TAMPA — The impact of LeGarrette Blount's bowl-you-over, punishing running style can't be calculated only by yards rushed. The true measurement is how teammates respond to the way the 6-foot, 247-pound tailback strews tacklers across the field like broken beads of a necklace.
In his first extended playing time of the season, Blount did more than rush 11 times for 72 yards (66 in the second half) against the Rams on Sunday. He lifted the offensive line, which has struggled to run block, and ignited defensive players on the sideline. It's the kind of physical runner the Bucs say they have been missing since Mike Alstott last played in 2006.
"You can feel the excitement on the field, the offensive line, everybody on the sideline jumping around," Blount said. "It's just exciting when you break off a big run after you've broken a tackle or two. When you get back to the sideline, those guys just tell you, 'Keep running hard. Keep running downhill. They're scared to tackle you.' That just inspires me to run even harder the next time I get the ball."
Guard Davin Joseph said the steady diet of eight and nine defenders close to the line of scrimmage has contributed to the ineffectiveness of starter Cadillac Williams, who has averaged 2.5 yards per carry.
Prior to Blount's appearance in the second half against the Rams, Tampa Bay's offense was looking for a spark. By getting on the edges, where he can truck over defensive backs who are 75 pounds lighter, Blount set the tone for an offense that rallied from a 17-3 deficit to win 18-17.
"It lifts the offensive line, the tight ends, the quarterback. Everybody gets up for that type of stuff," Joseph said. "With football being football, you love to see the physical play added to our offense, and we are loving it right now. We're definitely going to be able to benefit from that in the long run. Being able to get him on one guy and knowing that he can make him miss … we're going to gain some yardage on it.
"We try to do that every week, and now we're getting to do some more downhill stuff with him in the game. And it's really going to diversify our offense."
For all the elaborate schemes and chess matches between coordinators, football still is one opponent trying to force its will on another through physical brutality.
That's why Alstott's 12-year career in Tampa Bay is so celebrated. His career average was 3.7 yards, yet he ran with such power and leverage that other backs benefited from the carnage he inflicted on the way to 5,088 yards and 58 touchdowns.
"We were kind of in a lull last week, and I really think we won because of LeGarrette and the way he came out and ran the ball," Bucs fullback Earnest Graham said. "You really kind of force your will. It's kind of a show of force. Everybody starts to play and want to make plays, and that's what he brought to the table last week."
Beginning Sunday at Arizona, Blount should offer more demonstrations as he splits carries with Williams. Claimed off waivers from the Titans at the start of the season, the former Oregon star said he is familiar with only about 40 percent of the Bucs offense, which is why Williams has been used more in the passing game.
Coach Raheem Morris knows what a big back such as Blount can do to demoralize a defense.
"It's like a slam dunk in a basketball game," Morris said. "It just brings a little momentum. It creates a little more drive. It keeps the defense on the sideline while you run the ball on them and take a little life out of them. When you can do that, it's big time.
"It certainly changes the people tackling him; how they tackle, when they want to tackle them. It wears down a team. It does some really positive things for your team. We've been on the other end of that sometimes."
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com.