I think it’s fair to say one of the biggest disappointments from last season was the Bucs running game as it went from 5th in 2015 to 24th in 2016. The Bucs offense is at it’s best when they have the threat of the run present and can utilize their play action passing game. In 2015 the Bucs had one of the better running units in the league with Doug Martin and Charles Sims leading the way. The Bucs O-line was playing physical and moving opposing front fours off the ball. Martin was outstanding as he was the 2nd leading rusher right behind Adrian Peterson as he was making things happen in every game and really made the offense go. So why did it disappear in 2016?
There were plenty of reasons as injuries, inconsistent o-line play, defenses stacking the box, and along with no rhythm being established throughout the season. The Bucs lost their dominant rushing duo for most of the season last year, and it was Jacquizz Rodgers who gave the run game a mini boost but it wasn’t enough. The consistency of the offense struggled due to a lack of running game and it is something that must be turned around for the 2017 season. Besides multiple injuries to the RB stable, the offensive line was very inconsistent as well.
The Bucs were weak up the middle with C Joe Hawley who would often get pushed back or ended up on the ground allowing too much inside penetration. The Bucs were also without J.R Sweezy who they brought in to help upgrade their run blocking and to provide a more physical presence up front. In addition to average O-line play, opposing defenses were stacking the box often forcing Jameis Winston to beat them with his arm and limited weapons on the outside. All of these play a part in the struggles of the run game but also remember the Bucs ran a lot of 6 man lines during 2015 which help the Bucs open holes consistently.
The Bucs were very successful with this 6 man line in 2015 but it got shuffled in 2016 when Sweezy was unable to play due to injury and Pamphile had to shift to LG. Now lets look at a play from last season against the Cowboys in which the Bucs try to run with their 6 man line.
With Wester and Cherlius as the 6th blocker it just didn’t work as they were below average and lacked the athleticism on the outside. Now with the unit expected to be stouter in the middle with Pamphile, Marpet, and Sweezy it should allow the Bucs to run more north and south. In addition, The Bucs can likely use Caleb Benenoch as their 6th lineman this year if they choose to as he can really move for a big guy and plays really physical in the run game. So with a line of Smith, Pamphile, Marpet, Sweezy, Dotson, and Benenoch the Bucs running game should be better just with that front 6.
Not to mention that the Bucs now have two solid blocking tight ends in Luke Stocker and rookie OJ Howard which will instantly make the Bucs a more dangerous running threat. Notice how I haven’t focused on the Bucs running back personnel yet as I believed the run game has already improved by what was mentioned aboved. This is why I am saying don’t panic about the run game because it will be just fine for the upcoming season. Now I know fans are iffy on Doug Martin who will miss the first three games and has been inconsistent throughout his career so there are valid reasons. The good news is the Bucs also have Rodgers and rookie Jeremy McNichols whom both can really run it between the tackles along with one of the better pass catching backs in Charles Sims.
The biggest factor though is the weapons that was added to the passing game this off-season as opposing defenses won’t be able to stacked the box. With Desean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and OJ Howard added to the trio of Evans, Humphries and Brate the Bucs should have more room to run the football this season. Being able to spread out teams with four wr sets and able to run the ball out of them is something that the Bucs should be able to do this year. So the Bucs have a capable RB stable, an improved O-line, and more weapons to generate more operating room therefore the Bucs ground game should be just fine this season. Dirk Koetter wants to be physical on offense by running the ball and expect it to be more effective and efficient in 2017.