A revamped offensive line and the revitalized legs of running back Doug Martin have powered Tampa Bay into the upper ranks of the league in rushing through 10 weeks.
The Bucs rank sixth overall with 126.6 rushing yards per game and Martin is one of five NFL running backs with more than 700 on the ground. The fourth-year pro’s results toting the rock have dipped recently, however, and getting him back on track will be a focal point in Philadelphia on Sunday.
“We have not ran it as well the last two weeks as we had,” offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said Wednesday afternoon. “In fact, that is one of the things we are addressing starting this morning. “Coach [George] Warhop, our [offensive] line coach, all of our coaches, we have some things that we think are mainly in the details. It’s not that our running backs are running any differently.
“Again, these teams just don’t sit there in one defense,” he continued. “They’re changing their looks, they’re changing their pressures. They get paid too, they get coached too. We have not been quite as sharp. [We’ve] been very physical. [It’s] not a question at all of effort or physicality, we just have to iron out a few details. Like most plays, if we are all on the same page then we have a lot better chance to be successful.”
Dallas was able to bottle up Martin and fellow back Charles Sims for 84 total team rushing yards, just the third time in nine games Tampa Bay’s failed to crack 100 yards on the ground. Martin went for 63 on 18 attempts and added 40 more yards on four receptions, but in the past three games combined he’s picking up just 3.2 yards per carry. Through the first six games Martin’s per-carry average was just under 5.0.
Head coach Lovie Smith said this week that opposing defenses have put an increased emphasis on slowing Tampa Bay’s running game. Now it’s the job of the offensive staff and players to counteract those game plans, he said.
“You have to give the defenses credit in the last couple of weeks. They have committed to doing that and they have done a good job, especially with Dallas last week. The defense is always trying to stop what we are doing so we have to stay committed to it. It’s just not about getting big gains every time. It wears you down a little bit too. They have done a good job against us, but we’ll keep fighting it out.”
The Bucs will face their third base 3-4 defensive front of the season in Philadelphia after losing the previous two matchups against Tennessee in Week 1 and Washington in Week 7. Tampa Bay didn’t have an opportunity to establish the run against the Titans once it fell behind big early. Washington was a different story. Martin didn’t find the end zone but enjoyed one of his best games with season-highs in yardage (136) and per-carry average (7.2).
The Eagles have allowed only two individual running backs to go for 100-plus yards – Dallas’ Darren McFadden (117) and Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart (125) – but both came within the past three games and Philadelphia ranks 20th in overall rush defense (111.3 yards per game).
Helping pump Tampa Bay’s rushing numbers back up will be the creation of big gains on the ground. The Bucs rank fifth in the league with nine runs of 20-yards or more, including seven by Martin, but only one of those has come in the past three games (Sims’ 59-yard burst against the Giants).
“We’re physical, but it might be minor things that we’re missing,” left tackle Donovan Smith said this week. “We’re a hair away from splitting one or something like that, so just focus on the details.”