TAMPA — The Bucs' 42 rushing yards Sunday were, by far, the lowest total of the season. And the answers to curing the seasonlong problem are as evasive as ever.
"It's been five games and the running game is invisible right now," running back Cadillac Williams said after the 31-6 loss to the Saints. "I don't know. I'm lost (for answers)."
The problem worsened in another respect because backup Kareem Huggins, who coaches hoped would provide a spark off the bench, suffered what the Bucs fear was a significant injury to his right knee in the third quarter. Huggins was hit by Saints linebacker Marvin Mitchell, taking a shot to the knee while his cleat was planted firmly in the ground on a reception.
Huggins left in severe pain and did not return, with the team suspecting torn ligaments, which would leave his return this season in jeopardy.
And fullback Earnest Graham aggravated a hamstring strain that he sustained in practice last week. He was unable to return after leaving in the first quarter.
Graham said he believed he could return against the Rams next week with a little rest, but he allowed that hamstring injuries can be problematic, too.
"Hamstrings are funny things," he said. "You just have to play it by ear. I felt good in warmups and all that, but then game time came and it got screwed up again."
Even beyond the injuries, the Bucs have to address the need to run the ball more effectively.
Said Graham: "It doesn't look good at all. You have to be honest about that. We have to find consistency no matter who the running back is. It's one of those things where the running game has always been about mentality.
"I'm not saying we don't have it, but that's one of the important things. There are some other technical things as far as assignments. We have to go look at the tape and figure this out."
Williams, who finished with 18 yards on 10 carries, suggested the Bucs need to find out what kind of running team they're going to be.
Sometimes, it's unclear whether they employ a power running game, a finesse running game or something else.
"In the running game, you have to find your identity," he said. "If somebody was to ask what's our identity, I can't tell you."
Backups LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin were inactive because coaches wanted to get Huggins involved while activating players such as receiver Preston Parker.
But whoever winds up running the ball, there needs to be more productivity.
"It's the NFL," Graham said. "You can't win like this. … Everybody knows that. It's no secret. You saw it on the field."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.