Rookie running back Doug Martin started off the first part of the season fairly quietly before bursting onto the national scene on a Thursday Night game in Minnesota back in October. Lately, defensive coordinators are concentrating their efforts on stopping Martin. Martin and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan are trying to figure out how to counter their defensive opposition.
Buccaneers running back Doug Martin’s first NFL season started off rather slowly. Through his first six games, the former Boise star averaged 68 yards per game on the ground. Martin flashed signs of what he could be at times early, but some questioned if he was actually an upper-echelon running back in the league.
Over the next four games Martin answered the question by averaging 148 yards per game, including a monster 251-yard performance against the Oakland Raiders.
As fans and the media began to take notice of the “Muscle Hamster” so did NFL defensive coordinators. Over the last two games Martin has totaled just 106 yards, with defenses starting to gameplan to stop Tampa Bay’s leading rusher.
Martin sees the concerted effort.
“I’ve been seeing a little bit of [more defenders in the box],” Martin said. “I just got to play the game… and take what they give you. That’s what we’re going to do throughout the season. We’ve (the offense) just have to pay attention to details like we did earlier in the season. That comes with practicing hard and just making sure that you pay attention to the details.”
Some have said Martin is struggling, but offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan disagreed that his running back is part of the problem.
“I don’t see him struggling at all,” Sullivan said. “I see him continuing to get [and] not only maintain, but [get] even stronger. He has played some very, very good football. This past week unfortunately it is like only half of a movie or half of a sandwich. You can’t see the whole deal because if you look at the first half and when we were in a position to maintain that balance he had some great runs. I think he was on track to having a great day. The week before there were a few times schematically [where] there were a couple wrinkles where they had an extra guy and that is certainly going to be something we are going to see. In which case when that’s always the situation you have to hurt them with the pass.
“I don’t see him hitting a wall. I think he is on track. He is an special player and we are going to continue to move forward with him and get him in those positions to make plays which he does not just in the run game, but in the pass game also.”
Martin was known for his running ability in college, however, as Sullivan pointed out, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield has also helped the Buccaneers offense. On the year Martin has 32 receptions for 374 yards, including a touchdown.
After a several game stretch where the Buccaneers led the entire NFL in total offense, like Martin’s numbers, things have cooled off the last two games. Sullivan said there are several reasons.
“You always tend to focus on negatives particularly as a coach and I think sometimes the players do and maybe you guys too occasionally once or twice,” Sullivan said. “Whereas in the overall big picture we are second or third I believe in the NFL in red zone efficiency. As always, it is those missed opportunities. It is having to kick that field goal in a critical divisional game here at home. Or it is having an opportunity to get more and more momentum and start faster. There is no question that you like to have some of those back.
“I think what it boils down to is continuing to evaluate what we have shown [and] the frequency with which we have shown it. And are there any things that we are putting ourselves in a situation where we are predictable, but we have the right guys and the right spots and the formations if you will. The concepts and ideas how often are we able to keep them fresh and rotate them through and yet still try to give enough answers to the quarterback. You want some depth in the answer so other than just telling you we are going to work hard [so] that’s a part of it and really will carry every phase. Not just within the green zone, but whether it is third down which is another area we need to make sure we get heading in the right direction and all the various phases.
There have been some setbacks. There have been some disappointments, but we as a group are definitely focused on the improvement and have a plan of attack on how we want it right this second.”
Martin and Sullivan are hoping the Buccaneers defense can get back on track soon, but both noted the Eagles defense won’t make it easy.
“They’re a good defense,” Martin said. “They have a good front, and a overall just another spectacle defense. But you can’t worry about them, it’s about us; it’s about the Buccaneers. We just got to go in there and play our game and not focus on what’s going on over there.”
Sullivan says the offense is still a work in progress.
"It’s been very gratifying for us to have those times where we’ve been able to run the football and have some of the big running plays,” Sullivan said. “Certainly the explosive pass plays have meant a lot to us. But when we’ve been in those situations, whether it might have been a remote chance or an unlikely chance – like in Carolina or even this past week – guys continued to fight and believe and pull together and be at their best, even when it’s been a rough or difficult day.
“Just the resolve of this unit. There’s not doubt there are mistakes, and we have to get better when it comes to it, but this group always believes it can win and that’s something you can’t coach. We’re 6-6, that’s where we’re at, there’s no prizes for that but we’re worried about being 1-0 in the Philadelphia season."
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