There is no such thing as a running game for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014. Looking at this past Sunday's matchup, It appeared as though that would not change as they faced a Cincinnati Bengals run defense that ranked fifth against the run.
But as the game progressed through the first half, running back Doug Martin seemed to finally return to the form people remember him for which was in his rookie year. Something would later happen. After rushing for 55 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown in quarters one and two, Martin posted just three yards on six carries in the second half. The Bucs were in control to some degree running the football, but once that was taken away they had nothing to compete with against the Bengals.
So why was it a tale of two halves for the third year running back? Well, a lot of it was his own doing.
Martin’s vision was similar to what we saw from him in 2012. Just like I tweeted out during the second quarter on Sunday, the former first-rounder was finding holes he wasn’t design to run through. That was visible from the press box and you can see that in the following screenshots below from the game.
Martin takes the hand off and sees daylight to his left so he takes it outside for a 10-yard gain.
Then, a few plays later on third-and-1, Martin picks up two yards for a first after immediately cutting to his right and avoiding a Bengals' defensive lineman.
The following was stretch run to the left side of the line. There was nothing there so he cut it back up inside and picked up four yards.
Martin goes out to the right side after the design appeared to take him up the middle, picking up six yards.
On the following play, Martin would score the Bucs' on touchdown after bouncing it outside to his right. Again, the play was to lead him up the middle but he altered his run after a defensive lineman got off his block and could have tackled martin for a loss.
We go to the third quarter now and perhaps the most crucial possession of the day for the Bucs came when they started their drive from their own two-yard line. They ran three straight running plays up the middle and gained a total of one yard.
The biggest opportunity to gain yards came on third down where Martin ran the ball as designed off left tackle. If he planted his foot and cut to his left, he was one-on-one with a Cincinnati cornerback and had nothing but open field ahead. The drive began with 9:19 left in the third quarter.
Granted, to his defense, coaches normally tell their backs in situations like those to dive forward and avoid a safety. But with three straight running plays, it's safe to assume that the team had confidence in Martin picking up some yardage there. He did not touch the football again until three minutes into the fourth quarter.
In his first run since practically the first part of the third quarter, Martin runs for one yard off left guard with no attempt to cut to his right where there appeared to be more clearance.
Later on in the fourth, during his sixth attempt of the half and the final run of the afternoon which came at the 5:02 mark, Martin would lose a yard running behind the right tackle as it was designed. The entire left side of Cincinnati's defense was waiting for him.
As you can see, Martin started the game strong using his best feature to gain yards, his vision and elusiveness. The offensive line did not play well throughout the game, but he was certainly making the most out of what was in front of him -- in the first half.
The Bucs playcalling may have gone away from him as the afternoon went on. However, it was his own lack of productivity that may have forced the staff to go another direction.
Correction: The Bengals were ranked in the bottom fifth in the league against the run heading into the game. They're worse than how I had the stats sorted which certainly says a lot about how Martin has performed.Thanks to BengalsInsider.com for pointing out the error.
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