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So how would you feel about Tom Brady throwing the ball less?

John Romano | The Bucs aren’t going to adopt a smash-mouth offense, but there might be some justification for a handful of extra running plays.
Leonard Fournette averaged a career-high 4.5 yards per carry in Tampa Bay last season, but the Bucs do not call his number as often as other running backs in the NFL. Could Tampa Bay lessen the pressure on Tom Brady by running the ball a handful of more times in 2022?
Leonard Fournette averaged a career-high 4.5 yards per carry in Tampa Bay last season, but the Bucs do not call his number as often as other running backs in the NFL. Could Tampa Bay lessen the pressure on Tom Brady by running the ball a handful of more times in 2022? [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Aug. 16|Updated Aug. 16

TAMPA — You do not argue with success. Of course, you don’t.

But, as an exercise in curiosity, you might occasionally poke at it.

Take the Bucs’ offense, for instance. The 2021 version was the best in franchise history. The No. 2 scoring offense in the NFL, despite some late-season injuries and defections.

Case closed, right? Xerox the playbook, hand Tom Brady the ball and let the good times roll. And, for the most part, that’s what the Bucs will do in 2022.

But there has been some chatter that Tampa Bay might want to run the ball a little more this season. That new head coach Todd Bowles might like a little more balance to the offense.

This isn’t anything Bowles has said publicly. In fact, he seems to have carefully avoided saying that.

“As long as the scoreboard is the same, I’ll take either one,” Bowles said, when asked if he wanted more of a run/pass balance. “If they take away the run to make us throw, we’ve got to throw it. If they allow us to run and try to take away the pass, we’ve got to run it.

“Whatever they’re giving us, and whatever we can take advantage of, that’s what we want to do.”

This idea that the Bucs might want to run the ball more seems to be based on two thoughts:

No. 1, Bowles has a defensive background and might be more conservative than the no-risk-it, no-biscuit philosophy of previous head coach Bruce Arians.

No. 2, the Bucs could hardly run the ball any less.

Tampa Bay kept the ball on the ground on only 33.2 percent of its plays last season, which was the lowest percentage in the NFL. In fact, over the last two seasons, Brady is the only quarterback in the league to have averaged more than 40 passes per game.

And that makes perfect sense. When you have Eric Clapton in your band, you don’t schedule a lot of drum solos.

“Whatever Todd wants us to do, we’ll be ready for it. But I expect it’s going to be business as usual,” said Bucs running game coordinator Harold Goodwin. “When you have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and last year we had (Rob Gronkowski) too, and Tom Brady is your quarterback, you can understand if your offense might skew a little more toward the passing game.”

Still, there are legitimate reasons for pondering a few more running plays in Tampa Bay’s future. For, as many points as the Bucs put on the board last season, they were in the bottom half of the league when it came to time-of-possession. While that’s not a sexy stat for fans, it does help shorten the game for a team’s defense if you can control the clock.

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And then there’s the matter of putting a 45-year-old quarterback at risk. Brady is among the best in the league when it comes to getting rid of the ball quickly, but every dropback is another chance that your quarterback is going to get hit.

A healthy running game is also a huge benefit on the play-action pass and Brady, again, is one of the best in the league in that category.

“It helps the offensive line set the tempo for the game. It’s letting the defense know that you’re going to lean on them and that we think our guys are better than your guys up front,” Goodwin said. “The more you lean on them, the more you’re going to wear down that pass rush when it gets to the fourth quarter and the two-minute drill.”

There is some justification to wonder about Bowles’ affinity for the running game. When he was a head coach in New York, the Jets ran the ball about 42 percent of the time. That roughly translates to about five or six more running plays per game than what the Bucs have done the last two seasons.

Of course, Bowles also had three different offensive coordinators during his four seasons in New York. And none of his quarterbacks would ever be confused with Brady.

So what does all of this mean?

Tampa Bay’s offense is still going to revolve around Brady and his receivers, that seems obvious. But the offensive line has had success running the ball in smaller doses in the past, and Leonard Fournette is one of the 10 highest-paid running backs in the league.

The idea that the Bucs might run the ball at a slightly higher rate than the past two seasons does not seem like an outlandish thought.

It might even be worth an argument.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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