The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished with the worst offense in the NFL last season, but that was mainly due to an awful passing attack.
The running game, while inconsistent, finished in the mid-20′s in the league in both yards per game and yards per attempt. And while that’s certainly nothing to celebrate, it’s somewhat of an accomplishment for a team using a street free agent running back for nearly half of the season.
Let’s take a closer look at the Buccaneers’ runners, how they did in 2013, and what fans can look forward to in 2014.
Doug Martin’s “Struggles”
It’s easy to look at the final numbers for Doug Martin and say that he struggled in 2013 after a successful 2012 campaign. Some will likely call it a “sophomore slump” while others will thump their chests about how he was just a “big play back” in 2012 and set up for failure.
Ignore all of that. Doug Martin was fine.
Playing on a team with an abysmal passing attack, Martin managed 456 yards on 127 carries. And while that amounts to a pretty weak yards per carry average, it’s wise to consider his opponents.
Martin was the starter for the Buccaneers against the Cardinals and Jets, who were two of the three best run defenses in the NFL last season. In every other game, his YPC was over 4. In those two games, however, he came short of 2.5 yards per carry.
His struggles as a receiver were notable, and that’s something he’ll have to work on (especially as he returns from a shoulder injury). But as a runner, Doug Martin was in an awful situation, and still managed to produce a decent amount of yards despite no help from the rest of his offense.
The Emergence of James and Rainey
With the offseason trade to get rid of LeGarrette Blount, the Buccaneers seemed to be shallow at the running back position. Doug Martin was entrenched as the starter, but veterans Peyton Hillis and Brian Leonard represented the only other known commodities at running back.
But no one could possibly predict how the running back situation would pan out.
Mike James was acquired using the pick from the Blount trade, and he would step in and make a huge impact when Doug Martin was sidelined. James exploded into the spotlight against a tough Seattle defense, but would suffer an injury of his own the next week.
James, like Martin, is a tough runner who more often than not bounces off of the first tackle. His vision is a bit inconsistent, and he doesn’t have a great top speed, but he’s a consistent option to pick up a few yards when allowed the space to get past the first level.
When James went down, it was the former Ravens and Browns backup Bobby Rainey who stepped into the role as starter, and he impressed from the start. Rainey is a smaller back, just like James and Martin, but is a bit quicker and less dependent on power than the other two Bucs’ backs.
He would carry the load for the team for the rest of the season, and perform admirably.