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With return to old form, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' run attack gains steam

TAMPA — Dearly beloved, of all the grand ideas the Bucs had in the offseason that have been scrapped — both coordinators, the two-gap defensive front, the veteran quarterback derby and caravan of kickers — you can probably bury another concept as well:

The offensive line's zone blocking scheme.

Beginning in March, players and coaches were focused on changing the fundamental direction of the offensive line, transforming the Bucs from a power, gap scheme to zone blocking.

They changed their bodies, too. Pro Bowl G Davin Joseph lost 20-25 pounds, and there was an emphasis placed on mobility.

Oh, the Bucs still run some zone blocking plays. Every team in the NFL does. But if you checked out last week's game against Carolina, old was new again. The Bucs rushed 26 times for 154 yards (5.9-yard average) — the best production in the run game since they rushed for 174 yards in the season opener against the Cowboys.

"We've done some things," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "We've gone back to some gap schemes. We've run power for the first time this season, which is something we'd done a year ago. We still run the zone scheme, but we did some gap scheme in terms of our plan, and I think that's helped us.

"Sticking with (the run) was helpful. But I think schematically, we did a couple of different things that helped us out."

You can't blame Olson. When coach Raheem Morris took over the defense, the Bucs reverted to much of their old scheme, and it worked. The offense deserves the same chance to establish an identity as well — even if it's the old one.

Swing and a miss: Nothing will ruin a season faster than a bad kicking game. While there are a lot of fingerprints on the Bucs' failure this season, poor placekicking is certainly at or near the top.

The Bucs have made 9 of 18 field-goal attempts this season — the fewest of any NFL team. Their 50 percent success rate is the worst in a league that routinely averages 80 percent.

Last week, Connor Barth, the Bucs' third placekicker, was 2-of-4, missing from 36 and 42 yards. He kicked three field goals of 50 yards or more against the Dolphins a month ago, so the Bucs are willing to stick with him for now unless he proves to be another flash in the pan.

"He's a young guy who has a strong leg, who has shown us flashes of brilliance, and he has shown us failure from last week," Morris said. "He has to let us know who he's going to be. Was he hot that one day or is that his game? That's what we've got to find out these next four weeks."

Incidentally, the Bucs had been in contact recently with former K Matt Bryant before he signed with the Falcons to replace wayward Jason Elam.

Fresh legs: Why has WR Antonio Bryant racked up more than 200 yards in the past two weeks?

For one thing, he can run and practice. Bryant's surgically repaired left knee is the best it has been all season.

"He looked great (in practice)," Olson said. "You kind of cross your fingers and hope there's no lingering effects or that it would swell. To me, that's the biggest thing. He's healthy, and obviously it showed.

"He's always had a tremendous ability to track and catch the football. You look at his last two games at Carolina and some of the catches he made last year in that Monday night game, that stadium has been good to him. His ability to catch the football has been exceptional. It was just a matter of getting his legs back."

With return to old form, Tampa Bay Buccaneers' run attack gains steam 12/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 5:46pm]

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