Davin Joseph has appeared in several interviews recently, and in each interview one theme has come to the foreground: the issue of run blocking. Davin Joseph is a mauling and potentially dominant guard who can hit defensive players in the mouth and move them off their spot. Yet somehow, the Bucs have not been able to run the ball with any kind of consistency these past seasons with him in the lineup. In those recent interviews, Joseph always attributes that to the zone-blocking scheme the Bucs have run these past seasons.
To understand why this is an issue, we first need to understand what zone blocking is. Put simply, a zone blocking scheme asks the offensive line to push the defenders laterally, hoping to create natural seams for a running back by stretching the defense. This kind of scheme can be very successful, but it also requires quick, agile offensive linemen. So it's a bit of a mystery why the Bucs decided to move to this scheme in 2009 when their top linemen were not well-suited to the scheme.
Going back through some of the games last season, it is obvious on tape that this offensive line could not handle the zone scheme very well. On almost every play, at least one lineman gets beaten, and that kills any zone running play. This scheme simply does not fit what the personnel does well. It's no wonder then that the Bucs gradually moved back to a power-blocking scheme.
This move was completed after the season, when Jagodzinski holdover Pete Mangurian was fired and Pat Morris took over as offensive-line coach. Mangurian was a zone-blocking coach through and through, while Morris has an extensive history teaching a power-blocking scheme. With the Vikings, he coached a dominant run-blocking line for a number of years.
Man-blocking asks the linemen not to shuffle the defenders sideways, but simply to take them on and push them back. That's a smash-mouth offense, one asking for size, power and leverage from offensive linemen and less concerned with quickness and agility. The Bucs have plenty of size and power along the line, and many of the Bucs linemen had their best year when the Bucs still ran a power scheme: in 2008. Donald Penn, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood headlined a group that could at least blow some people off the ball at times, an aspect that disappeared when they moved to zone-blocking scheme in 2009.
It's also obvious that the Bucs do have plenty of physical talent to win in the run game when we look at the stats. In both 2010 and 2009 the offensive line performed poorly in every facet of the game, except run-blocking in power situations. When the offensive line was asked to simply drive back the opposition in short-yardage, the Bucs were the 13th-best and 17th-best line in the league in 2009 and 2010 respectively. That's not mindbogglingly good, but compare that to their rank in all other situations: 31st and 25th respectively.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed their run scheme. Now it's time for the players to step up - finally.