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John Romano: With one basic running play, Tampa Bay Buccaneers find right offensive footing

Running back LeGarrette Blount shrugs off late-arriving safety Husain Abdullah for a rushing touchdown that ignites the Bucs.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Running back LeGarrette Blount shrugs off late-arriving safety Husain Abdullah for a rushing touchdown that ignites the Bucs.

TAMPA — It began simply. No motion, no trickery, no theatrics.

Just two receivers, two running backs, one tight end and a bundle at stake.

The Buccaneers were 26 minutes away from being 0-2, and 17 points down to the Vikings at the start of the second half. Through the first six quarters of the season, their running backs had rushed for a total of 39 yards or, to put it another way, less than what Adrian Peterson had just gained in a handful of minutes.

This was the moment offensive coordinator Greg Olson had the Bucs line up in their basic I-formation, and asked that LeGarrette Blount be handed the ball.

Six seconds and 27 yards later, the Bucs had scored a touchdown and were on the way to one of the more impressive comebacks in franchise history.

"It was huge," center Jeff Faine said. "Things weren't going that well for us at that point."

It is possible I am overstating the importance of this moment. The Bucs may well have pulled off the comeback even if Blount had been stopped.

But something seemed to shift at that moment. As if confidence had been gained on one sideline and momentum lost on the other. At the very least, it was the first indication to an opposing defense that Tampa Bay's running game had to be accounted for.

"When we get the running game going, a lot of things happen," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "The play-calling, from a defensive standpoint, might have to change.

"The moment you start getting Blount running, that gets eight-man boxes and opens things up on the outside, creates a lot of one-on-ones."

Strange as it seems, this basic running play was in some ways a gamble. The Bucs had their best field position of the day and absolutely needed to score. And at that point, running the ball was not the most propitious way of going about things.

Through a game and a half of football, more than half of Tampa Bay's rushing attempts by running backs had failed to gain even a single yard.

Still, the Bucs were likely heading nowhere if they couldn't find a running game. Franchise quarterback or not, life is difficult for a one-dimensional offense.

"We try to run a lot of base offense, two receivers, a tight end, a fullback, a running back. Establishing the run, for us, is very important because that's our main grouping and, I believe, our strongest grouping," guard Davin Joseph said. "It keeps you out of third-and-long situations, and so now you have more options.

"You can go with quick passes, you can go five-step drops or three-step drops, you can run the ball, there's just a lot more options in third-and-manageable."

So the decision was made to establish the running game on the first drive of the second half. A pass to tight end Luke Stocker got them near the red zone, and the call for Blount followed.

Faine and Joseph pushed a defensive tackle and linebacker to the inside, right tackle Jeremy Trueblood pushed the defensive end to the outside. That opened the hole. Fullback Erik Lorig then took out the middle linebacker on a run blitz.

Even then, the play was not guaranteed. The coaching staff felt the problems with the running game in the opener were not the fault of the offensive line but with Blount not hitting holes. Running backs coach Steve Logan printed out snapshots of holes in the line and challenged Blount to follow the reads.

"He went through that hole and kept going," coach Raheem Morris said. "After that, you just let him go. You don't coach jumping over people, we don't coach running around or through people. That's kind of LeGarrette.

"The thing we've got to do is make sure he knows the proper blocking pattern, where he should be and how fast can he get there. My coach did a great job of getting that done."

Once Blount was through the line, his path was cleared by receiver Mike Williams handling cornerback Antoine Winfield and free safety Husain Abdullah playing deep on the other side where the tight end was lined up.

"That's our bread-and-butter play," Williams said. "When I looked at it, with the safety rotating, I knew if I blocked the corner, it was a touchdown. And that's exactly what happened."

The Bucs did not turn the offense over to the running attack after that. They still had to throw far more than they ran as they tried to cut the score.

But the threat of the run had changed the game's dynamics. A few handoffs sprinkled in between pass plays meant the Vikings couldn't focus on the pass rush or deep coverage.

Three of the Bucs' next four drives resulted in scores, and the other one ended with an interception in the end zone.

"The Arrelious Benn touchdown was because of the running game," Faine said. "It was a play-action pass that suckered the safeties up. They had to come down and respect it, and it made a one-on-one matchup out there.

"That run just opened things up. That's Buccaneers football. When we get the running game going it actually opens up our playbook a little more, it allows us to take advantage of opportunities that wouldn't normally be there."

One simple play with far-reaching consequences.

John Romano: With one basic running play, Tampa Bay Buccaneers find right offensive footing 09/21/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 10:37pm]
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