We are now through six weeks of the NFL season. So far, things have gone relatively well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They currently have a record of 3-2 and sit on top of the NFC South.
To this point, things have gone about as expected. The Bucs have one of the best defenses in the NFL and the new offensive system brought in by Dave Canales has gone a long way in revitalizing Baker Mayfield’s career, as well as utilizing the talent on the offensive line. However, there is still a lot left to be desired on this side of the ball.
Right now the Buccaneers are facing two words that are a death sentence to an NFL offense: Identity Crisis. It’s obvious that Todd Bowles and Canales want to run the ball. Even with extremely limited success in doing it, most weeks they have attempted to run the ball consistently.
So what do you call an offense that wants to run the ball, but can’t? I would call it a bad offense. In the Bucs case, that is true in some ways. At the very least the offense isn’t good enough to compete with the top teams in the NFC.
What is wrong with the Buccaneers rushing attack?
This is a deeply layered question. If the answer were just one thing then it would be an easy problem to fix. Unfortunately, that is not the case for the Buccaneers.
For one, the offensive line has to play better in this area. Specifically the interior of the line has to either generate push one on one or be able to peel off and make blocks in space. Right now I wouldn’t say that the middle three are doing either.
Perhaps as a result, starting running back Rachaad White doesn’t seem to trust what’s in front of him. There is often some hesitation before hitting the holes. This leads to the holes closing before a lot of damage can be done.
It could also be argued that play calling is part of the issue. With as many looks as it seems like the Buccaneers want to give opponents, it feels too often that things are brought in tight when the Bucs want to try and run the ball. This makes for a lot of tacklers in the box.
Each of these take up their own slice of the pie. Each is a problem that needs to be solved to make this a playoff caliber offense.
So, how do we fix it?
There is no easy answer to this. There will be growth amongst the Bucs young offensive line and as a result the running backs will develop trust in that group. How much improvement this brings is yet to be seen, but it is unlikely to be drastic.
The best way to improve the running game is to adjust the play calls. This doesn’t mean a fundamental change in what they want to do, but rather just how they want to do it at times. Here’s what I mean.
The Bucs have a lot of speed at wide receiver. Not utilizing that in various ways is a disservice to the offense. This includes handing the ball off to wide receivers and faking the handoff on motions to open things up more in the middle.
Throwing the ball more is also a part of that. Quick screens to wide receivers and the running backs are an extension of the running game. This was done far too much in the previous regime, but I would like to see just a little more this year. Rachaad White is a good pass catcher and feels underutilized in this area.
What about outside help?
If you’re someone who believes that the Bucs need to add a running back then i agree with you. I believe in Sean Tucker, but it’s clever that he hasn’t established himself with this coaching staff after missing much of training camp. Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been getting more touches lately, but it feels like that has only made the problem worse.
Bringing in another running back, preferably someone who can get the tough, physical yards, makes sense. However, I don’t think it should be the big names that some people have discussed. The likes of Derrick Henry or Jonothan Taylor are not practical or realistic for the Buccaneers and their salary cap situation.
The next tier of names like Rashaad Penny or Rhamondre Stevenson make more sense. They both have the size and pass catching ability that the Bucs need for this offense. The only concern would be the price tag involved, but I’m not sure either would cost too much to take a move like this off the table.
I believe the most likely scenario would be the Bucs signing a free agent. Someone young and cheap who can bring a similar skillset. This makes more sense than trading for a higher paid back who probably won’t be part of the team’s long term plans.
A name that stands out to me is former Central Michigan running back Lew Nichols. The 5’11, 225 lbs back can get the tough yards and do all the basic necessities required for the passing game. He led all of college football in rushing yards in 2021 and has bounced around practice squads since being drafted in the 7th round of the most recent draft.
We know what Dave Canales wants the identity of this team to be. However, there is a significant gap between what he wants and what he has. And while I do believe this will improve some over time in this new offense, I don’t think there is an easy fix.
The best way to fix it is to evolve what it looks like. The Buccaneers can keep their identity of a running team, but the way they accomplish this has to grow and change. More misdirection, more spreading things out and giving unexpected players a chance to carry the ball.
Will this make the Bucs a dynamic rushing team? No, almost certainly not. However, it can provide the balance and efficiency that they are looking for and take pressure off Baker Mayfield and the passing attack. This who who the Buccaneers want to be.