Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter has heard some of the moans and groans that have been uttered regarding the play of running back Doug Martin of late. It would be hard for him not to when you consider how quiet Martin has been.
Since his return from a hamstring strain five weeks ago the two-time Pro Bowler has run the ball 103 times for just 294 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and with three games left to play this year he’s still looking for his first 100-yard game of the season.
Unlike a lot of disgruntled fans and fantasy owners, though, Koetter isn’t complaining. Sure, he’d like to get a little more production out of Martin, who ran for more than 1,400 yards last year, but Koetter seems to believe the key to that lies elsewhere.
“Doug has been running hard,’’ Koetter said Monday. “I mean, when I see people (complaining) about (his) 2.-something rushing average or whatever it is, I say (look) at that 2-yard run he had in San Diego … and that 1-yard run he had (Sunday against the Saints).
“I sure liked those. I mean, he broke about 10 tackles to get that 1-yard (touchdown run against New Orleans) and that was our only touchdown of the game. So there’s nothing wrong with Doug Martin. What we’ve got to do is give him more (running) lanes.’’
That would help. On each of the two recent touchdown runs Koetter referred to Martin was initially stopped well behind the line of scrimmage and had to power himself across the goal line and into the end zone with second- and third-efforts.
That’s a sign Martin has regained the strength that was zapped from his hamstring when he first injured it in Week 2. But it’s not just near the goal-line where Martin is showing signs of life or even improvement. He’s been pretty solid as a pass protector, too.
On two consecutive first-quarter plays Sunday, Martin threw the key blocks that allowed quarterback Jameis Winston to deliver the ball on time and accurately to tight end Cameron Brate for what proved to be a pair of 8- and 18-yard passes that came just ahead of Martin’s touchdown run.
So while his rushing numbers may not say it, the tape strongly suggests that Martin is actually playing his best football of the year right now. That said, it’s still going to take a boost in his rushing numbers to silence the critics.