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Todd Bowles wants more running back balance. Will he get it?

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich suggests Thursday that the Bucs may lean on whomever gives it the best chance to win.
 
Published Dec. 29, 2022|Updated Dec. 31, 2022

TAMPA — While the perpetual debate over how to handle the Bucs’ platoon system at tailback lingers among fans, Byron Leftwich seems more resolute on the issue.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, the fourth-year offensive coordinator suggested the team may continue to ride the guy in a better groove on that particular day. Such was the case Sunday, when the Bucs employed veteran Leonard Fournette (162 total yards) almost exclusively down the stretch in a 19-16 overtime win against the Cardinals.

“We’re at that time of year where we’re in December football, really, where we’ve just got to have all our thoughts really on winning and how to win football games,” said Leftwich, whose 7-8 team can clinch the NFC South with a win Sunday against the Panthers (6-9). “And whatever it is, whatever it takes, we’re going to try to do that.”

The debate over the rotation re-ignited Sunday when rookie Rachaad White — who has started the last six contests — took the game’s first two handoffs for 25 total yards. He had two carries (for zero net yards) and one 8-yard reception the rest of the half, and finished with 36 yards on seven carries (5.1 yards per carry).

Fournette finished with 72 yards on 20 carries (3.6 yards per carry), but caught nine of the 10 passes targeted to him, for 90 yards.

“We’ve got to rotate it a little bit better,” coach Todd Bowles said Monday. “Lenny got going a little bit more, so (we) rode the hot hand a little bit, but I thought Rachaad could have gotten in there some more plays. We’ll be better at that going forward.”

The Cardinals' J.J Watt (99) tackles Bucs running back Rachaad White (29) during Sunday's game.
The Cardinals' J.J Watt (99) tackles Bucs running back Rachaad White (29) during Sunday's game. [ DARRYL WEBB | AP ]

White, considered the faster, shiftier option, enters Week 17 with 444 yards on 114 carries (3.9 yards per carry), and has caught 45 of the 53 passes targeted to him. Fournette, sturdier and far more seasoned, is averaging only 3.6 yards per handoff (179 carries, 640 yards), but is second on the team with 68 catches and clearly has evolved into Brady’s favorite checkdown option.

Moreover, his previous postseason success (448 total yards, four touchdowns in the 2020 postseason alone) could prompt the staff to continue feeding him in Sunday’s de facto playoff game.

“I know who’s in the game at the time,” Leftwich said. “Sometimes what happens within that series determines who gets sometimes the most reps, but we’re just playing.

“I see it as every other position: We’re going to put whoever’s out there, go play to your skill set, play the best you can play, help us win football games.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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