TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the 2013 season with a two-fold blueprint on offense: run the ball effectively and take some shots downfield in the passing game.
The plans are intertwined because when opponents respect your ground game, play action freezes the defense and makes it easier to complete long passes.
But somewhere along the way, Tampa Bay's offensive identity became sidetracked. With two weeks left in a forgettable season, the Bucs have gained the fewest yards in the league and an erratic run game is the primary culprit heading into Sunday's matchup at St. Louis.
“At the end of the day, the majority of it lies on us,'' RT Demar Dotson said Monday. “When the running game don't run, it's our fault.''
The Bucs have topped the 100-yard rushing plateau only six times in 14 games. They are 3-3 on those occasions and 1-7 when they fail to reach the century mark.
And despite starting the same five players up front in each of the past seven games, Tampa Bay has seen its rushing woes become more acute in the past month.
In the past four weeks, the Bucs averaged only 3.17 yards per carry, and that includes Bobby Rainey's 80-yard touchdown scamper against Buffalo.
If you omit the longest run in franchise history, that average shrinks to 2.33 yards per carry, almost two yards below the league average.
On Sunday, the 49ers limited Tampa Bay to 39 yards on 12 carries in a 33-14 San Francisco triumph. The Bucs have also faced stout rushing defenses against Carolina and Detroit in the past four weeks.
“We have to be able to run the ball against who we play if we profess to be a running football team,'' Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. “We need to do better. We've been able to run the football effectively, but it's not consistent.''
Besides erratic line play, other factors contributed to Tampa Bay's disappointing production on the ground. The Bucs lost running backs Doug Martin and Mike James to season-ending injuries and quarterbacks Josh Freeman and rookie Mike Glennon have combined to average only 6.29 yards per pass attempt.
“It's different fronts and different guys,'' Dotson said. “Sometimes, they've got eight guys in the box and sometimes it's us, not fitting up and holding onto blocks long enough.''
Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy is still upset with himself for an offside penalty early in the third quarter that wiped out a potential 69-yard interception return for a touchdown by LB Lavonte David.
“One thing I pride myself on is protecting that guy (David),'' McCoy said. “When he makes a play that big, (the penalty) stinks. I can't allow that to happen. (Warren) Sapp told me the great ones don't allow quarterbacks to think they can get you offsides. Granted, he's a Hall of Famer, but it makes sense.''
McCoy registered his eighth sack of the season Sunday andhas his sights set on becoming the first Buc with double-digit sacks since 2005, when DE Simeon Rice posted 14.
“Definitely, that's a goal,'' said McCoy. “I've got two games to do it. It's going to take a lot of work, but I think it's very reachable.''
The Rams (6-8) have beaten three teams (Arizona, Indianapolis and New Orleans) with a combined record of 29-13. ... Tampa Bay's opponents average only 4.65 yards on first down, the fourth-lowest mark in the league. ... Rams DE Robert Quinn, a first-round pick out of North Carolina in 2011, tops the NFC with 15 sacks.