Tom Brady’s arrival brought higher expectations for the Tampa Bay passing game. After the turnover issues during Jameis Winston’s tenure, the Buccaneers were looking for more QB stability.
A plethora of weapons in the passing game brought even more attention to that facet of offense. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Brady’s old teammate from New England, Rob Gronkowski, gave the offense some staying power in the NFC South.
What didn’t garner a lot of attention was the run game. With former second-round pick Ronald Jones already in the fold, the team also added Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third round back in April. As if that wasn’t enough, Bruce Arians and company then decided to add former top-five pick Leonard Fournette when he was released from the Jaguars prior to the start of the season.
On paper, it was an impressive collection of talent, but it still wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. That may no longer be the case.
Tampa Bay (4-2) handed the Green Bay Packers (4-1) their first loss of the 2020 season on Sunday. And it wasn’t just a loss. It was a 38-10 beatdown with the Bucs scoring 38 unanswered points, beginning in the second quarter.
The run game was one of the main driving factors in the outcome. Sure, Gronkowski (five catches, 78 yards, one touchdown) had his first dominant game this season, which helped. The defense also held the Packers to only 201 yards of offense and picked off Aaron Rodgers twice, returning one for a touchdown. That helped too.
But for a run game that had been subpar through the three games, the last three weeks have shown signs of life. The group collectively rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday afternoon. Jones was responsible for both of those touchdowns and 113 of those yards, giving him three consecutive games of over 100 yards rushing.
During that span, Jones has averaged exactly 20 carries per game. He has turned those carries into 330 yards and two touchdowns, good for 5.5 yards per carry. Those are fantastic numbers for a rushing attack that was ranked No. 25 in the NFL in rushing yards per game (99.4) coming into Sunday’s game.
Vaughn was rock solid as well. He was given only five carries, but he turned those opportunities into 42 yards (a 8.4-yard per carry average).
All of this rushing success has come without Fournette, who has been inactive in two of the last three games due to an ankle injury.
This is a Tampa Bay offense that has the pieces to push for a playoff and Super Bowl run. Brady isn’t the same caliber of player as he once was, but he doesn’t really have to be as long as he’s getting help from his run game and defense like he did on Sunday.
The Bucs have currently won four of the last five games. The only blemish is a one-point loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football in Week 5. In other words, this team is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.