TAMPA — The only time Cadillac Williams ran free last week was after the game when he jogged quickly from the field at Bank of America Stadium, through the tunnel and into the locker room, smiling and waving an index finger over his head.
Williams managed to stay upbeat despite taking a beating from the Panthers, rushing 27 times for 51 yards.
In two games, he has been more of a plow horse than workhorse. His 126 yards (on 49 carries) rank 19th in the NFL, and his 2.6 average is the lowest among the league's top 50 rushers.
"We'll get it done; I know that for a fact," Williams said. "We just have to be better with our execution. We need to man up as a whole. I mean, maybe I need to break more tackles.
"But no matter what, things are going to get better. We just have to stay confident and not start pointing fingers at each other."
Certainly, there is enough blame to go around.
But offensive coordinator Greg Olson hasn't been left with a lot of options other than Williams after the Bucs moved Earnest Graham to fullback and released Derrick Ward.
Second-year pro Kareem Huggins was supposed to be a big part of the game plan against the Panthers, but he suffered a groin strain and had to be inactive.
The Bucs picked up big, physical running backs off waivers — Kregg Lumpkin from the Packers and LeGarrette Blount from the Titans. But neither is familiar enough with the offense to contribute.
"We won't be the first people to say we're not where we need to be right now," Olson said. "We're committed to it, we're committed to getting better at it, whether we're looking to make a constant evaluation of our scheme, a constant evaluation of the people we have. And it's not just Cadillac Williams, and it's not just the offensive line. There's a lot that goes into it. It is the tight ends, the ability to throw the ball in a loaded box and a comfort level there. It's the quarterback's ability to get us out of bad runs … everyone is involved."
The Bucs have 214 yards rushing in two games, but quarterback Josh Freeman has accounted for 77 yards.
Despite the low numbers, the rushing game has produced results. The Bucs milked the clock at the end of the first half and in the fourth quarter while keeping the defense fresh. And they created one-on-one looks in the passing game.
"I tell these guys, it's not so much about how much success you actually have running the ball, it's about banging your head up in there for the (good) of the team," coach Raheem Morris said. "You look at Cadillac (Williams) and how he ran the ball (against Carolina last week), and no, he didn't run for a great average. But what he did do was save us snaps on defense and take time off the clock for us. That's big."
The Bucs' loyalty to Williams is understandable, especially considering how he has overcome two severe knee injuries. But how far can his legs carry the offense? Huggins is expected to play today. More help will arrive shortly after the Bucs use the bye week to get Lumpkin and Blount up to speed.
It won't get any easier today against the Steelers defense, which held the Titans' Chris Johnson to 34 yards on 16 carries last week. Graham says the Bucs are prepared for a long day.
"Running backs by nature have that mentality, kind of workhorses by nature and unselfish guys," Graham said. "Especially in the National Football League, if teams want to make a point to stop the running game, they can do it. They can make your day pretty miserable. We understood that, but we still made a concerted effort to run the ball, and it opened up some plays for us down the field because we got good looks out of the play-action. That was our sacrifice for the day.
"We'll do it again if we have to. Whatever it takes to win."