They say the best ability is availability, and five weeks through the season Ronald Jones II has been the most available skill player the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have seen.
No lack of training camp rust, no injuries, and no reason for the Bucs not to lean on their most consistent offensive weapon in 2020 thus far.
With Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers coming to town for a big-time Week 6 match-up, keeping him off the field is going to be crucial. Running the ball and controlling the clock will help Tampa Bay do that, and it’s going to require the use of Rojo to make it happen.
In becoming the first Buccaneers running back since Jacquizz Rodgers in 2016 to have back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances, Jones put up rushing averages of 5.55 yards per carry (ypc) and 6.24 ypc against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Chicago Bears.
Just so happens the Chargers and Bears represent the ninth and second-best rushing defenses in the NFL through five weeks. Jones gashed Chicago for nearly two full yards per carry more than they’ve allowed on average this season, and he hit L.A. up for more than a full yard per carry over their average.
The Green Bay Packers on the other hand, are allowing 4.8 yards per carry coming into this game ranking them 25th in the league. Now, the spread isn’t too big when you go from the top of the league to the bottom, but considering the damage Jones has been able to do against even marginally better run defenses it’s worth mentioning.
Leaning on Jones when Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller all figure to be in the mix on Sunday might sound a little unorthodox. It is a passing league after-all. Consider this though, in a passing league where Rojo is not considered a focal point of many - if any - storylines surrounding this team, he sits Top-10 in rushing yards, ypc among running backs with at least ten carries per game, first-down runs, runs of twenty-yards or more, and yards per carry after contact.
When you look at the seven running backs ahead of Jones in rushing yards for 2020 (Dalvin Cook, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Todd Gurley, Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, and Ezekiel Elliott) none of those backs are Top-10 in each of those categories. Not until you get to Rojo do you find a back Top-10 in the NFL in each of those.
If you lower the standard a bit, and look at Top-10 in 10-yard rushes or more, then Dalvin Cook and Todd Gurley enter the mix.
Know what else Jones has Cook and Gurley and even Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers doesn’t? Two games with thirteen or fewer carries. Only Cook has even one, which came in a Week 1 loss to the Green Bay Packers where he had 12, because he played just 30 snaps.
When looking at rushing attempts, Jones is still a Top-10 back. Only the spread from top of the league to tenth is a thirty-two carry difference, or just more than six carries per game.
At Jones’ current average of 4.9 yards per carry, his numbers adjust to 515-yards rushing when matching Josh Jacobs’ league-leading 106 rushing attempts.
Now, Jacobs doesn’t have Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy, Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski, etc. on his team. So maybe the Raiders feel a bit more inspired to give the ball to their young back because of it.
No matter the reason, if there’s any week to feed Rojo, it’s this one. The Packers enter this game undefeated, and in each of their four wins they’ve had the games leading rusher and called more running plays than the losing team. On top of this, the only time Green Bay didn’t also best their opponent in yard per carry was against the Saints in the narrowest margin of victory they’ve had in 2020.
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers has only out-thrown his opposing quarterback in half of the wins this season.
Now, part of this is because they’re playing from ahead of course, but it’s not just an Aaron Rodgers light show in the first half and ground and pound second-half. In Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers ran the ball sixteen times in each half.
In Week 2 (Detroit Lions), they had a 13-22 first and second-half split rushing the ball substantially more in the third and fourth quarters aided in large part by a one play 75-yard touchdown drive on the legs of Aaron Jones and a pick-six thrown by Matthew Stafford on the Lions’ second possession of the second-half giving the Packers a commanding 31-14 lead midway through the third-quarter.
Week 3’s seven-point win over the Saints saw Green Bay run the ball twelve times in the first half, and fourteen in the second. Then, in Week 4 they had another 12-14 split in a win over the Falcons. So far this year, the Packers haven’t run the ball any fewer than twelve times in a single half of football.
Tampa Bay on the other hand has four halves of rushing the ball twelve or fewer times. One came against the New Orleans Saints where - lets face it - the entire offense was out of sync from the first snap.
Then, entering halftime against the Carolina Panthers with a 21-0 lead, the Buccaneers ran the ball just eight times in the second-half while their opponent outscored them 17-10. In Week 3, the only game the Bucs have won both halves of, against the Denver Broncos they ran the ball twelve times in the first half, and thirteen in the second.
Week 4 saw the Bucs run the ball 27 times, the season high in 2020, and they did so with just eleven in the first half carrying them into a 24-14 first-half deficit. Then, sixteen carries came in the second half - eleven by Jones - in a thrilling come from behind win.
In Week 5, Tampa Bay ran the ball fourteen times on their way to a one-point deficit against the Chicago Bears. So, they switched up and leaned on the pass, running the ball just six more times, in a one point loss to the Chicago Bears.
Jones had eleven carries for 56-yards in the first half last Thursday night for an average of 5.1 ypc. In the second-half, he was rewarded with just six more carries which he turned into fifty more yards for his offense averaging 8.3 yards per carry in the second half.
Now, I’m not saying it’s as easy as running the ball ‘x’ amount of times, and boom, you win. But all of these numbers aren’t just coincidence. They mean something. What they mean is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have one of the most effective running backs in the NFL despite doing just about everything in their power to not feature him in their offense.
No, he’s not the greatest pass-catching back in the world. Neither is Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers who is still getting at least eighteen touches per game while Jamal Williams is the ‘pass-catching back’ for Rodgers. In fact, Williams himself has six or more carries in each game this season as well.
Now, this is a profile on Rojo, or I’d get even deeper down this rabbit hole with looks at Tom Brady’s play-action usage and comparatives about how effective the passing game is when the run game is being used efficiently.
Instead, I’ll wrap it with this. Tampa Bay’s running attack is fairing better when they run up the middle or to the right compared to the left. Green Bay’s rush defense ranks worse against runs to the offense’s right than they do the left and are surrendering 4.46 adjusted line yards up the middle.
All of this leads to one conclusion. #FeedRojo