People want to talk about Jameis Winston constantly after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers notched a preseason win, and with good reason. He was the first overall pick and had a solid game. But giving too much attention to Winston really makes people overlook the best sign from the Monday Night Football game, which was Doug Martin looking like a force again.
Martin only got six carries, but he took one for 30 yards and put up 59 yards total. He powered the Bucs down the field on their first drive, helping them score a touchdown.
Yes, it was Jameis who ran the ball in for the one-yard score. But it was Martin who made that play possible, accounting for 52 of the Bucs 80 yards.
That’s huge. Martin looked like he was a rookie again, when he tore up the league after getting drafted out of Boise State. If he can keep that form all year, it’s going to have an incredible impact on the team’s chances.
First and foremost, it means Winston doesn’t have to do everything. Young quarterbacks are at their best when they can rely on the run and only make throws when they have to. Winston has been fairly efficient in the preseason, and that’s good, but it’s especially the type of game that works when he knows the running game can carry him, when he’s not seeing a lot of third-and-15s and having to make all the plays himself.
Plus, as much as Tampa struggled passing the ball last year, they were even worse on the ground. The Bucs threw for 3,297 yards, ranking 25th in the league. They ran for just 1,375, which ranked 29th in the NFL.
In fact, their inability to run really hindered their passing attack. Teams did not have to worry about them on the ground at all, so they could just drop back into coverage and make life hell for the quarterback.
If that happens to Winston, he’s going to throw a boatload of picks. He created way too many turnovers last year at Florida State, a year removed from one of the most impressive Heisman campaigns in recent memory. He looked far more human, and he looked like he had flaws. He’s going to turn it over if teams play the Bucs the same way in 2015 that they played them in 2014.
If Martin can step up, though, they’re going to be an entirely different machine. In his rookie year, he had 319 carries for 1,454 yards and 11 scores. Last year, he had all of 134 carries, 494 yards and only two scores.
Not all of it was his fault, as he was injured and couldn’t go. That can happen to anyone, no matter how elite he may have looked before. Just ask Jordy Nelson. So this isn’t to blame Martin, per se, but just to say that his lack of production—no matter the reason—was dearly felt in Tampa Bay.
This year feels like it could be a turnaround, and he and Winston can feed off of each other. Early in the year, Martin can take more of the load, keeping the pressure off of Winston while he learns. That will make Winston play much better, at which point teams will have to start game-planning for him. It’s all a cycle, so Winston’s development into a weapon can then open up the running game for Martin.
In short, The Tampa Bay Bucs need both of these guys to come to play this year. Winston may be a future star and the key in years to come, but, for this year, the key is Martin.