“You have to establish the run to succeed on offense.” Well, unless you’re playing the Buccaneers.
Establish the run. There is, without a doubt, not a more outdated strategy in the modern NFL. Football guys and hardcore fans from “the good ole days” can pound their fists and scream to the heavens all they want that the Buccaneers aren’t succeeding on offense because of a lack of a run game, but Tampa disproves this every time they take the field.
Unfortunately, it isn’t Tom Brady and a well-crafted passing attacked that dismantles this prehistoric understanding of the game, but the opposing offenses.
The Buccaneer defense is on pace to be one of the worst in NFL history, and their opponents don’t even care about running the ball. Injuries and other issues have played a role in making life harder for the defense this year, but the Bucs’ secondary struggled plenty last season without injuries.
After a Super Bowl run that shut down Patrick Mahomes, Tampa created some unrealistic expectations around their secondary that have fallen flat in 2021. The secondary has performed so poorly, in fact, that opposing offenses are altogether abandoning the run against the Buccaneers.
Many fans and analysts pointed to the great run defense in Tampa as to why teams didn’t post great rushing stats against the Bucs, but in reality, the ease of the pass makes the run obsolete when playing Tampa.
Opposing quarterbacks are posting MVP numbers against the Buccaneers each week. The Buccaneer defense has surrendered 330 passing yards per game to starting quarterbacks, 2.75 touchdowns, and 1.25 interceptions. The 74% completion percentage to boot makes these stats all the more impressive.
Expanding these numbers to the rest of the season, opposing quarterbacks are on pace to throw for 5,610 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. The real kicker is that they are posting these stats with no running game to speak of.
Through four games, Buccaneers opponents have posted 191 rushing yards, for a grand total just shy of 48 yards per game on the ground. There is no desire to establish the run against Tampa, and teams don’t even need to do it to beat this secondary. In fact, establishing the run against the Bucs wastes time, but the same is true for almost any other team in the league.
While the numbers do a great job of showing the central issue for the Buccaneers, some fans will point to the fact that Tampa is still 3/1 in these games as a knock against the opposition for failing to establish the run. This seems like a nice argument on its face, but the Cowboys lost as a result of terrible kicking, and the Patriots lost because of one inexplicable Bill Belichick decision. Three and one turns into one and three really quick.
“Just be happy with the wins” is not a valid argument for teams that are actively trying to grow.
These teams stayed within reach against the defending champs with next to no run game, and they found additional ways to keep the clock moving and to control the game without having their running backs run into the teeth of the defense.
More teams will start to lean into the pass as the season progresses, which is the direction the NFL is moving in a split between rushing/passing plays. In a day and age of more accurate quarterbacks and more consistent pass-catchers, the numbers clearly support a much heavier passing attack throughout the league in the future, and these numbers show the pass does much more to set up the run than the other way around.
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