The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gotten off to a strong start to the season, but their running game has been struggling lately and they’re not playing well on the road.
The Buccaneers have a good chance to correct both of those issues Sunday when they visit the lowly Kansas City Chiefs.
Tampa Bay (5-3) dropped to second place in the NFC South after losing 13-9 to Dallas last Sunday at Texas Stadium. The Buccaneers’ solid defense limited the Cowboys to only 172 yards, but Tampa Bay gained a season-low 262 yards and was held without a touchdown for the first time since the 2007 opener.
If the Bucs are going to make it back to the playoffs, they’re going to have to improve their play on the road. Tampa Bay is 1-3 on the road this season and has won just five of 20 away from Raymond James Stadium since 2006.
The Bucs are having problems on both sides of the ball away from Tampa Bay. They are allowing an average of 19.3 points on the road compared to 10.3 in their four home games, and are scoring 8.0 fewer points per game on the road.
“We just haven’t played up to our standards, we’re a better football team than that,” Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. “It’s a hard place to play - the road is no friend to anyone. We got to get better.”
Traveling to Kansas City might be just what the Bucs need to regain some confidence on the road, as the Chiefs (1-6) have won just one of their last 16 games overall dating to last season.
The running game is also an area Gruden would like to see improve.
Tampa Bay averaged 136.0 yards on the ground in its first six games, but has been held to 146 in its last two combined.
Warrick Dunn, who has rushed for 423 yards, has been slowed by a sore back and had just one carry against the Cowboys. The Bucs expect him to get more playing time this week.
Earnest Graham has been sharing time in the backfield with Dunn and leads the team with 498 rushing yards, but he’s been limited to 105 yards on 45 carries in his last three games.
“We haven’t run the ball to our standards the last two weeks,” Gruden said. “We got to get more done running the football.”
The Bucs should be able to solve their running woes against the Chiefs, who are last in the league against the run (196.9) and have allowed a league-high 14 rushing touchdowns.
Kansas City is 31st in total defense (409.0) and 28th in scoring defense (27.6), and its offense has been just as ineffective. The Chiefs are 28th in total offense (290.3) and 31st in scoring (14.1).
Their running game is in even worse shape than the Bucs, as Larry Johnson is facing a possible suspension by the NFL after being charged Monday with simple assault for spitting his drink in a woman’s face.
Johnson has been benched the last two games, and without him Kansas City has rushed for 138 yards. It now faces a defense that is eighth against the run (88.9) and fourth in total defense (289.4).
After throwing for 128 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in a 38-14 defeat to Atlanta on Sept. 21 in his first NFL start, Thigpen completed 25 of 36 passes for two touchdowns and no picks against the Jets.
“I think what it does, it gives you some hope that the guy can continue to play like that, that he’s going to get better, and that you’ve got a guy who’s consistent at the quarterback position,” Edwards said. “I don’t think we’ve started two games with the same guy starting at quarterback yet. So that gives you that stability. Now hopefully he can go out there this week.
“The problem this week again is he’s playing one of the better defenses in football.”
The Bucs and Chiefs haven’t played since Tampa Bay’s 34-31 win on Nov. 7, 2004. This will be the Bucs’ first trip to Kansas City since a 27-20 loss on Oct. 26, 1986.