Video from Bruce Arians' post-game press conference against Carolina in Week 10
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had a rough few weeks, dropping games to the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Los Angeles Rams, and division rival the New Orleans Saints in three of the last four.
Despite the lack of recent usage, Bucs running back Ronald Jones II finds himself sitting at No. 4 on the NFL's rushing leaderboards thus far, only behind Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Jaguars rookie James Robinson.
This may come as a surprise to many that Jones is featured so high on the list but the USC product has been exceptional when he does run the ball.
Jones, like many other NFL running backs, gets better with each rep throughout the game. It takes him a bit to get into the game, but when he is in the zone, he's a top running back in the NFL. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound back has shown flashes throughout his short career and head coach Bruce Arians has raved about his abilities throughout his time in Tampa.
After his 98-yard touchdown against Carolina in week nine, Arians elaborated on Jones' role postgame, explaining to Jones that "You’re our guy and that’s what we expect of you all the time."
But it hasn't happened all the time. Why?
After digging into some statistics it is quite clear that when Jones is producing, the Buccaneers have success. On the other hand, when he is not actively involved in the game, the offense and the team itself struggles, oftentimes resulting in losses.
First off, through 12 games Jones currently has 820 rushing yards on 162 attempts (eighth-most in the NFL), with five touchdowns (No. 16), all while averaging 5.1 yards a carry (No. 8).
Let's take a look at Jones' stats in the last five games, and how the Buccaneers faired in those games.
|Opponent||Outcome||Rushing Attempts||Rushing Yards|
@ New York Giants
New Orleans Saints
@ Carolina Panthers
Los Angeles Rams
Kansas City Chiefs
In the last three losses the Bucs have taken, Jones tallied nine rushes (vs. Kansas City), ten rushes (vs. Los Angeles), and three rushes (vs. New Orleans).
Last week against the Chiefs, Jones posted 66 yards on nine attempts, averaging seven yards per touch against the defending Super Bowl Champions. As we will discuss later on, Jones’ touches dried up shortly after the Chiefs took the lead, as the Bucs play-callers tend to panic when down, straying away from the run and trying to air it out every single offensive snap. Of note, Jones made a game-changing play on a 37 yard touchdown reception, allowing the Bucs to claw their way back into the game in the 3rd quarter. Yet after scoring a major touchdown, Jones once again disappeared.
As you can see, the game against Los Angeles was a tough one for RoJo, as the Rams are one of the stingiest defenses throughout the league, especially against the run.
The New Orleans game was one that was doomed from the start, as Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich decided after one drive the run was no use, causing Brady to throw multiple interceptions due to the lack of any ground game whatsoever.
When Jones is featured in the gameplan, good things are bound to happen. Take a look at the Carolina game, as the third-year back posted a whopping 192 yards on 23 carries, adding the longest rushing touchdown of the NFL season to the stat sheet as well. Arians and Co. got Jones churning early on against a beat-up Panthers front seven, and Jones worked his magic to contribute to the 46-23 win.
Other games where Jones had over 20+ carries both resulted in wins, one coming versus the Packers (23 attempts, 113 yards) and the other when the Bucs faced the Chargers (20 attempts, 111 yards). The trend is noticeable: When the Bucs feed Jones, they win ball games. In each game that Jones has carried the ball 20+ times, the Buccaneers are 3-0.
When Jones runs the ball more than 10+ times in a game, Tampa Bay is 6-3, only dropping to the Saints in week one, the Rams, and the Bears in a one point loss, where Jones posted 106 rushing yards on only 17 attempts.
Sticking with the 100+ yard trend, when Jones posts more than 100+ yards on the ground, the Buccaneers are 3-1, once again only dropping one game by one point to Chicago.
The Abandonment of the Run
The abandonment of the run had been a serious issue in each of the Bucs losses, as Arians/Leftwich tend to go away from it early and often, causing the Bucs to get behind the sticks. Once Tampa Bay gets behind the sticks, it is almost always guaranteed to be a passing play due to the imbalance in the play calling.
Now, to play Devil's Advocate for a second, the Bucs offense is filled with star power, especially at wide receiver. The Bucs have the greatest quarterback to ever do it under center, combined with, arguably, the most talented wide receiver room in the entire league. Naturally, you would like to get the ball to your best players, which often would come through the air in this case. But at 43 years old, Tom Brady is quickly being chased by father time who is undefeated. Dropping Brady back 40 times a game at this point in his career isn't going to get you very far, which the last few weeks have proven true.
Another possible reason the coaching staff could have avoided the run was due to left guard Ali Marpet's absence (concussion), but even that would be a far-fetched excuse to go away from one of the brightest spots on your entire offense.
The Bucs tend to get down early in their losses, and have even had to fight back against the Giants, Panthers, and the Chargers for wins so far this year. So, it's understandable why they might move away from the run in some respect, but it remains an integral part of the game of football, even when it is not going your way.
Think back to the Rams game a few weeks ago as the Bucs completely sold out on the run, yet the Rams kept forcing their hand, running outside zone over and over again, to no avail. Rams head coach Sean McVay and his team walked out of Raymond James Stadium with a win because he made Tampa respect the run, even though they could barely get past the line of scrimmage, averaging a measly 1.9 yards per carry throughout the night.
The fact of the matter is that Tampa Bay has one of the most talented running backs in the league, but can’t find a way to get him the ball to have an effect on the game like everyone knows he can. The play calling almost seems more focused on taking deep shots with Brady, a low percentage pass, rather than trying to pound the ball down opposing teams throats with one of the most promising young backs throughout the NFL.
Now, some will say Jones is on the sideline more often due to his slow development in the passing game, which is a valid point.
Jones can be unreliable in pass protection and also struggle mightily with catching the ball out of the backfield. Regardless, that doesn’t mean he should be on the sideline for those plays either. None of the other Bucs' running backs have proven to be much better in the passing game, so you’d figure Tampa Bay would be better off rolling with the guy who, at least, can do it on the ground.
Moving forward, it would be ideal to see Jones earn a respectable 15+ carries per game with the ability to find a rhythm and create big plays with his legs. There is no valid reason for why Jones is not being featured within the game plan, even if the Bucs are filled with wide receiver talent and the most successful quarterback ever.
Bottom line, with no run game, the Buccaneers will continue to struggle against the best teams, especially against better defenses. A run-pass balance is something that needs to be found quickly if the Bucs want to be viewed as contenders come the playoffs, which are in just a few short weeks.