Lately, it seems the Bucs can plug any running back into the backfield and get the production they need. A recent two-game stretch that has seen Tampa play some of their best football of the season has coincided with a running game that is gaining lots of positive yards.
What’s most impressive is they’re doing this without their top back, Doug Martin, who is out for the season. Tampa turned to Mike James after Martin went down and he churned out 158 of Tampa’s 205 rushing yards against the Seahawks in Week 9. James’ season ended with an injury last week.
Losing Martin and then James hasn’t stopped Tampa. On the way to winning their first game of the season on Monday night in Week 10, Tampa gained 140 yards on the ground, led by Brian Leonard’s 57 yards on 20 carries. Atlanta’s defense will need to be ready to slow down Leonard since it’s a safe assumption Tampa will try to run against the Falcons.
On Wednesday, head coach Mike Smith said they’re familiar with Leonard and his physical running style.
“Leonard has been a running back for six seasons so there’s a lot of tape on him,” Smith said. “He’s a big, strong running back. I think at one point in time one of the teams he was with wanted to make him a full back, so he’s a real strong runner. We have some tape on him. They’ve done a great job running the football. We know they’re very physical up front on the offensive line. They’ve done a nice job. We’re familiar with Leonard.”
Leonard carried the ball for much of the game and backup Bobby Rainey came in to close out the game, getting many of his carries late. Rainey ended up with 45 yards on eight carries in last week’s win. Atlanta’s 27th-ranked run D, allowing 126.8 yards per game, will have to be ready.