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Doug Martin the X-factor

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Is RB Doug Martin good because of a good offensive line, does he make the offensive line look good, or is there a mutual relationship? In a recent Q&A with Football Outsiders, Martin is a byproduct of the offensive line.

Sander Philipse of Bucsnation:  Doug Martin has been getting a lot of positive press this offseason, but Outsiders' model is not impressed with similar projections to last year's fairly awful performance. What are the odds that Martin returns to rookie form, or at least turns into a middling starting back?

Andrew Healy of Football Outsiders:  Personally, I wouldn't be shocked if Martin returns to something approaching his rookie form. If he stays healthy, I think he probably will be a middling starting back. That does not mean he necessarily produces all that much. His numbers will depend at least as much on that highly questionable line as it will on his return to form.

Essentially, Andrew covered all the bases: Yes, Martin can return to his rookie form; Yes, Martin can be a middling RB if he stays healthy; Yes, Martin can get numbers if his offensive line produces. Yet, the tone on Martin is down.

Weeks ago I wrote an article about Doug Martin being a bell cow for the Bucs. In it I denote that it was his health that deterred Martin in 2014, and yet he still finished a whole yard ahead of his two stints earlier in the 2014 season.

There is a common rhetoric that Martin has had two terrible years. Let us take a look at his previous three seasons.

Doug Martin
2012 - 2014
Year Games Played Yds Avg Median Long
2012 16 1454 4.6 4.05 70
2013 6 456 3.6 4.25 28
2014 11 494 3.7 3.2 63

Please note how Doug's 2014 season barely surpassed the total yards from his 2013 season, where he only played 6 games. In those six games, he faced the top two rush defenses in the whole league. Thus, I introduced the Median production for Doug Martin's stats into the mix of stats. The Median is the middle most number of an ordered set, depicting where most of the production range of a running back. If the average is higher than the median, then there are one or two games skewing the outcome to be higher than the median. Similarly, if the average is below the median, then there are one or two games skewing the outcome to be lower than the median.

Clearly, in 2013, Martin's median suggests a couple of rough games. Four out of six games, Doug Martin averaged at least 4.2 yards per rush or greater. Even though Doug did not play the last 10 games of the season, he would not face the top two defenses again as they were not divisional foes. Against the fourth best rushing defense, Martin averaged 4.2 yard per rush. I included that stat to give context that Doug can run against top competition. All of these stats can be found in the Bell Cow linked above.

If we were to extrapolate 2013 to 16 games, then the total yards production would result in 1216 yards. Doug would then be ranked in the top 10 of running backs in 2013, eight best overall to be exact. That is better than middling.

Now, let us peer into the offensive line stats to be compared to Doug Martin's rushing statistics, brought to you by none other than Football Outsiders.

Doug Martin Football Outsiders
2012 - 2014 Tampa OL Ranking
Year Yds/Game Avg Median Run Block Stuffed
2012 90.9 4.6 4.05 13 22
2013 76.0 3.6 4.25 27 22
2014 44.9 3.7 3.2 32 32

For this split chart, I introduced "Yds/Game" metric. Although Doug increased his average in 2014, his yards per game average was abysmal compared to 2013. The median in 2014 is a full yard less than 2013. The average does not tell a comprehensive story about Doug Martin.

Football Outsiders does note how the run blocking dropped tremendously from 13th to 27th. Yet the stuffed rank, the ranking where a running back gets stopped at the line of scrimmage or behind it, remained the same. I find that commonality odd, but the run blocking dropped drastically.

Tampa Bay Bucs
2013 RB
Player Games Running Yds/Game Avg Median
Martin 6 76 3.6 4.25
Rainey 8 59.1 3.9 3.45
James 6 36.9 4.9 4.45

Despite the rhetoric that Martin had a terrible slump in 2013, Martin was quite productive in 2013, especially when compared to his backups that year. The Stuffed ranking provided by Football Outsiders had the Bucs' offensive line producing at a mediocre rate for two consecutive seasons.  Yet the run block stats dropped from the top half of the league to the bottom five of the league. Judging from the yards per game stat among the three RBs in 2013, it may be the case that the other running backs may not have the same running skills as Martin. That information may have dropped the run block stat while still maintain being mediocre at getting push from the offensive line.

A pattern I found in Martin between his rookie season and 2014, in the Bell Cow article, was that Martin became a stronger runner as the season progressed. His production would increase by a full yard per rush.

Football Outsider's Stuffed Ranking is pertinent in helping to develop the story of an offensive line. Because the stuffed rank stayed the same ranking, 22nd, for consecutive seasonns would imply that the offensive line is not effective in opening holes or getting push for its running backs. The run blocking ranking was different despite having the same stuffed ranking. Would that imply that the running back is not dependent upon the offensive line?

Here is a quote directly from Football Outsiders on all their offensive line rankings page, for any year:

A team with a high ranking in Adjusted Line Yards, but a low ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its offensive line to make the running game work.  A team with a low ranking in Adjusted Line Yards, but a high ranking in Open Field Yards is heavily dependent on its running back breaking long runs to make the running game work.

TB Bucs
Football Outsiders Run block vs Open Field
Year Run Blocking ranking Adj. Line yards Open Field Rank
2012 13 4.03 5
2013 27 3.63 13
2014 32 3.21 13

In all three years, the Open Field Rank was always higher than the Adjusted Line Yards (Run Block ranking). That means the offensive line is dependent on the running backs to make it look good for all three years.

Combine that with the Bell Cow analysis, the stuffed ranking, and the roster the offensive line had for those years, and it reveals that Martin makes the offensive line look better. In 2012, the Bucs lost its Pro Bowl starting RG before the season started and lost its Pro Bowl LG after playing only seven games. That is two Pro Bowl starting guards lost. The following year, it re-inserted its Pro Bowl RG back into the starting lineup and he never could retrieve his Pro Bowl form to where he was released after the 2013 season. In that same year, the Pro Bowl LG only played 2 games. To recap 2012 and 2013, the offensive line was missing talent at the RG and LG positions, both positions had Pro Bowl talent at the start of 2012 offseason.

The new regime, in 2014, decided to release the former Pro Bowl RG, who was a former shell of himself, and replace the starting center along with the starting LT. In the 2014 offseason, the oft injured Pro Bowl LG had quit on football due to MRSA, which was contracted at the Bucs' practice facility. Soon, it discovered it had had holes at starting LT, LG, and RG. Then it discovered it had no offensive coordinator.

Tampa Bay Bucs
2014 RB
Player Yds/Game Avg Median
Martin 44.9 3.7 3.2
Rainey 27.1 4.3 3.3
Sims 23.1 2.8 2.85

This year, the Bucs are starting two second round rookies at LT and RG. Recently, there are injuries to the starting LT and RT. The Bucs lost its starting RT in the first game of preseason. The LT was lost in the third game of preseason. The starting offensive line looked good in only one preseason game, which was game two against Cincinnati.

Doug Martin
2015 Preseason
Game Team Carries Yards Avg
1 Min 5 19 3.8
2 Cin 6 59 9.8
3 Cle 9 40 4.4

To quote Koetter, from a recent Pewter Report article:

"I know when Doug’s going to get it. So there’s a guy you can put it in his hands and he has the ability; he’s shown it in preseason. Any player that has the ability to create explosives on his own, that guy’s an x-factor."

In conclusion, a healthy Doug Martin simply needs a below average offensive line to make the offensive line look good. New offensive line coach Dirk Koetter has had experience with offense lines that were hit with disastrous injuries, as he lost four starting linemen halfway through the season last year with Atlanta. Doug does not need a great offensive line to produce. Doug needs an average offensive line to be Pro Bowl caliber - provided he is healthy. A 2012 offensive line unit where it is ranked 22nd for Stuffed in the league does not constitute a very good offensive line. One last chart to depict how Doug Martin made the offensive line look better, keep in mind that Open Field Rank > Run Block Rank means it "is dependent on its running back breaking long runs to make the running game work. "

2012 Football Outsider Rankings
TB Comparisons with Similar Ranked Offensive Lines and their Respective RB's
Team Run Block Ranking Stuffed Ranking Open Field Ranking Team's Best Rusher Yards Avg Yds/ Game
Denver 12 20 25 Mcgahee 731 4.4 73.1
TB 13 22 5 Martin 1454 4.6 90.9
St. Louis 14 21 16 Jackson 1045 4.1 65.3

Either Football Outsiders does not believe in its own stats and descriptions of dependency or someone, like many others, are still burnt that Doug Martin had a season ending injury in 2013 that ruined their fantasy numbers. And that stigma still remains.