TAMPA — Quarterback Josh Freeman is the face of the franchise, but the real identity of the Bucs offense needs to become their ability to run the football.
That's what coach Raheem Morris says these final three games are all about: establishing what the offense is going to be known for in 2010.
"It's a little frustrating that we don't have an identity," center Jeff Faine said. "It's a little frustrating that the play isn't consistent. I'm choosing my words carefully, but I think with the offensive line, there's some frustration up front from the standpoint that we know we're better and we know we can produce better numbers. And we know our running backs are better.
"It's just the situation we're in. (Defenses are) able to do the things they do because we're playing with a young quarterback that is learning on the job."
The Bucs are 25th in the NFL in rushing at 98.2 yards per game. They have not had a 100-yard rusher this season despite investing nearly $12 million in Cadillac Williams, Derrick Ward and Earnest Graham.
According to Morris, the offensive line has "underachieved." The unit includes the league's highest-paid center (Faine), a first-round pick (guard Davin Joseph), a second-round pick (right tackle Jeremy Trueblood) and a projected coveted free agent (left tackle Donald Penn).
"They haven't played their best football," Morris said. "You've got to get better up front. You've got to get better in the backfield, and we've got to get better all around. And that goes for everything as far as the run game.
"We've definitely got to call it underachieving for the offensive line when you're only able to muster up a couple of performances like the one in the first game of the season (174 yards against the Cowboys) and versus Carolina (154 on Dec. 6)."
After Freeman's eight interceptions in two games, Morris said the Bucs need to "scale back" the offense and take some pressure off the rookie.
Presumably, that means being more committed to running the football. But offensive coordinator Greg Olson has struggled to find the right buttons to push.
Part of the problem is Olson took over for the fired Jeff Jagodzinski just 10 days before the season opener and decided not to completely scrap the zone-blocking scheme installed in March. Olson also has played three quarterbacks, including Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson.
Two weeks ago at Carolina, with Freeman passing for a career-high 321 yards, the Bucs gained 5.9 yards per carry utilizing a lot of man-blocking concepts and a power running game.
"Our job is to find solutions, and obviously we haven't done that," Olson said. "That's been my biggest disappointment, where we're going with that and where we've been with that.
"I think it all starts with the run game, especially with the quarterback situation we've had this year."
According to Faine, the rushing attack will get better when Freeman is good enough throwing the football to strike fear in the opponent's defense.
"Until there's a threat, until our passing game can put a fear into the secondary of the defense or into the defensive coordinators of opposing teams, there's no reason to do anything else and we won't be able to run the ball," Faine said.
"As much as it's tough to say, as soon as No. 5 gets better and he gets the experience and learning on the job and gets to the point where he really is putting fear into defenses, we'll get the right looks and those $12 million running backs will get to produce and the offensive line will block like they're supposed to."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.