Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There's Nowhere To Run
TAMPA - The Bucs broke training camp looking like a team built to run the ball. Midway through the season, their foundation seems to have developed some cracks. Following a record-setting pace - the Bucs were averaging 4.9 yards per carry through six weeks - Tampa Bay's rushing attack has become downright pedestrian. The Bucs have averaged 2.5 yards per carry their past two games, but the real problem may be that one of the largest contributing factors to the slump is not easily fixable. With their top two fullbacks out with injuries, the Bucs continue to make do by splitting the reps between lead back Earnest Graham and newcomer Jameel Cook.That has limited Graham's effectiveness. When you throw in the fact that fellow tailback Warrick Dunn is nursing a sore back, you suddenly have a situation in which the Bucs' ability to run the ball is greatly compromised. The situation should improve after the bye week. Top fullback B.J. Askew could return from his hamstring injury by then. Even if he doesn't, Cook should have a better grasp of the offense by that time. For the time being, the Bucs will continue to make do with what they have, which could mean leaning more on reserve tailbacks Michael Bennett and Clifton Smith. Bucs coach Jon Gruden has admitted to possibly making a mistake by dressing the ailing Dunn for last week's game at Dallas when Bennett was healthy. That might not be the only mistake contributing to the slump. The Bucs have all but abandoned their downfield passing game the past couple weeks. Opposing defenses are taking advantage by crowding the line of scrimmage with extra run-stoppers. "It does sort of have something to do with the way they're playing us," Graham said. "But with the running game, it always comes down to what we do." The Bucs may not have to do too much to break out of the slump this week. Kansas City, their opponent for Sunday's game, is giving up an average of 197 rushing yards per game, the worst in the league.
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979. Ira Kaufman breaks down Week 9 and talks about the recent survey of NFL players regarding coaches they do and don't want to play for. Keyword: Bucs.
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