It finally happened. On Sunday, against the Seahawks, pigs flew, the sun rose in the west, and Tampa froze over, or at least got into the mid 40's. That's right, the 2009 Bucs, the team with no identity, the team that promised to be a smash mouth team but yet didn't run the ball finally ran the ball, and won the game.
Let's clear the air quickly. It's no secret that I've been pushing for a more utilized run game, a wider array of play calls, and something, anything to calm Freeman down and give him a chance to succeed. Well, one way or another, those things happened on Sunday. I like to joke about this, but also wonder if it might be partially true. Did Olson figure out that he had plays written on the back of the play sheet? Maybe he finally realized that there were more pages to look at and call from. In any event, I'll take the results.
To get the facts and figures out of the way, here's where the Bucs stood on Sunday afternoon. The final pass/run splits will go down as 29 pass attempts and 31 run attempts, roughly a 48% to 52% split. Derrick Ward finally emerged and had 19 carries for 67 yards to go along with his 1 catch for 6 yards and a TD. And let'snot forget Cadillac Williams who finished with 12 carries for 66 yards and 1 catch for 22 yards and a TD. All told, the run game produced 31 carries for 133 yards (4.29 YPC).
To clear up a few other odds and ends, the Bucs did not win the game solely because they ran the ball. Freeman struggled early but settled down, Seattle turned the ball over multiple times inside Bucs territory and couldn't get anything going, though they ran the ball just as successfully as we did. We had some help from a few different parties, but the ability to control the clock, keep our defense off the field and pick up first downs contributed in a major way to a Bucs win.
The running game doesn't have to be explosive to be successful. On a few carries, the Bucs were hit for a loss or no gain. But they kept going back to the run and before you knew it, double digit yardage was being rattled off. Cadillac, a known 4th quarter savant, broke off a 23 yarder in the the final quarter, looking much like the 2005 Cadillac. The increased workload in the run game allowed Freeman to enjoy a few more precious seconds on play action passes. The Seattle defense had to respect all phases of the offense, and it showed. The two TD passes by Freeman weren't 40 yard bombs, but instead, simple screens, an easy throw for a QB that the running backs turned into points. The offensive line still did not look like the OL we thought we had, but they started to open holes and hold blocks just long enough for the backs to find space. They were able to move the Seattle front four off the ball occasionally and clear the way for a few long gainers.
Olson has drawn much ire from Buc's fans, and most of it has been rightfully deserved. So to is the quiet praise he will draw. It was only one game, a small sample in the grand scheme of things, but at least it provided an indication that he knows we have a few good running backs. The positives were the obvious commitment to running, the ability to stick with it, finally giving Freeman some easy throws and that it pulled in a win. The negatives, or things to be weary of are the fact that even in our most run heavy day, it still was only 48% to 52%, and that it was a game in which we were in the whole way. No telling what will happen in a game in which we trail, though we should find out against the Saints next week.
But for now, I'll enjoy the spoils of victory. It was a game that I felt like I enjoyed watching. A strong defensive performance (or weak offensive performance by Seattle, take your pick), a solid running game, and a steady, not spectacular passing game. I've asked for signs of progress all year. You can't win them all, but if you are moving in the right direction, you can take comfort in that fact. On Sunday against Seattle, the Bucsdefense continued a step in the right direction creating turnovers and holding steady when it was needed. The passing game, even with some early struggles, showed signs of growth. The running game actually emerged as part of the team. And finally, Olson, showed some personal growth and progress as an OC. I won't say whether I hope he stays or goes, but I hope he continues his evolution as a play caller. To understand your team, what they are capable of, who is playing well, and how to achieve success are key components for any coach. Olson seemed to understand that on Sunday as he fed the ball to our backs and kept Freeman in a comfort zone.