It was an all-too-familiar sight last Sunday: The Buccaneers enter a game trying to establish the run, but they fall behind early and the run’s no longer an option.
A large part of turning the team’s fortunes around is predicated upon keeping running back Doug Martin in the offensive equation for four quarters and head coach Lovie Smith said as much this week.
“For us to get out of this hole, we need to get the running game going and stay in games where we can continue to run the football,” Smith said Wednesday.
Martin ran effectively when given the chance last week against Tennessee, gaining 41 first-quarter yards on eight carries, but rarely heard his number called for the final 45 minutes. Tampa Bay fell behind 21-0 before the start of the second quarter and the Bucs found themselves scrambling to play catch up the rest of the way.
Martin finished with 11 total carries for 52 yards (4.7-yard average) and also had two third-quarter runs of 8 and 11 yards brought back because of holding penalties. Bucs running backs totaled 74 yards on 20 attempts (3.7-yard average) and the team rushed for 92 on 26 when factoring in six Jameis Winston scrambles for 18 yards.
Tampa Bay now faces a New Orleans team struggling to find defensive stability under coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints finished near the bottom of the league in total defense, rushing defense and points allowed last year and Sunday’s performance at Arizona didn’t look much different.
The Cardinals rushed for 4.8 yards per carry and finished off their 31-19 win with 120 yards on the ground on 25 attempts.
Now in his fourth NFL season, Martin said this week’s all about moving forward and seizing opportunities – penalty free – when they arise.
“The last game’s behind us,” he said. “It’s not what we wanted, it’s not how we wanted to start, but we’re focusing on the New Orleans Saints this upcoming weekend. The guys are hungry; they want to win and they’re competitors. They’re ready to go out here and fight.
“We’ve got something for the Cover Zero to counter that,” Martin said when asked about situations where New Orleans puts extra men at the line, leaving potential openings for him to exploit. “I can’t really say what we have in store, but there’s always some opportunities out there and you’ve just got to make the most of them.”