TAMPA — The Buccaneers lined up for their first play of the season last week in a two-back set featuring Doug Martin at tailback and Brian Leonard at fullback — and promptly gained 7 yards on a pass to Mike Williams.
They then switched almost exclusively to a one-back set featuring only Martin and ran a running play that gained 2 yards, which was only a little less than the 2.6 yards they averaged per carry for the game.
No one should be surprised.
According to the numbers crunchers at Football Outsiders, a think tank that takes a deep statistical look at the game, the Bucs were at their best running plays out of a two-back set last season.
Using its signature DVOA statistic, which is presented in percentages with zero being the league average, Football Outsiders determined the Bucs had a 9.1 percent DVOA in two-back sets and 22.3 percent in one-back sets.
The numbers might be a bit confusing, but it means the Bucs were 31.1 percent more successful executing running plays out of two-back sets than one-back sets. Only the Minnesota Vikings were more effective last season running out of two-back sets.
A year ago, the Bucs game-planned as if they knew those success rates, running out of two-back sets 66 percent of the time. Tampa Bay was one of only five teams that ran from two-back sets at least 65 percent of the time.
The result was a rushing attack that averaged a respectable 114.8 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, both better than the league averages.
The Bucs expect to better those marks this year. With Martin running behind an offensive line full of Pro Bowl talent, he should.
Judging by their production last week, though, they might want to add a fullback to the mix.
The green, green grass of home
Middle linebacker Mason Foster had one of his best games against the Jets, recording eight tackles, three quarterback hurries and two sacks in the 18-17 loss. Playing on artificial turf might have had something to do with his success.
Foster is allergic to grass. He’s allergic to pollen, dust and a few other things, as well, but the grass allergy causes him the biggest problems.
“It was horrible growing up,’’ Foster said. “I played baseball as a kid and I was a catcher, so at least I was in the dirt a lot there. But all that dust and pollen and grass, it just kills me.’’
Foster takes medication to combat his allergies, but a nasal spray that provides 12 hours of relief is the key.
“It’s not just a pregame routine for me, it’s an every-day routine for me,’’ Foster said. “If I forget that nasal spray and we have practice, I’ll be breathing like a dragon around here.’’
The Bucs have one more week to evaluate running back/kick returner Jeff Demps before they must decide whether to keep him. It will not be an easy one, but neither is making the jump from the track circuit to the NFL.
“It’s not like riding a bike,’’ Demps said of going back to football. “It’s a lot of work. It’s exciting, but at the same time it’s draining. The trick is getting out there and getting used to the pads again.’’
Demps, who was part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic silver-medal 4x100 meter relay team, completed track season three weeks ago when the U.S. team won silver again in the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
After a two-week break, he joined the Bucs on Monday and is working to get back into football shape.
“I’m not even close,’’ said Demps, who could give the Bucs options at running back, receiver or returner. “I know it’s going to be tough, but I’m willing to put in the work to do it.’’