Can the Buccaneers offense survive without Doug Martin?

A short absence can be managed but the Buccaneers will suffer if Doug Martin misses extended time.

Yikes, that was ugly. Following an invigorating win against the division rival Falcons the Buccaneers did what they usually do: disappoint. The Buccaneers lost 40-7 against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, but the score wasn’t even the ugliest part of the game. Injuries laid waste to the Bucs roster throughout the game and multiple contributors missed time, including star running back Doug Martin.

Last seasons’ second leading rusher in the NFL limped off the field in the first quarter of the game with a hamstring injury and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game. The Bucs offense struggled mightily afterwards and put forward one of their worst performances as a unit in the last two seasons. It’s unclear at this point how long Martin will be out, but based on how the Bucs are built, a lengthy absence would be a crushing blow.

Despite the buzz around quarterback Jameis Winston, the Bucs are truly at their best when Doug Martin and the ground attack is in a groove. It allows for Winston to have more success from play-action and opens up more comfortable throwing lanes down-field, which is where the Bucs passing game thrives. Without Martin, the Cardinals defense was able to devote their full attention towards stopping the passing game while devoting minimal resources towards stopping Charles Sims.

Sims totaled just 28 total yards and – with the ground game stifled and defense leaking points to Carson Palmer – the Bucs were forced to throw 52 times, a career high for Jameis Winston. Needless to say, this is not a winning formula for the Bucs going forward; the Bucs offense absolutely needs Doug Martin.

While Charles Sims is a home-run hitting, electric talent, he is no Doug Martin. Martin is truly a professional running back, doing all of the little things that are difficult to teach runners. He’s an expert at working through traffic and hitting even the most narrow of gaps, making something out of nothing. He’s patient, decisive, forces defenders to miss in open field, and most certainly not “a dime a dozen” as many called him during the off-season. Make no mistake about it, Martin is one of a few players that the Bucs simply cannot afford to lose for a long period of time.

The fact that it’s a hamstring injury for Martin complicates things further. Hamstring issues tend to linger and flare up unexpectedly, and then become worse than they already were. The Bucs need to be extremely cautious with Martin in the coming days and letting him rest this entire week is the responsible thing to do. To avoid losing Martin again later in the year, it may be in their best interest to rule him out for at least this next game.

In the immediate short term the Buccaneers should be able to survive a Doug Martin absence. They play an average Rams team in Tampa this week with an exploitable secondary that Jameis Winston threw for a career-best 363 yards against last season. The Bucs will lean on the passing game and should see Charles Sims get upwards of fifteen carries. We can expect to see plenty of screens and short passes to compensate for the running game as well.

It’s in the long term where Martin’s absence will be felt. Arizona is not the last elite defense that the Bucs will play this season and for any chance at a playoff chase they need the game-breaking threat that Martin represents. Buccaneer fans can only hope and pray that Martin’s hamstring remains a minor tweak and nothing more serious.

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