Through the first four games of the 2012 NFL season, rookie running back Doug Martin averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and had a mere 8 catches for 53 yards. With one total touchdown, that was not the kind of performance the Bucs had been waiting for. Tampa Bay wanted to run the ball, and they wanted Doug Martin to be the basis of their offense -- and through the first four games, that was simply not possible.
But a bye week and two weak defenses later, Doug Martin does look like he could carry a defense. Over the past two weeks, Martin has averaged a massive 5.6 yards per carry. He has totaled 161 yards over two games, added one touchdown and, interestingly, has caught five passes for 92 yards. That's a total of 253 yards from scrimmage over two games - not too shabby at all.
Two things changed the past two games that allowed for the change: Jamon Meredith replaced Ted Larsen at right guard, and Doug Martin learned how to run in the NFL. The first change is obvious: Larsen wasn't cutting it as a run-blocker, and while Meredith has been far from dominant he has easily been an upgrade over Larsen. The second change is harder to see, and harder to explain.
Let's take a look at two GIFs to see if I can show what I mean. Here's the first, Doug Martin's 36-yard run against the New Orleans Saints:
The most eye-popping move here is his stiff-arm of Malcolm Jenkins right after clearing the offensive line. That's impressive and it allowed him to turn a five-yard gain into a 36-yard touchdown, but it's not what really stands out. In the first two games, Martin would have pounded this run up the middle, gaining maybe three yards and making the offensive line look worse than it really was. At that point he appeared to be rushing his reads and didn't see the field clearly. Here, though, he sees that he can take it off tackle - and this is the result.
Compare that to this week 2 GIF of his touchdown run against the New York Giants.
This showed off his speed and agility - but didn't exactly highlight his vision. He starts out trying to go right after the handoff - a bad decision, causing him to run into the offensive lineman's back and leading him right to a free linebacker. He saves the play with a spin move and some speed, but had he simply cut to the left initially none of that would have been necessary.
Martin has all the skills to be a good starting NFL back and I believe we've seen that over the past two weeks, much more so than we saw it during the first four games of the season. As long as Martin can be a consistent runner, the Bucs will have a running game to fall back when Freeman goes through his weekly stretch of inaccuracy. This will also allow the Bucs to close out games. Most importantly, Martin can give them a sustaining element on offense -- one that has been missing due to Freeman's inconsistency.