On Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play host to division rival the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs are still trying to find that elusive first win of the season, while the Panthers look to get above .500 for the first time since 2008. If the Bucs want to pull off the upset, they will need to do so without star second year running back Doug Martin.
Martin suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder and is expected to miss several weeks, or possibly the entire season. The Muscle Hamster has been the one of the few bright spots for the Bucs this season. Before his injury, Martin was ninth in the league in rushing yards with 456.
Tampa Bay must adjust to life without Martin, which means relying on rookie Mike Glennon at quarterback and an extremely inexperienced group of running backs.
Glennon has fared well in his three starts this season. He’s thrown for 722 yards and five touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 77.1. There is no question that he is playing better than former Buc Josh Freeman, and despite not picking up a win, he has kept Tampa Bay in all three games.
Glennon has developed very good chemistry with wide receiver Vincent Jackson. In the last three games, Jackson has 21 catches for 279 yards and four touchdowns. The loss of Martin will make the Buccaneers very one-dimensional. However, Jackson is a matchup nightmare at 6’5” and 230 pounds, and if the chemistry between him and Glennon can continue, the loss of Martin will be subsided.
At the running back position, Tampa Bay must now rely on rookie running back Mike James out of Miami and former Rutgers running back Brian Leonard. James performed nicely filling in when Martin went down on Sunday, picking up 45 yards on 13 carries. Leonard has been primarily a third down-back in his seven years in the league, and he will continue that role Thursday night.
Tampa Bay is a run first offense when Martin is healthy, and it will be hard to adjust without him. It is unrealistic to expect James and Leonard to be able to match Martin’s production. If the Bucs are going to win games without Martin, Glennon must mature quickly.
In order to keep defenses at bay, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan must utilize quick screens and delayed draws. Glennon has thrown 43, 43 and 44 passes, respectively, in his three starts, and those numbers will only go up.
The Carolina Panthers have one of the most underrated front sevens in the NFL. Running the ball will not be easy, and Glennon will be relied on heavily to take care of the football. If Tampa Bay is able to gain 100 yards rushing between James and Leonard, the Bucs will win their first game of the season.
The Tampa Bay front office believes in Glennon, drafting him in the third round of last years draft, and it feels that he can be the long term solution for the Buccaneers. While the Bucs have gotten off to a 0-6 start, hope remains that Glennon can turn the season around.
Losing Martin for an extended period of time is not an ideal situation for the Buccaneers. But for a team that is in rebuilding mode, this will give young players a chance to prove that they can play in the NFL. Look for Glennon to come out firing Thursday night and for James to pull off a couple of 10+ yard runs. Beating Carolina is a tall task for these Bucs, but if Glennon can put together the best game of his young career, look for the Bucs to pick up win number one.