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Doug Martin helped the Buccaneers' offensive line

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Saints in the backfield
Saints in the backfield
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is the 2017 off-season, and people are once again doubting Doug Martin's ability to be a top flight running back... again.

Before we dive into the 2016 performance, let us flashback to 2015 off-season, when I wrote this:

If one believes that Martin was a one year wonder, then there is nothing to believe that Martin can resurrect his career because there is no pattern to reveal such. If you believe what I wrote here, then you see the pattern that Martin actually improves as the season progresses as well as know that Martin's sophomore year was more productive than his first year when utilizing the medians and there is no such idea this as a resurrection, but rather a continuation of Doug Martin as a running back.

Dirk Koetter believed in Martin when he first arrived. Dirk is seeing the fruition of his beliefs to retain Martin in training camp. Dirk maybe onto something most of us do not know about: Doug Martin, Bell Cow.

Not many believed in my research. Here's a quote from a Falcoholics article "Questions with Bucs Nation" on October 30th, 2015:

Dave Choate: I'll ask a running back question, too, I guess. Doug Martinlooks like he's returning to his rookie form in 2015. What gives there?

Sander Philipse: What gives is that he's simply playing good football right now. I don't know why -- in fact I don't know anyone knows why -- but he's making people miss, he's reading his blocks well, he's redirecting quickly when the blocking isn't there, he's regained his lateral agility and the Bucs are doing a solid job blocking for him -- though the improvement is much more on him than the line. He simply looks like his rookie self, rather than the plodding, stiff back he appeared to be the past two years. We can only hope he keeps it up -- though I assume Falcons fan will hope he doesn't.

The idea here as it is with many other fans is that 2015 is a fluke. How else can one explain two terrible seasons and then become the 2nd best rusher in the league? Unless, someone did find a pattern to suggest 2015 production was plausible.

In 2016, Martin's production plummeted from his 2015 pro bowl production. After 10 games, Martin was averaging 2.9 yards per carry and totaled 421 yards. Using these two metrics alone, who can ever believe that Martin still has his running prowess in him? Then again, this question has been asked before--two years ago, in fact.

After the 14th game of the 2016 season, I wrote yet another article taking another look at Martin and as many context I can find to see if Martin really has fallen from his work. The result was Martin was running the same way in 2016 as he was in 2015. And so was his fellow running mate in Charles Sims, except the end production was not similar to 2015. You can find the plethora of resources here in this research article:  Run Deficiency, OL or RB?

Also, feel free to read the comments section where other sources supported my research work such as Chris F. from Bucs Brief and his excel charts. Chris actually documented the second Saints game, game 16, to where we are able to compare Martin and Rodgers against the same team.

Game 14: Martin's Run Detail

Game 16:  Rodger's Run Detail

What we see in this chart is that Rodgers' YPC is greater than Martin on fewer carries. Now we look at YAC average and we notice Martin is generating a half a yard more. Martin's YAC makes up 74% of his total production. So how can Martin have a better YAC average than Rodgers, but Martin's YPC is lower than Rodgers? We need another chart to help enlighten this situation.

(Note: In Chris F.'s excel recording of Martin, his conditional highlights missed two entries where the Initial Contact from Line of Scrimmage was zero.)

From this chart, we notice a great discrepancy in stuff opportunities. The volume of Martin getting tagged before breaking the line of scrimmage (LOS) should be eye opening as well as frightening if you are a Bucs fan. Over half of Martin's 23 carries are being met at the line of scrimmage or behind it. The second leading rusher from 2015 is getting hit at the LOS or behind it on over half of his carries! Laying blame upon a running back is a [roblem when over half of his running opportunities are being negated before he even has a chance to gain any positive yardage. In this particular case, a dozen of Martin's opportunities were exactly that scenario.

The offensive line was not generating enough push for its running back to gain positive production. That is the importance of tracking stuff metrics, and stuff opportunities.

Also from this chart, Martin gives the Bucs' rushing game the best chances of mitigating stuff opportunities. Here is another stat that substantiates such a premise (Recall, Martin's last game running was game 14, the first Saints game), based on Football Outsiders' statistics:

In 14 games:  Power Success = 31st, Stuff metric = 30th

In 16 games:  Power Success = 32nd, Stuff metric = 32nd

The run blocking metric became worse without Martin in the lineup. Power Success is short yardage situation.  Having an abysmal stuff production along with no short game implies our running backs have a very small chance of generating explosive productions, especially when they are fighting just to get back to the line of scrimmage.

Contextual stats like this often fall on deaf ears to many fans. I know because when I wrote about Martin two off-seasons ago all my contextual stats were not plausible to the masses, including the masses at Bucs Nation.

OL Productions: 2012 - 2015

The more I write, the more research I do. The more research I do, the more context I build. All I do is try to find patterns, if any, with the information I find. In 2014, Martin and the run game were abysmal. Although Martin was nursing injuries throughout the year, his game improved as the season went. Still, the production was terrible.  Everyone's productions were terrible that season. That season, Bobby Rainey had the best running average with 4.3 yards per game. No one wanted to believe in Doug Martin after the 2014 season.

Here we are in 2017, reflecting on 2016. Jacquizz Rodgers had the best rushing average on the team with 4.3 yards. No one still believes in Doug Martin... again. Yet, are there other factors involved than just simply saying the running back sucks? Again, statistics from Football Outsiders.

Martin's Pro Bowl years were in 2012, his rookie season, and in 2015. Doug played in all 16 games for both, and in both years, the Open Field rank was ranked 1st overall. This means the running back(s) made the offensive line look better if the Open Field rank is higher than the Adjusted Line Yards rank.

Doug's abysmal years were in 2014 and 2016. So let us focus on those two seasons and see if we find anything, besides Doug's lack of end production. For those two seasons, the offense produced the worst stuff rate in the whole league. This implies the offensive line was a sieve. The difference between 2014 and 2016 is the 2014 crew was great in short yardage situations, but not much else.

Just a reminder, with Doug on the field, the Bucs' power and stuff rankings were ranked just a bit higher than the bottom. While it may not seem much, it is a significant stat such that in two extra games the run blocking became worse with Martin not in the lineup.

Former Bucs Nation contributor and current Pewter Report writer, Trevor Sikkema, wrote about blocking scheme and which scheme would fit 2017 draftable running back prospects in his recent Cover-3 edition.

A zone scheme requires a back who has the vision to see holes and burst through that hole as the scheme blocking is shifting laterally to one side or the other.  A man- or drive-blocking scheme, has less thinking involved for the running back as this blocking scheme is made to go north-south, increasing the chances of net positive yardage.

Gap blocking scheme, or Power and Counter, is designed to create a gap for the running back by creating a numbers mismatch with the aid of a pulling lineman and the running back has to quickly assess where numbers favor his gap.

The running backs do not design nor call plays. They simply run the plays they are told to run. Koetter is known to accentuate the positives. Rodgers is put in a running scheme that will put him in the best light, man scheme. Martin can be put in many different run schemes, but sometimes the offensive line does not provide the necessary execution in zone or gap schemes.

That is how a running back gets stuffed at the line of scrimmage or behind it.  Look at the cover image for this article.  That is Pamphile in the picture with Martin behind Pamphile and a slew of Saints defenders on Martin.

Conclusion

JR Sweezy is set to return healthy to the 53-man roster.  He is a known mauler, but back problems made him sit out all of last season. There is a possibility that the Bucs can draft an interior lineman within the first three rounds of the draft as well. Martin just needs an offensive line that executes slightly below average to carry the team. What Martin cannot do is carry a team when he is often being corralled behind the LOS. I doubt any running back can do that.

Although Martin may seem like the focal point of this article, it is the offensive line's production for the past five years that should wrought more concern for the Bucs fandom. Martin disguised how terrible the offensive line has been.  Even this past season, Martin prevented the Bucs from being last in Power and Stuffed metrics until he was pulled off the roster for the last two games, with the last game serving a suspension for PED where he required help from his addiction.

I could care less about drafting a running back high if the Bucs do not address improving talent along the offensive line.  In Martin's five seasons as a Buc, there has only been one season where the offensive line was above average in Power Success and Stuff ranking, 2015 season. One season. Martin went to the pro bowl twice in those same five years. Is Martin a myth or just misunderstood?