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Tampa Bay Buccaneers troubleshoot their beleaguered offensive line

Bucs running back Derrick Ward (28) is overwhelmed by the Giants’ defense in Sunday’s 24-0 loss. Tampa Bay has 85 total rushing yards in its past two games after getting 174 in the opener.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Bucs running back Derrick Ward (28) is overwhelmed by the Giants’ defense in Sunday’s 24-0 loss. Tampa Bay has 85 total rushing yards in its past two games after getting 174 in the opener.

TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris and his offensive linemen agree on this much: Last weekend's performance up front has to improve no matter who plays quarterback or runs the ball.

But there's a slight disconnect about what truly is wrong with the once-heralded unit after a game in which Tampa Bay's quarterbacks were under siege and its running game was stuck in neutral.

In the 24-0 loss to the Giants, "we got outplayed physically," Morris said. "It'd be kind of hard to put your finger on what exactly was wrong with the run game last week because we got beat up so bad up front.

"If you want to sit down and make excuses for yourself, then it would be things like the scheme, or we didn't do something right, or technique. (But) we got outplayed."

That's a harsh evaluation for a unit that was touted as one of the team's strengths before the season. Players didn't necessarily agree with Morris' assessment, but they didn't try to put a pretty face on their performance, either.

The Bucs, built to run the ball, rushed for 174 yards in the season opener against Dallas but have been limited to 85 total rushing yards in the two games since.

"I can't really say that we got handled physically," left tackle Donald Penn said. "We're a physical team. (The Giants) didn't just outright beat us. But it seems like everybody had their bad play. Every time one of us had a bad play, it was on a play that made a difference. … If you watch, you can see we didn't quit. But we have to get better."

That said, it did appear the unit was pushed around. And a Washington defensive front that features All-Pro tackle Albert Haynesworth awaits on Sunday.

Also, the unit continues to work short-handed. Center Jeff Faine, the group leader, has missed two games with a triceps injury, and it's not clear when he'll be back.

His absence has made the middle of the line susceptible to penetra­tion. Much of the pressure the Giants brought against the run and pass came from the middle, where Sean Mahan is filling in for Faine.

But there may be reasons for optimism.

The line will theoretically bene­fit by the change of starting quarterbacks from Byron Leftwich to Josh Johnson. Johnson lacks meaningful experience, but his athleticism should keep the defense at bay, forcing it to blitz judiciously. And, as offensive coordinator Greg Olson said, the Redskins will have to keep containment on the edges to prevent Johnson from escaping. That should keep them from loading the middle with extra bodies.

"Teams just said, 'You know what? We are going to stop the run and force (Leftwich) to throw it to beat us,' " Olson said. "Teams have had an opportunity to scout us. With that being said, we're still going to have to block some eight-man boxes."

Also, players such as Penn, guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood are among the most conscientious, and they have spent considerable time looking inward.

"You're going to have some snaps that you want to have back," said Joseph, a late addition to the Pro Bowl last season. "It's about being more consistent. It's about focusing on my details better. I want to be the best in this league at what I do."

Said Trueblood: "Raheem has told us we need to self-evaluate. When things aren't going the way you want, that's how you rebound."

Until it turns the tables, though, the offensive line will be under fire.

"Once your running game gets going, it's off and rolling," Morris said. "Then, you have those (opponents) searching for answers."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers troubleshoot their beleaguered offensive line 10/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2009 9:55pm]
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