First off, I want to confess that I have never been a big fan of Doug Martin and his run style. It bothered me when the Bucs got rid of Legarrette Blunt, a fantastic playmaker, for the unknown and shifty Martin. With that being said, it is hard to deny the impact that Martin had on the Bucs in 2012. 1454 yards rushing on 319 attempts for a 4.56 yard average will make any fan happy. Plus, add in his receiving yards, and you are looking at a running back with almost 2,000 yards from the line of scrimmage. Yep, I will take it.
Then 2013 happened. Martin was injured during the early part of the season and ended up on IR. Granted, he was not lighting it up as he did in 2012 but we have to consider the 2013 season a wash for Martin.
So 2014 rolls around and everyone and their brother has Martin pegged for another break the bank season. He was drafted in fantasy leagues low in the first round or high in the second. After putting up only 494 yards on 134 carries in 2014, Martin is sure to be shunned by the fantasy league world in 2015. A great many people were upset with his performance, probably more fantasy players than Buc fans. But Buc fans were not thrilled with his performance, that is for sure. Trade talk has ensued among fans who in 2012-2013 would have fought anyone who even mentioned it.
So what happened? How does a running back go from a 4.56 yards per carry average, 1454 yard season to a 3.69 yards per carry average and 494 yards total? The simple answer to this is that the offensive line was vastly different and less effective in 2014 than in 2012. Martin did not have near the amount of holes in 2014 that he did in 2012 to run through. With the loss of players such as Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, Ted Larsen, and even Davin Joseph on the offensive line, opening up holes for Martin became quite a challenge. And Martin needs holes. Martin is not a “run you over” type of running back. He is a shifty running back that plays with speed. Give him a hole, it does not even have to be a big one, and if he can wedge through it he will give you yardage, many times in the 10+ yard category.
But this article is not going to be about the offensive line woes. We will handle that in part 2. There we will discuss how the new offensive line consisting of Logan Mankins, Evan Dietrich-Smith (now known as Evan Smith), Demar Dotson, Patrick Omameh, and Anthony Collins (along with a large group of other rotating lineman) all completely and consistently failed to give Martin the holes he needed. But this article is not going there. We want to look at something different because, even though Bobby Rainey played behind the same porous offensive line that Martin did, Rainey did not do nearly as bad.
I went through all of Martin’s stats for both the 2012 year and the 2014 year comparing the two. A couple of things jumped out at me immediately. For one, in 2012, Martin had 35 rushes that went for 10 yards or more. That is 11% of his runs! That is an incredible amount. In 2014 that number dropped drastically to only 8 rushes that went for 10 yards or more (6%).
It is a given that some people are going to bring up the Oakland game in 2012 where Martin rushed for a 10 yards per carry average, getting 251 yards on 25 carries and also racking up 4 touchdowns. In that game he had 7 rushes that went for 10 yards or more. If we take that out of the season total that still gives Martin 28 rushes on the season that were 10+ yards long. That is 9% of his runs. Still more than he had in 2014.
So, besides the offensive line not being able to run block effectively, is there any other reason why Martin’s production in 2014 was so low? The answer to that lies in the numbers too.
In 2012, 25 of Martin’s 38 10+ yard runs came on 1st down carries. That is 66% of his big plays came on 1st down. 13 of his 10+ yard plays came on 2nd down carries. He had no big plays on 3rd or 4th downs. In 2012 21% of his rushes got either negative yardage or no gain. 57% of his runs were less than 4 yards. In 2014 he had 18% of his rushes were negative or no gain and 66% were less than 4 yard runs.
While we can get caught up in looking at how he had more negative or no gain rushes in 2012 than he did in 2014 or how he had a much larger gap in his less than 4 yard runs from 2014 to 2012, those are not the numbers that give me concern. What bothers me is how he was utilized considering his biggest run plays in 2012 came, for the most part, on 1st down.
In 2012, the year he dominated, he had 198 rush plays on 1st down. That means that 62% of Martin’s rushing attempts came on 1st down plays where the defense had no idea if we were going to run or pass. On those 198 rush plays on 1st down, 25 (or 13%) went for 10 yards or more.
In 2014, the year he slumped, he only had 73 rush plays on 1st down. That means that only 54% of Martin’s rushing attempts came on 1st down plays. On those 73 rush plays on 1st down, 4 (or 5%) went for 10 yards or more. Martin had 50 rushing attempts on 2nd downs in 2014 and 4 of them went for 10+ yards (8%).
This brings up an interesting problem. For one, Martin did not get even half of the carries in 2014 that he did in 2012. Lovie Smith and crew decided to do more of a running back by committee approach instead of using one running back as a work horse like Greg Schiano did in 2012. But, even when Lovie did run Martin, he ran him less on 1st downs, where Martin obviously shined in 2012, and ran him more on 2nd down situations. Lovie basically took Martin’s production on 1st downs and tried to make it work on 2nd down plays. He ran Martin 5% more on 2nd downs and 8% less on 1st downs.
I may not be a football genius but if a player is more likely to give you big plays on 1st down situations, then I run that player on first down more often than not. Instead, we saw Martin get 198 first down runs in 2012 and only 73 first down runs in 2014. That is almost a third less. If Martin is going to reclaim his role as lead running back and fantasy league star, Lovie and crew need to really consider running him more on 1st downs. He is not a third down back or a back that is going to bust through a 9 man front. If the opposing team knows that Martin is getting the ball, they can stop him. However, give him the ball when the other team is not sure and he has a much greater chance at getting big plays. Martin is a shifty runner and he needs to be used that way. Martin needs to be run on 1st down plays more.