In 2015, the Buccaneers finished with the NFL's No. 5 offense, which was their highest finish in team history. Jameis Winston became just the third rookie in league history to surpass 4,000 passing yards, but Winston was supported by one of the league's most productive running backs – Doug Martin. Martin finished second in the league a year ago with 1,402 rushing yards.
Martin has been sidelined since the start of the Buccaneers' Week 2 game against the Cardinals, essentially missing the past three games. With him out, and due to the fact that the Buccaneers have surrendered early leads, the team has failed to run the ball successfully. With that, the entire offense has struggled and the Buccaneers have lost three games in a row.
"It is a true statement that we're not running the ball efficiently enough," Head Coach Dirk Koetter said. "Our numbers, our balance was better in the first half (against the Broncos), I think it was 21-20. But the efficiency wasn't there, we still had too many one-yard runs and that's not always on the running back, there's different reasons for that. But when we're not being productive in the run game, we're having to rely too much on our pass game, I think there is something to that."
Winston has thrown 177 passes in four games this season. At that rate, he's on pace for 708 throws on the year. Comparatively, just one other NFL quarterback has thrown more than 700 passes in a single season. The fewer times Winston's asked to throw, the more successful the Buccaneers have been; Winston is 1-11 when throwing more than 32 passes in his 20 NFL starts.
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Fixing the running game is complex, and inserting Martin into the lineup won't solve all of the Buccaneers' problems. But he'll certainly help when he returns, whether that be this week against Carolina of after the Bye Week.
"Maybe we have to go back and really look at fitting the roles into the players' specific strengths in the run game," Koetter said. "We're going to get Doug [Martin] back here at some point and he's one of the best running backs in the league, that'll be a welcome sight when we get him back in there. But we definitely just can't keep doing the same stuff because that's not working."
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Broncos.