"Obviously our running game has to be a focal point," said Bucs QB Brad Johnson. "We have to make it a little easier on ourselves. We have to get the second and third and shorts, and be able to break a long run-just like Mike (Alstott) did in the Green Bay game. We have to be able to make those plays in the running game. It's something we really have to force-feed ourselves as far as we're going to stick with it."
Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen revamped the Bucs offense and settled on RB Warrick Dunn as the feature back in the offseason after he rushed for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
The only question that remained going into this season was whether or not Dunn could carry the load for an entire season as the feature back of Tampa Bay's offense. That question appears to have already been answered. The answer is no.
Dunn has only missed one game, but in the time he's played, Dunn has rushed 56 times for just 168 yards (3.0 avg.) and scored two touchdowns.
While Dunn has been trying to heal, there have been other reasons why Tampa Bay's rushing game is almost non-existent this season. Their offensive line features a rookie left tackle in Kenyatta Walker and a first-year starting right guard in Cosey Coleman. Factor in C Jeff Christy, who missed the last two games of preseason and the first game of the regular season with a sprained MCL, and an over the hill LG Randall McDaniel and you will start to understand why Tampa Bay's running game is struggling to get going.
The poor play from the Bucs offensive line has contributed to them being able to convert only 34.3 percent of their third downs into first downs this season.
Another reason Tampa Bay has not been able to get their running game going is because they are falling behind their opponents too soon in games this year. The Buccaneers have trailed or been tied with their opponent at halftime in every single one of their five games this season.
"To get back to our running game, we've got to convert on third down and stop the other team on third down," said head coach Tony Dungy. "If we do that, we'll have a lot more runs and Mike (Alstott) and Warrick (Dunn) will get the ball."
So what will it take to remedy the Bucs' running woes besides better play from their offensive line, more third down conversions and a healthy Warrick Dunn. Try FB Mike Alstott.
One has to wonder if Christensen was so focused on trying to revamp this offense around Dunn that he forgot to involve Alstott in it.
In the few times Christensen has called Alstott's number, he has come through for the Buccaneers. Alstott carried the load while Dunn was out of the Green Bay Packers game and rushed 15 times for 77 yards, including a 39-yards game-winning touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Alstott has carried the ball 31 times for 132 yards and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. But every time Alstott starts to get rolling in a game, Christensen pulls him off of the track. Why?
It can't be the fumbling problem. Yes, Alstott has dropped the ball 23 times in his career, but has not fumbled since the home game against the Detroit Lions last October. Plus, Alstott is locking up the ball when he runs and for the first time, it doesn't appear to be interfering with his running style.
Tampa Bay's offense wants to be a powerful, bruising unit, but how can they possible do this if they are not featuring their powerful, bruising back?
Dunn has proven he can be a valuable asset to Tampa Bay's offense, but has not proven he can be a feature back in the NFL. In fact, I am almost convinced he cannot be one in this league. Dunn hesitates too much to hit holes the offensive line creates for him and cannot withstand the beating a running back takes in the NFL.
With the exception of the occasional fumbling, only good things have happened when the A-Train touches the ball. Alstott has scored 31 rushing touchdowns in his career and rushed for over 1,400 yards. He has also caught nine touchdown passes in his career.
The Bucs are 4-0 when Alstott gains 100+ yards rushing in a game, 9-1 when the A-Train combines for 100+ yards in a game, and perhaps the most impressive statistic, the Bucs are 28-5 when Alstott scores at least one touchdown in a game.
Here are some other telling statistics under head coach Tony Dungy.
Tampa Bay is…
*3-12 when they rush the ball 20 or less times in a game.
*23-8 when they run the ball 31-40 times in a game.
*8-26 when they rush for less than 100 yards in a game.
*39-12 when they rush for man than 100 yards in a game.
Considering the Buccaneers are 19-9 when they average 4.0 yards or more per carry in a game under Dungy, one might think featuring Alstott (4.3 ypc) as the main running back on this team would be a good idea.
"We've got to give Mike (Alstott) the ball," said Dungy. "We've come out in the last two game and he's gotten it three times and maybe four times in Tennessee and that's not enough. We know we're going to give it to him more. How much more and how depends on who all plays."
Tampa Bay cannot afford to wait to get Alstott involved in their offense. The A-Train has had some of his best games against the Vikings, including Week 3 at Minnesota, where Alstott rushed three times for 24 yards (8.0 avg.) before Christensen stopped calling his number.
If the Buccaneers are serious about improving their 30th ranked rushing attack, they will have to start giving Alstott more opportunities with or without a healthy Warrick Dunn.
At this point, what do they have to lose?
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
This story is intended to be read only by subscribers to the Insiders Pass service of BucMag.com and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Insiders Pass content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Get more analysis, inside information and expert commentary from the Buccaneer Magazine staff by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe to Buccaneer Magazine.