A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Falcons.
Doug Martin finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2015, gaining 1,402 yards on 288 carries and fighting Minnesota's Adrian Peterson right down to the wire for the title. Martin signed a sizeable new contract in the 2016 offseason to stay with the Buccaneers, who fully expect their fifth-year back to be in the running for that top spot again.
After one week, Martin is tied for 16th in the league on the rushing chart after he contributed 62 yards on 18 carries…and that's just fine with the Buccaneers. Those 62 yards came in the service of a big opening-week win in Atlanta, and into the teeth of a Falcons defense that loaded up to stop the run.
"Atlanta committed a lot of guys to stopping our run game," said Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "They've been game planning for months and we've been game planning for months. Doug ran the ball pretty effectively, a little bit better against the nickel than we did against base. They're a team that subs big guys in when they've got base and small, quicker guys when they go into their nickel package."
Overall, Tampa Bay's offense generated a perfectly-acceptable 371 yards of offense and a more-than-acceptable 31 points in its seven-point victory. Martin did his part by running as hard as ever into that stacked front, often breaking tackles to pick up extra yards, such as on the following 17-yard run on first-and-10 in the third quarter. Two plays after Martin got the ball into Falcons territory, Jameis Winston hit Mike Evans deep for what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown.
A good push up front allows Martin to burst across the line at full-speed, and he puts his first would-be tackler, linebacker Deion Jones, on the ground with a perfectly-timed stiff-arm. Martin then spins out of an attempted group tackle by defensive backs Robert Alford, Brian Poole and Kemal Ishmael before finally falling forward over Ricardo Allen for a few extra yards. That's one of the reasons that Martin's 62 rushing yards were more impressive than they look on paper – he was tacking on some extra ground with broken tackles.
Martin also caught five passes for 34 yards, which means he fell just short of 100 combined yards from scrimmage on the day. One of his biggest catches was a 14-yarder earlier in the second quarter on what proved to be a game-tying touchdown drive. On the play, Martin first dived at a blitzing Falcon in order to slow him down, then got off the ground in time to catch a lob from Winston, who was being swarmed over by defenders. That play also took the Bucs across the midfield on their way to a Brandon Myers touchdown catch.
Running back Charles Sims, who ran just four times for nine yards, also added 32 yards and a touchdown on three receptions, meaning the Bucs still got 132 yards out of their backfield tandem. Winston completed just two of his first six passes in the game but then got into a groove with a series of short throws, many to Martin and Sims, before he began gashing the Falcons with downfield throws.
"When our quarterback wants to throw us the ball, the running back is his best friend," said Martin. "He seems to realize that and we love those. As running backs, we love running in space so hopefully we get a lot more of those."
And, finally, the Bucs called on Martin in what might be the most difficult situation for a running back, the "four-minute drill," when the opposition is almost completely sure you will be running the ball. That's what the visiting team was doing with five minutes left in the game on Sunday, hoping to get enough first downs to run out the remainder of the clock. Martin started the drive with a nine-yard run, then got four more on second down to move the chains and force Atlanta to start burning its timeouts.
The Bucs got another first down, and while they didn't quite run out the clock they did kill all of the Falcons' timeouts and left them with just 1:52 to try to mount a comeback. That proved to be enough. Martin's running in that tough situation, and early when the Falcons were putting a lot of men near the line of scrimmage, was a big part of the victory, even if it wasn't one of his more gaudy final stat lines. He didn't mind that the Falcons made stopping him their first priority.
Pictures of the top 10 passing leaders from week 1.
"It shows that they respect the run, they respect our run game," said Martin. "But we've still got to buck up and run that ball."
On this particular afternoon, the Buccaneers needed some tough running from Martin even if they were going to do their most significant damage through the air. Given Winston's outstanding Week One performances, future opponents may choose a different strategy. The Bucs think they can find a way to move the ball either way.
"That's our game," said Martin. "Going forward we're going to do a lot better in the run game. It all works together – play-action opens up the passes, which it definitely did in this past game. I can't wait to see what this offense can do."