TAMPA — The Bucs ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing last season, but their totals against the Eagles — 31 yards on 21 carries — were the worst of the 12 teams to open the preseason Thursday night.
The longest run of the game was 6 yards, with Doug Martin leading the team with 13 yards on five carries, but coach Dirk Koetter said that was more a function of heavy substitutions and a game plan not designed for repeated run calls.
"We've been pretty good at running the football," Koetter said Friday. "We have two really good backs, one of which (Charles Sims) didn't play (Thursday). Take this for what it's worth: To be a successful run team, you need to repeat runs and need to keep feeding your ballcarrier the football, and we did neither of those (Thursday)."
What worked for the running backs was screen passes — all five backs had a catch of at least 10 yards, combining for nine catches for 119 yards, including a 26-yard catch by Mike James to set up the team's only touchdown.
Keep three? Backup QB Ryan Griffin made his Bucs debut in the game, driving the offense inside the 10-yard line for a potential tying touchdown in the final minute. But he forced a throw that was intercepted in the end zone to clinch the Eagles' 17-9 win.
"I think Ryan Griffin did a pretty good job," Koetter said. "I wish he wouldn't have forced that ball at the very end, but he also made some good plays to get us down there. I think he showed he can run the no-huddle. … He's an accurate passer. He really throws with good touch. He processes fast, and that's one of the hardest things for quarterbacks to do."
Griffin, 26, who was kept on the roster as a No. 3 quarterback but was inactive for all 16 games last season, finished 13-of-23 for 148 yards against the Eagles with two interceptions, the other on a bobbled pass. Backup Mike Glennon is an unrestricted free agent in the spring, so the team could carry three with the plan to elevate Griffin to No. 2 behind starter Jameis Winston next season.
"That's one of our big things we need to find out in this preseason: Is Ryan Griffin good enough to be an eventual (No. 2) for us?" Koetter said. "We like the guy. I like him so far."
The Bucs got the ball at their 24 with 2:50 to play, and Griffin drove them to the Philadelphia 7, completing passes of 16, 25 and 13 yards, then converting on fourth and 2 with a throw to rookie TE Kivon Cartwright. His first-and-goal throw, intended for WR Bernard Reedy, was intercepted by CB C.J. Smith to end the rally.
This and that: Koetter said he wasn't aware of any injuries that would be long term; TE Brandon Myers left the game with a knee injury. … The team's leading tackler was undrafted rookie LB Luke Rhodes, who had five tackles and a forced fumble. … The offense went 0-for-8 on third downs needing 6 yards or more to move the chains, and the defense held the Eagles to 0-for-8 on third downs when they needed 4 yards or more.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.