Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
… But, as many of you would know if this isn’t your first time reading the Cover 3 column, sometimes I switch things up to make sure I’m getting you all the info you need. That’s what we’re doing this week as this Cover 3 will be a double All Twenty-Tuesday column, as we go in-depth on the performances of Bucs running back Doug Martin and rookie safety Justin Evans, who were both making their first starts of the season. I know Martin didn’t technically “start,” but we all know the real story.
All Twenty-Tuesday: Doug Martin
It was a long-awaited return for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ franchise running back.
After missing the final game of 2016, having to go through the 2017 training camp with limited reps, and on top of all that, missing an extra week of football due to the rescheduled bye week, Martin looked to be at his old self last Thursday night in Tampa Bay’s 19-14 loss to New England – in the best way.
Martin technically didn’t start the game because he wasn’t out there for the first snap. However, he finished the game leading the team in carries (13) and rushing yards (74). His 5.7 yards per carry average was well above the team’s previous average over the three games it played without him, and his 17-yard run was the second-longest run of the season by a Bucs running back.
Martin not only looked fresh, but you could just see that he brought something different to the running game; an edge or style that they didn’t have before all in one back.
Here’s what that looked like.
First let’s talk about usage.
The play above is actually of running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who started the game. As you watch the play unfold, look at how much space he had over the middle as a receiving option, and yet, quarterback Jameis Winston didn’t see him; he was focused outside.
Back in 2015, when Martin last had a 1,000-yard season, not only was he second in the NFL in rushing, but he also caught the seventh-most passes for running backs with at least 200 carries. So, it’s safe to say that when trusted as the main back, Martin was not only given his looks in terms of carries, but for catches, too. In a more comfortable – and more calm Winston – scenario, Martin could have been the one to get the ball there, which would have been an easier throw.
On the throw above we saw that same sort of scenario, this time with Martin, but we saw the rust once again, this time with a throw.
Winston was the quarterback when Martin last had his big year as a receiver and a runner, and though Winston has evolved in many ways as a passer, that doesn’t mean he was to totally move past some of the easy stuff. Having good chemistry to get the ball to a talented receiving back in space isn’t the same sort of negative check down narrative as it can be in other instances. Sometimes it’s the safe and right throw to get some yards and keep a series or a drive going in the right direction.
That’s one way I think Martin can still contribute in a little way that turns out to be a big way. But, that will only come with time as the lead back – and a better throw from Winston.
Zone blocking is something the Bucs didn’t do a lot of with Jacquizz Rodgers as the lead back, and that’s because of the type of back he is. Rodgers makes his money on being a physical, north-south runner. I like backs like that. He’s a good player to have on the roster, but he’s certainly not as dynamic as a guy like Martin.
A zone blocking scheme often involves a bit of controlled chaos. Offensive linemen have an idea of who they’re going to block as they take their first step either right or left, as opposed to just straight forward for a push. However, you don’t really know which defender is going to be there until you move. This forces a ball carrier to have some quick reactions. When he does, you see plays like the one above.
Rodgers may be just as good at being physical and Charles Sims might be just as good at catching the ball, but no running back Tampa Bay has is as good at improvising as Martin is.
The clip above is a good example of some improvising from Martin – and it’s not just that he’s improvising, it’s that he can do it all full speed.
When you have a running back that you trust to be able to make the right reads in chaos and hit space that might not be opened up yet, that’s when you can start to get creative with blocking. Take the play above, for example. The run itself is a simple run up the middle and all the tight end is doing is acting like a lead blocker. But, think about what would have happened if the Bucs were more straight forward with it.
Let’s say that tight end was line up as a fullback instead. The gap wouldn’t have changed, the lead blocking role wouldn’t have changed, but the defense would have been tipped off to where the ball was going and probably would have had more urgency to stuff the middle.
When you run zone blocking plays with success like the team did before, you keep the opposing front seven honest when defending the run – you make them a little hesitant. They don’t know whether the offensive line is going to hit them straight in the mouth or if they’re going to shift left or right. When you get that hesitation, then you can throw in moving parts, like having a lead blocker come inside up the middle from the tight end spot instead of as a fullback.
All of that starts with having a running back that knows how to improvise and be confident through chaos.
The best example of all of that comes together in the Martin’s long touchdown that actually was a few inches short of crossing the goal line.
Observe the split-zone blocking concept (Gap Scheme) which sent half the offensive line moving one way and two lead blockers coming behind the line going the other way. Take note of the change of direction for Martin once he got to the outside. Notice how he didn’t lose speed or power as he made that final push to the end zone.
That’s a complete running back.
Martin is a damn good player when he’s healthy and focused. One game in and he appears to be both. The Buccaneers went away from him during the second half of that Patriots game, and I think they abandoned the run too early, especially with what his yards per carry average was. I think they know that, and I think you’ll see even more Martin mixed in over in Arizona.
Click to the next page to see a similar film breakdown on Evans’ first start of his career.