TAMPA — The Bucs offense didn’t exclusively serve vanilla Saturday night. While their script seemed confined to the first few pages of the playbook, they might have revealed a fresh philosophy for 2022.
Amid the picks and protection flubs, check-down throws and touchdown throws, they brandished a run-pass balance.
In these parts, that’s called innovation.
“I can only go with the play calls,” third-year tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn said. “But today it was an emphasis on running, so that was our biggest thing.”
Just prior to their two-minute drill in Saturday’s 26-24 loss to the Dolphins, Tampa Bay had attempted as many runs (30) as passes, a stat that might yield two explanations: The Bucs are taking a long look at their intense four-man tailback competition behind starter Leonard Fournette; or the offense now bears a few Todd Bowles fingerprints.
The latter theory may stand to reason.
The Bucs’ new coach had a pair of top-12 rushing offenses during his four-season tenure (2015-18) with the Jets, and none of those teams averaged fewer than 101.4 rushing yards. If you subscribe to the premise that Tom Brady doesn’t want to throw his age (45 attempts) every Sunday, that tendency may continue in Tampa Bay.
“Just giving a lot of running backs a look, and offensive linemen as well, so we tried to mix it up,” Bowles explained. “Obviously we want to be balanced sometimes; it all depends on what they give us. But I thought those guys established some toughness down there, and we stayed with it.”
If any glitch has existed in the Brady offense, it’s too much of a reliance on the future Hall of Famer at times. The Bucs ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing (98.4 yards per game) in 2021, and were tied for 28th (94.9) the year before.
On their first nine first-down situations Saturday, the Bucs ran all nine times, with veteran Giovani Bernard (seven carries, 19 yards) getting several early handoffs. They finished the game with only 88 rushing yards on 31 attempts, but Fournette didn’t play, and the line was a mix-and-match experiment of second- and third-teamers.
But peer through the prism of September, and one can envision a first-down handoff to Fournette or tone-setting toss sweep to rookie Rachaad White (seven carries, game-high 32 yards Saturday), with Tristan Wirfs and Shaq Mason creating a seam.
All of which could make their quarterback more effective.
And dare we say, a fullback could surface a time or two. On Saturday, 265-pound rookie tight end Ko Kieft provided the lead block for Vaughn (10 carries, 19 yards) on his 1-yard scoring surge.
“I’ll follow him,” Vaughn said. “Just watching him at practice go head-up with guys, you know you can trust being behind him as a lead blocker.”
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Then there’s the lead thrower, who still loves to fling and has another smorgasbord of targets at his disposal. Then again, a steadier stream of handoffs in September and October might preserve Brady’s arm and keep it fresh for one more January run.
In that sense, he may be onboard with the balance displayed Saturday night.
“I thought (coordinator) Byron (Leftwich) mixed it up well,” Bowles said, “and we had some success with it.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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