TAMPA — Bucs coach Greg Schiano is nothing if not consistent.
From his introductory news conference in January until now, he has maintained the same principle about his team's offensive mentality.
"From the beginning, our philosophy is we want to run the football and take shots down the field," he said Tuesday.
Perhaps he should have said that in reverse.
The Bucs have discovered their potent, deep-passing game in recent weeks, and as a consequence they are running more effectively. That's because defenses are adjusting, as the Saints did on Sunday and the host Vikings likely will do Thursday.
Rookie running back Doug Martin's best performances since opening day have come in the past two games, in which the Bucs have thrown for 748 combined yards.
"I think it's all connected," Schiano said. "Part of it is we're throwing the ball better. That loosens things up a little."
Martin rushed for 76 and 85 yards, respectively, against the Chiefs and Saints in the past two games. The efficiency with which he amassed them is important. Martin averaged 5.6 yards per carry (161 yards on 29 carries) in those games; through the first four games he averaged 3.5.
The displays of quarterback Josh Freeman and receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams of the past two weeks showed another dimension of the Bucs' evolving offense, forcing defenses to re-evaluate their tactics.
"When they're throwing eight (defenders) in the box because they think their corners can cover, we have to make big plays so they can start taking people out the box and we can run the ball," Williams said.
"I think (teams) will do things to take certain strengths away," Schiano said. "I think what Minnesota's going to do defensively will do that to some degree. They'll play Tampa 2 and force you to throw underneath and those kinds of things."
The Tampa 2 scheme, a Vikings staple, is designed to defend against the deep pass. The crowd is likely to be deafening for the primetime matchup in the always-noisy Metrodome, so the Tampa Bay offense will have to be prepared to adjust in a raucous environment.
Having a running game that can exploit the kind of coverages they might see is a key.
That was what the Bucs did when Martin scored on a 36-yard carry in the first quarter against the Saints. With seven Saints near the line of scrimmage and the safeties well outside the box, the Bucs won one-on-one blocking assignments at the line of scrimmage. With no extra defender to account for, Martin needed only to make one tackler miss and outrun safety Roman Harper, pursuing from the opposite side of the field.
"The beautiful thing, I think, about this offense, is the versatility," offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "(It is) the ability to have some play-action shots and get some balls down the field that complement the runs as well as some of the drop-back concepts where we're continuing to grow and get better at. I don't think we want to pigeon-hole ourselves. We're on the same page and doing whatever it takes to put us in position to come out on top on Sundays."
That's true, even if it's different than Schiano's core run-first philosophy.
"I think Coach Schiano wants to win and I want to win and our offensive players and coaches want to win," Sullivan said. "… Sometimes there might be games where it takes us running the ball 45 times. Sometimes, we might have to throw the ball 45, 50 times.
"Whatever it takes."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.