Run-pass balance a key to Buccaneers’ offensive success

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Back Doug Martin (22) tries to break a tackle during an NFL football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on November 27, 2016, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. (Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)
(Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)

While a lot of credit for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ victory over the Seattle Seahawks will rightfully go to the team’s defensive performance, an underlying factor in the team’s win was its offensive balance. The Buccaneers ran 63 plays against the Seahawks. The team ran the ball 35 times and passed the ball 28 times against Seattle.

That was just the third time this season the Buccaneers have run the ball more than they passed. Against the San Francisco 49ers, the Buccaneers saw a 41-31 split in favor of the run (including two sacks). Also, against Carolina, the Buccaneers rushed the ball 37 times, while attempting 32 passes (including two sacks). In all three instances, the Bucs came out victorious.

“Obviously it’s important to establish the run because if you get that going you now you got eight and nine (defensive) guys in the box and you can get the ball downfield,” noted Buccaneers tight end Brandon Myers. “It sets the tone to try to run the ball and it opens up everything else down the field.

“When you’re clicking on all cylinders on offense, pretty tough to decide it it’s a run or a pass,” Myers said. “If we’re running the ball, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”

While running the ball more than passing for an entire game often is not realistic, balancing the run plays with the passing plays during a game has been telling in the Buccaneers’ success this season.

In the first game against Atlanta, the Buccaneers rushed the ball 28 times and passed the ball 32. The result was a Tampa Bay victory. In the next two games against Arizona and the Los Angeles Rams, the Buccaneers threw the football more than 50 times, while running less than 25. The results were obvious losses.

The Seahawks played a lot of two-deep with their safeties, trying not to allow the Buccaneers to get big plays off of their passing attack. And while the Buccaneers haven’t dominated teams in terms of yards, their commitment to the run forced Seattle to bring one of their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, offering quarterback Jameis Winston more options down the field.

Being balanced also helps the offense across the board.

“When we run the football, they’re going to bring extra safeties in,” said receiver Russell Shepard. “We’re a pretty well-known running team with the running backs that we have. They’re going to bring the safety in, and it’s going to take pressure off of (Mike Evans) of making the tough catches all the time over multiple defenders and it also gives us, as receivers, an opportunity to get one-on-ones. Running the ball helps the receivers out, opens up the lanes and helps us get one-on-one man beaters.”

For the Buccaneers’ offensive line, the unpredictability of what it is going to do makes the defenses have to read and react instead of constantly attacking. That gives the offensive line an advantage.

“In the beginning, Game 2 and Game 3, we were passing the ball a whole lot more than we were running the ball,” right tackle Demar Dotson said. “Dirk emphasized we needed to get a balanced attack because the run game sets up the play-action and the play-action sets up stuff down the field. When you run the ball good and get movement in the run game, that does help guys like Mike (Evans) down the field. When they know you’re going to pass it all day, that doesn’t move the linebackers up and that doesn’t put any pressure on safeties.”

Dotson said it’s not about running just to run it. The runs have to be successful to help not only the play-calling but the protection as well.

“Specifically when you get yourself in a manageable third-down position, when you’re not in third-and-12 and third-and-10, when you know you have deep protection and the defensive ends pin their ears back,” Dotson said. “When you’ve got third-and-2, third-and-3, you know the ball is coming out on rhythm. It’s a five-step drop and the ball is coming out in two seconds. On third-and-10s, the routes take longer and you have to hold blocks a little longer. That puts you in more strain as a tackle.”

The Buccaneers have converted 23 of 42 third downs in the last three games, which is about 10 percent greater than their 44.7 percent average. That has kept the offense on the field, which has produced more scoring opportunities, which has kept the defense fresh. It all stems from being balanced offensively.

“They go hand-in-hand,” Shepard said. “It’s no different from pass rush on defense and covering. One without the other is not one. We’re at our best when we can run the football and we do a good job of distributing the ball.”

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