CHARLOTTE — From the moment they saw tape of Ronald Jones, the Bucs new coaching staff was excited about his potential. So leading up to the season opener, they invested a lot of effort into rebuilding his confidence.
And one bright spot that emerged from the 31-17 loss to San Francisco was Jones’ best game as a pro. He led the team with 75 rushing yards on 13 carries and had an 18-yard reception for 93 total offensive yards.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said this week Peyton Barber remains the starting running back, but that Jones will play a significant role and coaches will play the hot hand, as they did in the second half Sunday when Jones accumulated most of his yardage.
“I don’t know if it could’ve gotten any hotter unless he [would have] run through the last one and scored a couple times, but he was very decisive and there were a lot of holes for him to be decisive in," Arians said. "He was running through arm tackles and that’s exactly what I expected out of him.”
Last year, Jones struggled to avoid contact, was indecisive in turning downfield and didn’t show much burst.
Against the 49ers, he ran with authority, primarily between the tackles. In the second half, he logged runs of 11, 11, 9, 7, 9 and 16 yards.
Hit the hole, RoJo.
So why was Jones so productive? NFL Next Gen Stats rates running back efficiency by taking the total distance a back travels on rushing plays as a ball carrier per rushing yards gained. The lower the number the more efficient.
In Week 1, Jones ranked sixth in the league, and was in pretty good company. Here’s the list.
|Saquon Barkley||N.Y. GIants||1.94|
|LeSean McCoy||Kansas City||2.1|
|Ronald Jones||Tampa Bay||2.68|
|Todd Gurley||L.A. Rams||2.98|
|Alvin Kamara||New Orleans||3.06|
|Malcom Brown||L.A. Rams||3.11|
Another NFL Next Gen stat measures the average time a running back spends behind the line of scrimmage — the average seconds from the times he receives the ball to passes the line of scrimmage — which is an indicator that he’s running straight ahead with speed. Jones had the fourth-lowest time behind the line of scrimmage in Week 1.
The Bucs’ offensive line also deserves credit for Jones’ success. They opened holes for him, and their Week 1 run blocking graded out fourth best in the league (73.1), according to Pro Football Focus.
“We’re a tight-end-to-tight-end, inside running team, so yeah, [center] Ryan [Jensen] did a heck of a job," Arians said. "[Left guard] Ali [Marpet] had a heck of a ball game. [Left tackle] Donovan [Smith] had a heck of a game in the run game also.”
While it seemed like Jones dominated the snaps in the second half, he received the fewest among the Bucs’ three running backs, meaning he made the most of his opportunity.
Jones should see more attention tonight at Bank of America Stadium. The 49ers didn’t stack line often, preferring to play a zone defense to take away the Bucs passing game and frustrate Jameis Winston. Still, the 49ers run defense ranked 14th in the league last season and improved since then.
Last week, the Panthers showed some susceptibility to the run. Carolina allowed 166 rushing yards Week 1, which was the fifth-most of any team in the league.
Some of that might have to do with the fact the Rams were the third-best rushing team in the league last season. But 47.5 percent of Los Angeles’ total offense came on the ground, which suggests the Bucs’ biggest key to victory tonight in Carolina could be by establishing the run.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.