TAMPA — Who says the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t know how to make effective halftime adjustments? They certainly made an effective one during halftime of their game against the Panthers at Carolina on Sunday.
After watching the Panthers limit rookie running back Bobby Rainey to 17 yards on nine first-half carries, the Bucs came out of their locker room for the second half with a whole new ground attack.
Gone was the original plan to run Rainey mostly out of single-back sets, and in its place was a new plan that called for Rainey to run almost exclusively between the tackles and behind fullback Erick Lorig.
The difference was dramatic.
During the Bucs’ first two possession of the second half, Rainey carried the ball eight times for 46 yards (5.75 per carry). An interception and a missed field goal attempt negated the impact, though, and forced an even greater adjustment.
Sandwiched between a 36-yard Cam Newton touchdown pass that extended Carolina’s lead to 24-6, the interception and the missed field goal try forced the Bucs to abandon the running game altogether.
“That specific run that we found, we found it too late, and as the game kind of got out of hand there, the ability to stay with the run (faded) on us,’’ Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said.
It’s not just the ability to stay with the run that has faded on the Bucs. With the exception of that two-series stretch against Carolina last week, the ability to run the ball, period, has faded on them, too.
Since running 113 times for 531 yards (4.7) during a three game-span against Seattle, Miami and Atlanta, the Bucs have been limited to 88 yards on 44 carries (2.0) during their last two games.
The fact those two games were played against two of the top rush defenses in the league (Carolina and Detroit rank second and third overall) contributed to the slump. But that’s not the only reason for it.
“Yeah, those were tough defenses,’’ Rainey said. “But at the same time, we haven’t been doing the things that we usually do that allow us to run the ball well, and that’s been the difference.’’
Running Rainey behind Lorig’s lead blocks was one of the things the Bucs were doing when they used their running game to polish off their victory against the Dolphins and fuel their victory over the Falcons.
The Bucs clearly got away from that early on against the Panthers last week, but they have also gotten away from some other fundamental aspects of the run game that were contributing to its effectiveness.
For instance, right tackle Demar Dotson said Wednesday that Bucs linemen have done a poor job the past two weeks of sustaining blocks, and that has allowed the Lions and Panthers to make plays other teams didn’t.
Rainey, meanwhile, admitted to doing a poor job the last two weeks of running tight behind his blockers, or pressing the line, which makes it harder for defenders to adjust to his cuts and make tackles.
And left tackle Donald Penn said the Bucs haven’t always done a good job in the moment, during either a series or even a play, of adjusting to their opponent’s defensive schemes.
“No matter what it is, there’s no excuse for it,’’ Penn said. “We just have to do better. We have to block the man in front of us and sustain, because the run game is a big part of our offense and when it’s not rolling, we’re not rolling.’’
There is no denying that. Over the last five years, the Bucs are 5-32 when they’ve run for less than 100 yards in a game. They are 22-17 when they have run for more than 100 yards, including 20-11 the last four years.
“There’s no question we have to run the ball better,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “We just can’t do what we’re doing right now in our run game and have a chance to win.’’
Not against Buffalo they can’t. The Bills lead the league with 43 sacks, so the Bucs’ ability to move the ball will be greatly compromised Sunday if they can’t find a way to move it on the ground.
That point hasn’t been lost on the Bucs, who believe they stand a good chance this week of regaining the rushing form they showed during their games against Seattle, Miami and Atlanta.
The Bills will go into this game ranked 24th against the run, where they are allowing 4.2 yards per carry and 121.5 yards per game. That doesn’t make them an easy mark, Dotson said, but it proves they are vulnerable to a sound ground attack.
“They’re going to stack the box and put eight guys (near the line of scrimmage), but we’ve run against that before,’’ he said. “We just have to get back to doing what we do best, and if we do that, we’ll get the job done.”