TAMPA — Todd Bowles did not mince his words Monday night. Asked about the Bucs’ running game in the 25-11 loss to the Eagles at Raymond James Stadium, the head coach just spit out the bitter truth.
“We didn’t have one (Monday),” Bowles said. “We’re not going to sit here and sugarcoat anything.”
No sugarcoating could make the performance palatable.
The Bucs had 41 rushing yards on 17 carries. Rachaad White led the way with 38 yards on 14 carries.
Meanwhile, the defending NFC champion Eagles ran the ball 40 times for 201 yards, with D’Andre Swift rolling up 130 yards on 16 carries.
While White credited the Eagles’ strong defensive front, the second-year back said he was not exactly sure what went wrong.
“It was kind of like a weird game if I am being honest. So I can’t really explain. I just know it was tough,” said White, who fumbled in the second quarter and was tackled in the end zone for a safety in the third.
“I mean, you have to look at the film to see. Maybe I’m missing the holes. I mean, we all were doing the best we can to play hard and go hard. And there will be games like that.”
Part of the explanation comes down to the Eagles’ defense. They are the best in the NFL at defending the run through three games this season, having allowed just 145 yards.
Still, Bowles was generous in distributing the blame on his side of the field.
“It’s everybody,” he said. “Probably they made some plays. We’ve got to block them better. We didn’t do a good job on first down overall, whether we ran it or threw it. We did not do a good job on first down on either side of the ball. And they stayed in third and short when they were on offense. We stayed in third and long when we were on offense.”
Bowles’ frustration is understandable, because this was a red flag for the Bucs going into this past offseason.
The Bucs had the worst run game in the NFL a year ago with just 1,308 rushing yards and five touchdowns. They averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
The offense was able to overcome that weakness a little easier last season because they had future Hall of Famer Tom Brady making up for it in the passing game.
But the Bucs entered this season knowing they had to improve on the ground to balance their offense. Part of the attraction in hiring Dave Canales as offensive coordinator was his commitment to improving the running game. Tampa Bay brought in Skip Peete to coach the running backs, stealing him from the Cowboys, who had the second-most rushing touchdowns (24) in the NFL last season.
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The Bucs, who were committed to getting younger and more athletic this offseason, cut Leonard Fournette and handed White the role of featured back.
After three weeks, the Bucs are tied for the fewest yards per carry (2.8) this season and seventh-fewest rushing yards (234) in the league.
Still, White and the Bucs have confidence their running game will show itself.
“I mean, you’re going to have some ups and you’re going to have some downs, especially me being a young player and all that,” White said. “But at the end of the day, all of us as a unit, we own it. It is what it is. They did a good job, but we’re going to stick together and move on.”
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