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Bucs Run Ball More Leonard Fournette Tom Brady
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Will Bucs Run Ball More in 2022?

  • Carmen Vitali
  • May 26, 2022
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A (semi) new regime is afoot in Tampa Bay after Head Coach Bruce Arians stepped down, elevating former Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles in his place. It was a passing of the torch between an offensive-minded quarterback guru to one of the most brilliant defensive minds in the game today. And though the coaching staff is largely unchanged, and Arians himself remains on staff, will it mean changes to the offense now that Bowles ultimately has the reins? More specifically, will it mean the Buccaneers run the ball more in 2022?

The short answer: probably not.

Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich, who has called plays since he arrived in Tampa in 2019, is still in charge of the offense. The Bucs aren’t likely to see too much changeup on the offensive side of the ball even under a new head coach, as a result. Bowles trusts Leftwich just as Arians did – the only wildcard may be the quarterback.

Tom Brady will be 45 years old when the season starts and yet still has one of the quickest releases in the league. He can quite literally put the offense on his shoulders and get rid of the ball when he needs to – seemingly unaffected by the balance of the offense he’s in.

During his time with the Patriots, there wasn’t any consistency with which the offense struck a balance between the pass and the run, either. New England ranked as high as fifth (2016) in rush-play percentage and as low as 25th (2015) within the last decade.

In fact, Brady is known more for throwing the football to his running backs than handing it off. Running back Leonard Fournette had the third-most targets of any back in the league last year with 84. He tied for the most targets per game with six.

But the Patriots never ranked dead last in rushing play percentage with Brady at the helm… which is what the Bucs ranked in 2021. Their 33.8% rush rate was almost a full three points lower than the 31st-ranked New York Jets.

Is it realistic to expect Brady to continue to shoulder the offensive load in the passing game? That’s the real question here. This is a guy who threw 55 passes in a game last season. His average was 42. If, as an opposing defender you bet the Bucs were going to pass the ball and sold out on it, more often than not, you’d have been right.

Break it down further and if you had managed to get Tampa Bay to third down, they almost never ran the ball. Out of 226 third downs the Bucs faced, they ran on just 28 of them during the regular season last year. The gap closes a little bit on first down. There was some variability there. Out of 481 first downs, they ran it 185 times – or 38.5% of the time.

But the thing about Tampa Bay is they don’t exactly need to run the ball. They have one of the best wide receiver tandems in the league with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. They could get the league’s most prolific pass-catching (and blocking) tight end back in Rob Gronkowski, should he choose to play another year. And oh hey, again they have Fournette, who proved his worth in the passing game. They also drafted Rachaad White out of Arizona State in the third round of this year’s draft. You could say catching balls out of the backfield is somewhat of a specialty for the former Sun Devil.

And while you don’t want to rank dead last in any productive category – the Bucs also don’t utilize play action very often, therefore negating the ‘need’ to establish the run. Tampa Bay ranked 28th last year, running play action just 10.4% of the time, to be exact.

And the thing is, they can afford to run a more straightforward system given the talent on that side of the ball. They instead favor things like motion, where they ranked in the top 10 in offensive snaps using some type of motion last year. Their 55.4% usage rate ranked 12th.

In the end, the Bucs have been getting along offensively just fine even without this balance. They scored the second-most points in the league last season and averaged the second-most points per game.  They also recorded the second-most yards per game offensively, effectively boasting the second-best offense in the league.

Now, where things under Bowles may differ is in more flexibility. Bowles isn’t known for his offense. Again, he’s trusting Leftwich to handle that. What Bowles cares about is winning – and that can come in different ways.

“If we have to throw the ball 50 times to win, that’s great,” Bowles said last week. “If we have to run the ball 30 times to win. We’ll take what they give us. We’ll always have shots for big plays. Obviously, Brady is a great passer. We want to equal that with the running game if we can but if they’re taking away the run and we have to throw the ball 60 times and he throws five or six touchdowns, I’ll take the win. If we’re running the ball pretty good and we get going about 25-30 times, I’ll take the win.

“Nobody is putting handcuffs on the offense from that standpoint. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to win the game.”

Flexibility is exactly what you drafted White for and why you’ve developed Fournette into a three-down back. Just as Bowles’ defenses do, you want the offense to keep opponents guessing, too. The more versatility you have, the better. And that’s exactly what this roster is set up for – so good luck trying to pigeonhole it or any tendencies it has. If that comes with an increase in rushing percentage, good for them. If not – well, they’ve figured it out before.

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Carmen Vitali