I always love film breakdowns, and Cian Fahey is quickly becoming one of the more prominent writers to produce them. His latest effort examined Doug Martin and his struggles last year, with several play breakdowns and trying to examine whether the offensive line or the Muscle Hamster was most responsible for the team's struggles to run the ball. After all, Martin averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 2013, and struggled to catch the ball as well.
Fahey's conclusion is that the offensive line was the main reason why the Buccaneers struggled to run the ball with Doug Martin, and that those struggles were exposed against only the top two run defenses in the NFL, and no one else. One table illustrates that point nicely.
|Opponent||Carries||Yards||Yards Per Carry||Run Defense DVOA|
|Week 1, NYJ||24||65||2.7||2nd|
|Week 2, NO||29||144||5||20th|
|Week 3, NE||20||88||4.4||27th|
|Week 4, ARI||27||45||1.7||1st|
|Week 6, PHI||16||67||4.2||11th|
|Week 7, ATL||11||47||4.3||26th|
The two teams that gave the Muscle Hamster fits both featured dominant defensive lines and linebackers, facing a Buccaneers offensive line that was a few notches below dominant. And when Bobby Rainey and Mike James were more successful later in the year, they didn't have to face those run defenses -- which explains why they seemed to do better than Martin.
That's not the entirety of the story, though. While an offensive line is important to any running game, the back also has to help the line create room by pressing the hole, enticing the defense to overpursue, and cutting back. That requires patience and vision, and Martin did seem to struggle a little in that department at the start of both of his first two NFL seasons. But those splits, and Fahey's examples, both show that the offensive line was certainly an issue.
Sadly, it's far from certain that that problem has now been solved. The Bucs replaced a quality run-blocker in Donald Penn with someone who struggled in that area in Anthony Collins. Evan Dietrich-Smith should represent an upgrade in that department, at least, but with the guard position still one massive question mark, the line is likely to struggle again this season.
Doug Martin should return to form this year. His injury was to his shoulder, which should not impair his mobility or really any of the skills necessary to be a quality running back. He'll lose some touches to Mike James, Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims, but he'll still be the teams' lead rusher. And with the Bucs trying to turn their running game into the foundation of the offense, he'll get plenty of chances to showcase his ability.