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For Tampa Bay Bucs, Josh Freeman's success is tied to LeGarrette Blount's play

TAMPA

The less the running back limps, the better the quarterback feels. Funny how that works.

It was a welcome sight Tuesday morning when LeGarrette Blount moved quickly across the Tampa Bay locker room. There was no hobble, no hitch, no hurt. Once again, Blount appeared to be pain free.

Across the room, darned if Josh Freeman didn't look a little more chipper himself.

There is a corollary here, a co-dependence between one man's legs and another man's arm. The better Blount is, the better Freeman can be, and the more dangerous the Bucs offense can be. They need each other, and if the Bucs are going to make something of this season after all, they need them both.

Of all the what's-wrong-with-Freeman theories that are out there, this one may be closest to the truth. He misses Blount behind him. Like a lot of quarterbacks, particularly young quarterbacks, Freeman requires an efficient running game to succeed consistently. He can take over a drive, and sometimes a fourth quarter, but if you are talking about an entire game, Freeman could use some help.

Most days, help looks a lot like Blount.

"It's huge," Freeman said. "You talk about what a defense is looking at, their run fits and their run reads. If you have a running game going, picking up big chunks every time you run the ball, it opens things up."

It isn't a new formula, of course. Run the ball, and play action works. Run the ball, and the secondary becomes less crowded. Run the ball, and the quarterback doesn't feel as if he has to win by himself.

Joe Montana fed off Roger Craig, and Troy Aikman fed off Emmitt Smith, and Terry Bradshaw had Franco Harris, and Roger Staubach had Tony Dorsett, and John Elway finally won big once he was joined by Terrell Davis. It is a rare quarterback who can win without a good running game behind him.

If any quarterback should know that, it is Freeman. When the Bucs run the ball, people tend to talk about his comebacks. When the Bucs do not, they seem talk about his giveaways. Still, winning is a lot to ask of a quarterback when a team has 30 yards rushing against the Bears or 56 against the Lions.

Consider:

• This year, the Bucs have run for more than 100 yards four times. They are 4-0 in those games. In their three games without 100 yards rushing, they are 0-3.

• In his 17 career wins, the Bucs have rushed for 100 yards 14 times. In his 15 career losses, they have failed to gain 100 yards nine times.

• Since Freeman became a starter, they have run the ball 25 times or more in a game 16 times. The Bucs have won 13 of those.

• In Freeman's victories, the team has rushed 29.1 times for 134.1 yards. In his losses, it has averaged 22.1 attempts for 90.1 yards, almost a half-a-field less.

In other words, Freeman could have summed up Blount's return like this:

Yay.

You know how the Bucs offense is supposed to look? It's supposed to look the way it did last year against Seattle, when Freeman threw for five TDs and had a 144.2 quarterback rating and Blount had 164 yards rushing. Or like it did against Arizona, when Freeman had a 121.7 rating and Blount ran for 120.

"He feeds off me with my play-action fakes," Blount said, "and I feed off him with him giving me the ball and carrying off his fakes. There is big-play potential all around us. We're going to have big plays this game. We're going to continue our success as far as our offense goes."

When the running game is not working, the receivers look as if they are running across a busy highway, and Freeman is more likely to try to force a pass. Ah, but let a running game get into rhythm, and suddenly, the traffic clears and Freeman's accuracy improves.

"When the running game is going, it opens everything up," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said. "People have to do certain things to stop the run. They have to put more men in the box, which opens up more lanes, more windows downfield.

"Other than Tom (Brady) and the quarterback we're playing this week (Drew Brees), all quarterbacks need a little running game to get them going. Here, we want to be able to pound you up a little, and we want to be able to throw downfield a little. We want to spread it out a little."

Against the Saints, that sounds right. New Orleans hasn't stopped the run a lot this year. The Saints have the worst per-carry average (5.5) of any team in the league. Only four teams have given up as many rushing yards.

Can the Bucs beat the Saints on Sunday at the Superdome?

It depends on Freeman, who depends on Blount, and so forth.

Just asking, but does that sound like a game plan to anyone else?

For Tampa Bay Bucs, Josh Freeman's success is tied to LeGarrette Blount's play 11/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 2, 2011 1:21am]
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