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Was the offensive line the problem with the Buccaneers' running game?

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

According to a league source close to the situation, the Bucs have had internal discussions of trading for Peterson. Whether the pursuit for the veteran tailback has already occurred or will occur, no clear answer was given. Instead, I was told there are "aggressive" plans in place.

Peterson, as in RB Adrian Peterson. That was reported by Gil Arcia from BucBlitz.

We were also in RB DeMarco Murray when Ian Rapoport tweeted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of the teams in the running for Murray's services.

It is true that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to improve their rush game. In 2014, the team ranked 29th overall in rushing with 1,375 yards rushed total. The rushing game averaged 85.9 yards per game. DeMarco Murray rushed for 1,845 yards. Yes, Murray rushed more than the whole Bucs' team. Two seasons ago Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards in only 14 games. And the year before that, Peterson gained 2,097 in 16 games.

Here is a statistical snapshot of the Bucs' running backs for 2014:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 RB Stats
RB Yds Avg Median Yds/G Long 20+ yards Fum FumL
Bobby Rainey 406 4.3 3.3 27.1 31 4 1 1
Doug Martin 494 3.7 3.2 44.9 63 2 0 0
Charles Sims 185 2.8 2.85 23.1 20 1 2 1

Mind you, Charles Sims was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft when Tampa already had three more than capable running backs, with Martin participating in Hawai'i for the Pro Bowl a couple of seasons ago. His addition was abysmal as a runner, especially after contact. Here is a chart from Warren Sharp on running backs, inspecting yards after contact and missed tackles.

Murray is ranked up high as he can rack up yards after contact as well as be elusive as a runner. Rainey is also elusive as a runner. And yet, judging from Rainey's numbers, he is quite inconsistent. There is a link provided for Median stats, it is there you can discover how varied the production of Rainey is. Martin, on the other hand, can handle yards after contact, but is not an elusive runner. But not being an elusive runner does not mean one is not productive.

Tampa has an elusive runner in Rainey and a former Pro Bowl runner in Martin. So why did we have an abysmal rushing game in 2014? It is here that we need to suspect the culprit of such a demise may lie within the trenches, namely offensive line.

2014 NFL Team Rush Stat
The Bottom Five
Rank Team Yards Yd/game Stuffed Rank 2nd Level Rank
28 Detroit 1422 88.9 30 26
29 Tampa Bay 1375 85.9 32 25
30 San Diego 1367 85.4 28 28
31 Arizona 1308 81.8 14 32
32 Oakland 1240 77.5 21 31

Stuffed rank is a statistic by Football Outsiders that records how often a running back is stopped at the line of scrimmage or behind it. Although the Tampa is not the worst rushing team in the league, it does possess the worst stuffed rank in the league. Then peruse the 2nd Level Rank and notice that the Bucs are not last in ranking, but rather in the higher bottom third of the league. Something between the two stats are conflicting... or are they conflicting?

The conflicting stats between worst stuffed ranking and nearly being in the middle third of reaching the second level depicts that our running backs are finding ways to reach the second level despite having the worst production at the line of scrimmage. Rainey's elusiveness along with Rainey and Martin's yards after contact help trudge for yardage into the second level.  That is impressive.

To continue to add how abysmal Tampa Bay's offensive line is, let us look into another stat, the passing protection information:

2014 NFL Team Rush Stat
The Bottom Five; Pass Rank Comparison
Rush Rank Team Pass Protection Rank Sacks Adjusted Sack Rate
28 Detroit 21 45 6.90%
29 Tampa Bay 29 52 9.40%
30 San Diego 17 37 6.10%
31 Arizona 6 28 4.80%
32 Oakland 3 28 4.40%

In this chart, I utilized the same bottom five rush teams and compared how well they defended against the pass rush along with sacks. The conclusion simply emphasizes how dire the situation is with our offensive line as the Bucs rank the worst out of the bottom five rushing teams. How the team managed to produce two 1,000 yard receivers is an amazing feat!

I am critical and skeptical of the front office. With thoughts of acquiring another running back in spite of the deplorable numbers by the offensive line that screams it needs immediate attention remains a baffling notion by those in charge. Are we scouting and assessing our team appropriately? I inquire because the drafting of RB Sims in the third round still leaves a bitter taste in my mind. What were our scouts thinking?

"We love him. We have an excellent running back coach who liked Matt Forte when no one else did. Tim Spencer came up to me after the Senior Bowl talking about Charles Sims. Whether someone else liked him, he's a very good football player. In time, everyone else will like him."

That is a quote from Lovie Smith in an article by Gary Shelton from the Tampa Bay Times.

"Very [excited about Charles Sims' return]," Lovie Smith said. "As I talk about not being able to get more from our running game, of course it's just not on the front - we say it starts up front. A lot of the big plays you see happening in the league in the running game is based on yards after contact - making someone miss in the open field. That's all a part of it also."

"We need more production from the running game, period," Lovie Smith later noted.

This quote came from our very own Sander on Bucs nation. Lovie did denote "yards after contact" in the quote. Quickly, scan earlier to a chart to discover where Sims is ranked for yards after contact.

And finally, there is this quote from foxsports by Ross Jones:

"He can beat you with his feet and his hands," West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider told this week. "He's just as good a wide receiver as he is a starting running back. The way that he practices makes playing easy. I've never seen a kid work as hard as him."

Did our scouts do enough work or were they enamored with the highlight films? Here is Joe Bussell's take on Sims, but he sets up Sims first, just as I have done in the previous quotes:

A recent example of a fatal flaw that I saw in a prospect was Tampa Bay's 3rd round choice in 2014: running back Charles Sims. There were rave reviews about Sims last year. Even's draft profile of Sims said, "Athletic, competitive, tough, upright slasher who is an asset as a receiver — hands rate among the best on a RB in recent years." And they were right. Sims was quick and has great feet and hands for a running back.

But there was one thing that jumped out at me on film when watching Sims: he went down too easily on the slightest bit of contact. He didn't seem to like contact and didn't seem to be able to stay off the ground with even the slightest bump or grab of the jersey. His skill-set was otherwise terrific. But this flaw is one of the biggest issues for running backs that flunk out of the NFL. A rusher's entire job is to not get tackled to the ground. When he has a trait that he goes to the ground too easily, it should raise a red flag for any evaluator.

The chart that Bussell posted, which was presented earlier in this article, substantiated his scouting review.

In the third round of the 2014 NFL draft, the Bucs drafted a pass catching, running back specialist over a possible starting guard. Tampa selected a player who comes onto the field in third down situations versus a player who will be on the field on every offensive play. During the 2014 preseason, the Bucs had to make a trade that relinquished a 2015 fourth round pick and tight end on our roster to shore up the offensive line.

In 2014, our running back situation fell flat, but it was our offensive line that did not pave any way for any of the running backs to be able to run through. Hell, we drafted a running back who could not run instead of addressing the offensive line in 2014.The results speak for themselves. I