TAMPA — Statistically, Doug Martin is struggling at unprecedented rates for his five-year NFL career, but Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he has no complaints about the production he's getting from his starting running back.
"Hard. He's been running hard," Koetter said when asked about Martin's running. "When I see that stat about 2-point-something rushing average or whatever it is, I say, 'Man, that 2-yard run he made at San Diego, I sure liked that one,' and that was a 1-yard (touchdown) run (Sunday) and he broke about 10 tackles to get 1 yard. It was our only touchdown of the game. Doug's running hard. We've got to give him more, got to give him more lanes."
Martin rushed for 66 yards on 23 carries in Sunday's victory over the Saints, and he's averaging a career-low 2.87 yards per carry, also the lowest among the 33 running backs who have 100-plus carries this season. Before this season, he had averaged less than 3 yards per carry in back-to-back games just once in four years, but he has done so in four of his past five games.
"He was running into some rough looks, some unblocked guys," Koetter said. "For people complaining about Doug Martin, there's nothing wrong with Doug Martin. We have to play better around him."
FLEXED: For the third week in a row, the Bucs have a game moving to a later kickoff, with news that their Dec. 24 game at New Orleans will now kick off at 4:25 p.m. That could force some Bucs fans to change their Christmas Eve plans a bit, but it shows the popularity of the Bucs, who were bumped to 4:25 for Sunday's home win against the Saints and were promoted to prime time for this Sunday's 8:30 kickoff at the Cowboys.
NEUTRALIZED: WR Mike Evans still ranks in the NFL's top five in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. But in the past two weeks, the Chargers and Saints went out of their way to neutralize him, holding him to a combined 80 yards and no scores.
"It's a concern," Koetter said of his production in the past two weeks. "There's only so much we can do about it. If a defense is going to commit itself to take a guy out, they're probably going to be able to do it. There are only so many things you can do to a wide receiver. If it's a running back, you can turn around and hand it to him. … Teams are definitely tilting their coverage, they're getting up and jamming him, they're rolling the safety that way. There are still routes that can be successful."
Evans had at least 50 receiving yards in each of the first 11 games, despite playing much of the season without a true No. 2 receiver. Evans had three catches for 38 yards at San Diego then four for 42 in the win against New Orleans, his quietest two-game stretch since the first month of Jameis Winston's rookie season.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.