Flynn's Focus

November 6 – Why hasn't running back Michael Pittman and Tampa Bay's ground attack taken off this season? Nine games have passed, but yet the Bucs' ground game is still one big juggling act. Pittman was supposed to be Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's feature back, but he's averaging just 13 carries per game. We'll take a closer look at Pittman's struggle as a Buc and try to explain why he's still touchdownless in Tampa Bay in this free installment of Flynn's Focus.

Michael Pittman is Tampa Bay's leading rusher through nine games, but that's not saying much since he's rushed 117 times for just 413 (3.5 average) yards, which puts him on pace to rush for approximately 820 yards this season.

It's no secret that the Bucs' ground attack has been disappointing this season. The Bucs signed Pittman to a five-year, $8.75 million deal during the offseason in hopes that the former Arizona Cardinal would help remedy the team's 31st ranked running game from the previous season. While the ranking has improved, the same problems still exist.

Tampa Bay's running attack is ranked 23rd in the league and they're averaging just 95 yards rushing per game. Most people blame the Bucs' offensive line for the team's inability to get a consistent running game going. The O-line is definitely part of the problem, but it's not the only issue with Tampa Bay's ground game.

"It's a team effort so I'm not going to point the finger at the offensive line," said Pittman. "You can point the blame at me because I'm the starting running back. I'm going to do what I can do to help this team win. I think the offensive line is going to continue to get better and I'm going to try to get better."

Nine games have passed this season and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is still juggling the team's running backs throughout games. While Gruden's offense is still understandably a work in progress, the team has been quite impatient with Pittman this season. In fact, Pittman carried the ball just three times against Minnesota last Sunday and he's averaging just 13 carries per game this season.

Why is this a problem? Well, most running backs in the National Football League will tell you that they need at least 20-25 carries per game in order to get into a rhythm. Pittman, who might not fully recovered from an ankle sprain he suffered in the beginning of training camp, has obviously not found a rhythm since he joined the Bucs and perhaps his lack of carries can be blamed for it.

"It's whatever Coach Gruden thinks is best for this offense," said Pittman. "I'm not going to say I want the ball more or something like that because of course you do. I'm just going to do what I'm asked to do. Of course I'd like the ball much, much more, but I'm not going to complain about it."

Pittman hasn't rushed the ball 20 times yet this season. The most amount of carries Pittman received in a game was 19 (at Cincinnati, at Atlanta) and his longest run of the season went for 21 yards.

Pittman is the only back in the league with 117 or more carries without a touchdown, which is a bit troublesome. Is that figure a fluke or a telling statistic? In the AFC, Texans RB James Allen (90) is the next closest back in terms of amount of carries without a touchdown to Pittman. In the NFC, Giants RB Ron Dayne (62) is the next closest to Pittman in the same category. As you can see, there is quite a discrepancy.

Gruden has understandably chosen to pound the ball with fullback Mike Alstott in the red zone. "The A-Train" has scored five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) this season. Still, isn't it a bit odd that Pittman, who hasn't had the luxury of having FB Jameel Cook lead-block for him, has yet to cross the goal line? Pittman has been an asset in the passing game. He's caught 35 passes for 277 yards, but he hasn't reached the end zone in the passing game either. In fact, he has touched the ball a total of 152 times without scoring a touchdown this season. And you thought Keyshawn Johnson's touchdown drought was bad?

Not since Pittman's rookie season has he went an entire season without scoring a touchdown, and that year (1998), Pittman only carried the ball 29 times.

No one thought of Pittman as a touchdown machine when he signed with Tampa Bay, but certainly no one thought he'd go this long without scoring his first touchdown as a Buc. He did, after all, score 13 touchdowns (11 rushing, 2 receiving) in four seasons with the Cardinals.

Alsott's role in Gruden's offense is no more defined than Pittman's. Alstott is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and his amount of carries have varied as well. Alstott has had just one game where he carried the ball 20 or more times, and that was against Minnesota last Sunday. Alstott is the only Bucs back to have a 100-yard game this season. In fact, the Bucs have only rushed for a total of 100 yards or more three times this season.

Gruden said his offense will continue to run by committee. He will try to use RB Aaron Stecker and possibly even rookie RB Travis Stephens more in the team's ground attack as the season goes on, which will make it even more difficult for Pittman to receive the amount of carries he said he needed in order to get going in the running game.

The Bucs have feature back-type money going to two players, but they're not receiving feature back-type production from either one of them. Pittman is earning an average of $1.75 million per season and Alstott is making an average of $2 million per season. The Bucs have $3.75 million per season dedicated to its backfield, which is awfully expensive. While Gruden had success featuring more than one running back in Oakland, he hasn't been able to rotate Tampa Bay's backs successfully thus far, and with just seven games remaining, time might be running out.

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