Bucs have a choice to make at running back

by Gary Shelton on December 8, 2017 · 0 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

Martin has struggled to find a crease. /JEFFREY KING

Martin has struggled to find a crease. /JEFFREY KING

Thursday, 2 a.m.

Suddenly, the Tampa Bay Bucs have a lot of running backs. Who knew?

The Bucs, who have struggled on the ground for most of the year, find themselves with options in Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, who come in with the NFL's 19th-ranked rushing defense.

They could go with normal starter Doug Martin, who was once second in the NFL in rushing. Martin was cleared from concussion protocol on Wednesday. But Martin has had a difficult season. He ranks only 38th in the NFL in rushing.

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Barber is coming off a 100-yard game./CARMEN MANDATO

Barber is coming off a 100-yard game./CARMEN MANDATO

Or, they could go with the hot hand in Peyton Barber, who had the team's first 100-yard rushing day of the season Sunday. For the record, Martin has played in 22 straight games since gaining 100 in a game (Philadelphia in 2015).

But Martin is the team's acknowledged starter, so that probably means a combination of the two against the Lions. Still, the questions persist of who gets the carries on the key downs and gets the most touches.

“Nothing out there is on one single guy,” Bucs' coach Dirk Koetter said. “Nothing that happens is on one single guy. It’s a team game. You need all 11 guys. We’ve talked about that at least five times this year in this room. So, I guess now it’s six.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said each player has advantages.

Doug is a good football player,” Monken said. “Peyton (Barber) had a good week last week. I thought we blocked well last week. I thought we schemed it up well. All of those things are a part of it. When you’re not having success in a certain area, it’s all inclusive. It’s scheme, it’s coaching, it’s players — it’s all of the above, but you’ve got to find a way to fix it.

“(Barber) is certainly a bigger back. He is able to certainly bring the capability of yards after contact. I think that’s what it was. (It was) something we needed and something that Doug had been doing better at. It’s week-to-week, so up until last week it wasn’t as if Peyton (was overly successful) for the opportunities he had. (There) wasn’t a lot of opportunities, but it wasn’t as if he was having that same success. Like I said, I thought he did a really good job. He made a couple of really nice cuts, getting it downhill and then the yards after contact.”

Monken said that Martin might have been hesitant before suffering the concussion.

“You find where at times when there is not that consistent hole, they start to find something that isn’t there,” Monken said. “It’s the same thing if your quarterback starts getting hit. Does he start looking for the rush? It’s human nature. That’s one thing that I thought we did a really good job of. We’ve done it the last few weeks a lot better, getting push and creating some seams for our running backs. That showed up early in the Atlanta game and then last week.”

All in all, it was the best run-blocking game of the season for the Bucs.
“It certainly felt that way and usually that is a by-product of it,” Monken said. “Every game is different. It’s just odd that way. If you said, ‘Hey, did you go in the game thinking you would be able to run the ball for X-amount of yards?’ No, not any different from any other game you go in. It just happened to work out that way, schematically speaking. Some of the things worked that we hoped would work and I thought our guys blocked and ran the ball well. And we were able to control that part of it. We converted on third downs better (and) that helps. When you are able to convert and keep the defense on the field, that helps. We’ve struggled in that area. It all fits together. We were able to sustain the first drive with some third downs and some plays, so that is all a big part of it.”

The Bucs play the Lions Sunday at 1 p.m. at Raymond James.

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