most recently as an offensive coordinator. He will now be the RB coach.
The talent at RB is there as Barber had nearly 1,000-yards from scrimmage, despite a smaller workload and the untapped potential of Ronald Jones.
A revamp in the offensive line by possibly taking Alabama OL Jonah Williams with the 5th pick, signing a free agent OL and maybe moving Donovan Smith to another spot on the Line would help tremendously. But the Bucs need to figure it out and fast if they want to avoid a third straight 5-11 season.