Through the air or not at all

This seems to be the rally cry of the Bucs offense in 2009.  Coming into the season, big money was paid out to Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton and Kellen Winslow.  With Bryant coming off a huge year and Winslow aiming to find his Pro Bowl form, a featured passing game wasn't seen as a bad thing. 

But then we took a look at our ground game and realized we had a former Rookie of the Year in Cadillac Williams, who was finally healthy, super sub Earnest Graham and his ability to play running back or fullback, and newcomer Derrick Ward.  Two of the three have had 1,000 yard season and Graham came close in 2007.  This looked like a good crew to help the run game balance out the passing game and give defenses fits.

Then came Raheem Morris, Jags, and later, Olsen.  All offseason, all camp, all pre-season we heard there would be a heavy emphasis on the run game which would feed into the vertical passing game.  The offensive line was picking up a new scheme with the same personnel, the (original) starting quarterback was a down the field passer, and we had the talents listed above to provide the system with the playmakers needed.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Before we jump into some surface numbers, I wanted to get this out of my system.  We are running the same offense as when Gruden was here.  Maybe not schematically but play selection is almost the same.  We give up on the run game early (whether we're down or not), we can't find a chance to stretch the field, and we rely on completing passes on 3rd and 5+ to keep drives going.  That's not a recipe for success.  I feel like Gruden is controlling this offense from the coaching grave still.

Sunday against the Eagles, we had a young quarterback making his second start in Philly.  This might remind you of when Gradkowski was making an early season start in The Meadowlands against the Giants.  Gruden came out that game and had Gradkowski throw the ball 48 times in windy conditions.  Needless to say, it didn't go well.  T

This time around, The Bucs had Johnson throw the ball 50 times, and that's not counting designed pass plays that ended in a sack or scramble.  That's ridiculous.  In fact, let's look week by week at the pass attempts vs rush attempts.  QB scrambles are counted as runs, even though they were designed as passing plays.  I took the QB scrambles and counted those as passing situations using NFL.com's play by play.  This should give us a better look at how many pass plays were called in comparison to run plays.

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5
Pass Attempts 45 51 29 29 52
Rush Attempts 28 18 7 23 20

This looks like a trend, not an anomaly.  Granted, when you're down in a ball game, the run tends to get scrapped for the pass in hopes you can make some big plays fast and catch up.  This is a recipe to get any quarterback, but especially an immobile one (Leftwich) or inexperienced one (Johnson) killed.  Johnson was forced to throw backing up all day against the blitz.  That's not good for developing consistent skills in a young QB. 

There are times when the running game won't be effective (Sunday is a good example) but you have to run the ball some just to keep the defense honest.  With no run game, the play action pass goes out the window and the quarterback will get blasted.  Note to Olsen, it's also acceptable to call a few screen plays when the defense is blitzing. 

Some teams thrive on being lopsided in terms of run vs pass or vice versa.  The 2007 Patriots were pass-centric and it worked for them based on personnel.  The Bucs aren't the 2007 Patriots, nor should we act as such.  Let's find a little balance in our attack and not be so quick to wave the white flag. 

Maybe it's an organizational thing.  The white flag has been raised so far on Jags and the run game. 

And on winning apparently.

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