TAMPA — After four futile efforts on offense, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves thinking outside the box.
Heading into Sunday's sold-out matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs (0-4) are determined to disperse the defensive crowds lurking around the line of scrimmage.
“We have to make teams pay for dropping that extra guy in there,” offensive line coach Bob Bostad said.
A year after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Doug Martin is struggling to find consistent running lanes. Martin is on pace for 400 carries, which would be close to a league record, but his average gain has plunged from 4.6 yards to 3.4 as safeties creep up to provide additional run support.
With rookie Mike Glennon now under center, containing Martin figures to remain the top priority for opposing defenses until the Bucs can loosen things up by throwing deep.
“Yes, I've noticed it pretty well,'' Martin said Thursday, referring to defensive alignments heavily tilted toward filling the run gaps. “We have to find ways to work around eight or nine guys in the box.''
The bye week gave Tampa Bay coaches extra time to address the issues surrounding an attack that averages only 11 points per game.
Coach Greg Schiano acknowledged the Bucs need to take more shots downfield. Tampa Bay boasts only three completions of 30 yards or more this season, but Philadelphia's pedestrian secondary looks inviting.
“It's frustrating that the defense is putting in all that work and the offense isn't really up to par with what we can do,'' said Martin. “We have a lot of potential and we've got a lot of weapons on offense. It's coming.''
Getting Martin untracked is a key to success the rest of the way.
Tampa Bay is 4-2 when Martin runs for at least 100 yards and 3-11 when he fails to hit the century mark. And the Bucs are 1-19 in the past three years when they fail to rush for 100 yards as a team.
“There are instances this season where Doug's done some very, very good things and he's run the ball well,'' Schiano said. “There are other times where he hasn't been able to get on track. We feel very, very confident about some of the adjustments we need to do to maximize his effectiveness.''
Better blocking up front would help immensely.
Carl Nicks missed the first two games with a MRSA staph infection that re-occurred this week. Fellow guard Davin Joseph, a year removed from knee surgery, looks rusty.
Defenders have repeatedly swarmed Martin before he reaches the line of scrimmage, leading to third-and-long situations.
“Am I satisfied with our offensive line? No. And I think the players are our own worst critics,'' Bostad said. “But am I encouraged with their attitude? Absolutely. I still feel good about this group. But we feel like we've got to be the strength of this team. We know that.''
When the 2012 Bucs came off their early bye week, Martin took off, averaging 125 yards and 6.0 yards per carry during a dazzling six-week stretch.
Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay won five of those games to vault into NFC playoff contention at 6-4.
“You have to be patient,'' Martin said. “You just have to be patient and wait for one of those plays to be a breakout run. It was good to look back on our first four games and get to rest my legs. Teams have had extra guys in the box against us and we've got to face reality: that's what people are doing, trying to force our quarterback to throw.''
Glennon has the arm and the weapons to punish defenses for overloading resources against Martin, but the 2013 Bucs have yet to prove they can strike downfield.
“This is a team game,'' offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said, “but we have our end of the bargain we need to uphold. You hate to feel you're letting people on the other side of the ball down. It is very personal for me. Our offensive group has a resolve to get things right.''
If Martin is frustrated, he's done a nice job keeping his emotions in check. Still, teammates realize he is facing a lopsided numbers game every Sunday.
“Teams are kind of loading up the box right now because he's a great running back and we have great offensive linemen,'' said Glennon. “That's what they're going to do until we prove we can throw over the top of them and make them get out of it.''