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PewterReport.com began a new offseason feature this year, giving readers an opportunity to get their questions answered about the Bucs by the PR staff. Today, Mark Cook answers five questions taken from Twitter submissions and our message boards using the hashtag #PRMailbag.

Question: Should the Bucs bench Doug Martin?

Answer: This has been a huge topic of conversation overnight and into Monday all over Twitter and sports talk radio. There is no doubt this was not the season the Bucs, or Martin himself, envisioned coming into 2016. Fresh off of a standout 2015 campaign, and a new offseason contract, big things were expected for the former Boise State standout.

A hamstring injury in Arizona Week 2 set the wheels in motion – or lack of motion – for a disappointing season, and one that Martin has yet to bounce back from. However, the easy copout would be to say that Martin is playing poorly, or that as some have suggested, he has lost a step. And while Martin would most likely say he could have played better in certain instances, the fact is, he has had little cooperation from his offensive line this season. What was expected to be a strength of this team, has in fact been a factor in the overall regression of the Bucs offense in 2016. I firmly believe it if you put Martin behind the Cowboys offensive line, then he is putting up Ezekiel Elliott type numbers this season.

To me it does appear Martin is pressing a little bit at times, trying to make every run a 40-yarder instead of taking four yards. I am guessing maybe some of that is partly due to the fact he is wanting to prove he deserved the new deal he got in the offseason.

But overall, the biggest issue and problem comes from inconsistency from the offensive line. Watching the games from the coaches film on Tuesday, it appears there are breakdowns that are hurting the running game. And it isn’t just one player. It seems that all the linemen, and even the blocking tight ends, are taking turns missing blocks or using poor technique at times. Running the football is a mindset and right now the offensive line doesn’t have it. It is something the team will need to look at moving forward, particularly this offseason. Perhaps J.R. Sweezy is part of the solution moving forward. 

But to answer your original question, No I do not think Martin should be benched. 

Question: Let’s be honest, the OL has struggled all season. What additions and or subtraction do you see coming in the off season?

Answer: As mentioned above, if Sweezy is recovered from his back injury, there is an addition essentially for the Bucs offensive line. It is really mind blowing that the only difference between this year’s line and last years, is the absence of Logan Mankins. And while Mankins was not the old Patriots Pro Bowl guard last season, he did bring smarts and more importantly, leadership. Maybe this line is missing that. I still can’t believe though that Mankins retirement had this much effect on the offensive line.

Subtraction wise, Gosder Cherilus is in the final year of his deal, and even if he were playing at a higher level, I would suspect he would be close to retiring. The wear and tear he has suffered has caught up to the veteran, and he is feeling the bumps and bruises longer and longer following a game.

I think the Bucs will look to add some help, either via free agency or the draft, or perhaps both. Or maybe Pamphile moves outside with a possible return of Sweezy. The Bucs also like Caleb Benenoch’s potential to eventually be a starting right tackle. I’m guess we see a different starting five next season, and not necessarily new faces, but maybe current players at different spots. Evan Smith will be back in the mix and could be an upgrade for Hawley at center. No one loves Joe more than I do. His physical edge he plays with, and his nastiness is important on an offensive line, but size wise he gives up several pounds to most nose tackles in the NFL. I just don’t see the push you want from your center.

The Bucs could go back to the drawing board and it could be a do-over, everybody-is-equal competition heading into the offseason camps. I am not sure any position is completely safe, although you would have to believe Ali Marpet is fairly locked in. Or do they give him a look at center in the offseason? 

Question: If Sealver Siliga was brought in for December football. Why wasn’t he in on more 1st down running plays Sunday night?

Answer: That was something I thought of as well as I saw Elliott gash the Bucs defense. Although without going back and looking at the game again yet, it seemed Elliott was running from the “B” gaps to the outside more, as opposed to up the gut. I could be wrong though. One reason could be the Cowboys were pretty balanced, if I remember right. They didn’t just run it on first and second down, then pass on third down. It seems Dak Prescott was in the shotgun a lot, and Siliga isn’t going to be much of pass rushing threat. However the interior of the line got virtually no pressure during the game, so in hindsight, just having Siliga taking up space in the middle might have changed things a little and made life easier on the ends and linebackers. That is something worth asking defensive coordinator Mike Smith this week.

Question: What happened to Mike Smith’s defense? Against a rookie quarterback at that?

Answer: That is a great question. At times it played like the second half of the season defense, but at other times it resembled the first half of the season defense. To me it appeared the defense was playing passively, not showing the same aggression from the defensive backs we have seen over the last five games. Part of the reason the Cowboys has the success they did was because of their massive and talented offensive line. It also seemed like Cowboys’ coordinate Scott Linehan was just a step ahead of the Bucs defense, keeping them off balance for most of the night. It will be interesting to get Smith’s thoughts this week when he takes to the podium. The biggest frustration to me was how simple it appeared for Prescott. The Bucs defense did a great job of stopping a savvy veteran in Drew Brees the week before, giving him some looks and eventually baiting him into some interceptions, yet I don’t remember a ball that was even close to being picked off on Sunday night. 

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About the Author: Mark Cook

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at mark@pewterreport.com
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russmillerwy
4 years ago

Dak Prescott is throwing the ball so accurately. That’s a hard factor to counter, similar to what Derek Carr did. The Cowboys rarely went 3 and out, either, thanks to the running game and many short passes to guys like Witten. A tired defense becomes a passive defense. You just can’t bring the same acceleration to the 8th play of a drive that you can to the 3rd. I agree with everything you’ve said, and would add that Demar Dotson’s absence was sorely felt on Sunday. We might have been able to mount a 4th quarter drive if we had… Read more »

surferdudes
4 years ago

Yes Mark, Martin would have better numbers running behind the Dallas O line, but to suggest he could compare to Elliott is crazy talk. You’re comparing a race horse, with a plow horse. E. Smith could be an upgrade over Hawley at center next season? Mark, wake up, that battle has been waged, Smith lost, remember? Got to say, not on your A game with those answers. It’s O.K., every day can’t be your best at work,lol.

jme0151
Reply to  surferdudes
4 years ago

Yep, I thought the same thing when I read E. Smith going back to center as an upgrade. NOT!! Lets draft a young center or move Marphet to center.

Bucnut2
Reply to  surferdudes
4 years ago

I agree with you surfer dudes. The O-line needs help but I am not sure that Martin hasn’t lost something. ALL of the other backs are running better behind the same line.

Dustin Romero
4 years ago

I agree and I think that there would have been some INT’s had the defense showed the same tenacity or aggressiveness it had in the previous 5 weeks. Thats exaclty what I saw….That Cole Beasley catch for 8-15 yards looked like it was in swatting (jump) range for Tandy but instead he just turned to pursue….And it always seemed on every pass the defender was just about 2-4 yards behind waiting for the tackle. In previous weeks we were up on them when they got the ball to hit and jar it loose or jump the route.

Naplesfan
4 years ago

People want to jump to conclusions based upon a single game of play. Whether it’s conclusions about the offensive line, the defense, or the quarterback. It was still just a single game, and a single game a trend does not make, nor should the usual, seemingly obligatory over-reactions ensue. Yes, Martin has not had a good season. His hamstring injury would have hurt him regardless of what offensive line he played behind. An offensive line that does a better job of run blocking would surely improve our running game, no matter who is doing the running. Our defense didn’t suddenly… Read more »

britbuc14
4 years ago

My question is how does Koetter justify leaving the teams top rusher inactive when the running game is struggling?

Naplesfan
Reply to  britbuc14
4 years ago

I expect there’s a very strong chance that Rodgers will be on the field come Saturday against the Saints. I was surprised to see he was inactive. At the same time, I’m guessing that Dirk expected more out of Martin.

e
e
4 years ago

So, where do the Bucs stand right now after the Redskins loss? GB is slightly ahead, but they play Detroit on the last week. Do they own the tiebreakers at that point with both GB & DET if the Bucs win their last two? Is it win-and-you’re-in for the Bucs? So, do the playoffs basically start for the Bucs this week or is it out of their hands?

Naplesfan
Reply to  e
4 years ago

There’s still quite a few combinations that result in various teams making the playoffs in the NFC that include the Bucs. The easiest and most direct is to win one more game out of the remaining 2 games than Atlanta wins. That would be 2 wins vs. 1, or 1 win vs. 0 … in which case we win the NFC South. Either of those combos gives us a clear tiebreaker over Atlanta. Or, we could still get in as a wildcard with any of 2, 1, or even 0 wins in the last two, but that would depend on… Read more »

bucballer
4 years ago

Was Rodger’s injured? He should have been in the RB rotation??? Not sure why he was inactive. I agree britbuc! Right now he is our most dangerous RB! Cherilous is playing his last couple of games. Old, slow! Why not have TE in backfield to help chip block? Why is it that we can not call the game based on our strengths? I’m sure by now we are aware of what they are. Slow starts, porous OL, there are some things that the coaches can gameplan design to limit some of these things. Not sure why we are having same… Read more »

Horse
4 years ago

This without a doubt was a coaching scheme issue in this game. On Defense the DB’s were playing way back which left open the 10 yard pass over and over. On offense we never threw quick slants and only a couple screens. It was the wrong play calling to call 20-30 yard passes when you had less than 2 seconds to trhow the ball. Koetter & Smith at times were like deer in headlites in their play calling.

Naplesfan
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

Of course coaches always share in the blame for any and all losses … it goes with the job. I don’t agree with your “deer in the headlights” description. Neither Koetter nor Smith acted out of their depth or crazy or clueless. The have the players they have on the field. Dotson, our starting tackle was out, Cherlius his backup was out with a groin pull in the 4th quarter, we were down to a totally un-proven third stringer at right tackle. How many great plays can you call and get reliable results with scrubs on the field? At an… Read more »

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