Though it was likely unintentional, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles had an uncharacteristically humorous retort Monday night when asked what he saw from his running game.
"We didn't have one," the second-year Bucs coach replied.
Facing an imposing Philadelphia Eagles front, the Buccaneers running game mustered nary 41 net yards rushing and ran for one first down in the 25-11 loss. It was dismal.
Alas, the Bucs' rushing ills extend beyond just Monday night's travails. They've existed through the first three weeks with the Bucs posting just 234 rushing yards (27th in NFL) with a league-worst 2.8 yards per carry.
The morning after his team's worst showing so far this season, Bowles held multiple parties accountable but didn't hesitate to let it be known he'd like to see a different approach -- and results -- from Rachaad White, who had a season-low 38 rushing yards Monday.
"We've got to stay on our blocks a little longer. Obviously, it goes hand in hand. Rachaad has to hit it," Bowles said Tuesday, via team transcript. "I think he tried to make too many big plays when it was a grind-it-out type of game. You're not going to get big plays on these guys. You've got to start hitting it up in there, getting two, three, and four yards and hope you can break one later on."
To say White is coming up short of expectations would be an understatement. Per Next Gen Stats, White has totaled negative-65 rushing yards over expected so far this season.
Over three games, White's rushed for 150 yards on 48 carries (3.13 yards per carry) with one touchdown. His Week 2 performance, though not exactly dazzling, was a positive outlier in comparison to his other two showings, as he ran for a season-high 73 yards and a score against a woeful Chicago Bears defense.
White has been a bell cow for the Bucs, but has struggled mightily to ring up positive results. He's responsible for 64% of Tampa's 234 rushing yards on the season and its only rushing TD. Quarterback Baker Mayfield's 30 yards are second on the team. Thusly, the Bucs running game starts and stops with White. So far, it really hasn't gone anywhere.
"He probably had too many cuts trying to make an explosive play -- something out of nothing -- as opposed to taking what they give him," said Bowles in assessing White's Monday night showing, in which the back averaged 2.7 yards on 14 carries. "Given the magnitude of the game, knowing it was going to be one of those types of games, just from an experience standpoint he can get better that way and he will."
The road ahead doesn't get any easier, as the Bucs will battle the NFC South-rival New Orleans Saints on Sunday. New Orleans' rushing defense is 10th in the NFL.
Bowles' defense has plenty to worry about with the Saints, as well. He'll need to prepare his squad to potentially face Derek Carr, who's dealing with a shoulder injury, or former Buc Jameis Winston. Again, though, it's the running game that's most prevalent in Bowles' mind.
"We'll prepare for Jameis and (Carr) – I don't think the offense will change that much that way," Bowles said. "The bigger problem is going to be (Alvin) Kamara coming back and they'll have a bit more juice in the backfield to go with the speed they have outside at receiver."
Bowles clearly wants to squeeze more juice out of his running game. He was clear Tuesday he wants White hitting the hole and getting what's given rather than looking for a big gain each carry.