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Football Geekery, Week Four

Posted Sep 27, 2013

Channeling our inner pigskin nerd, we dive a little deeper into the statistics generated by the Bucs from week to week...This week, we look at Vincent Jackson's work out of the slot, and more

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vincent Jackson has been one of the league's best receivers at creating first downs and producing out of the slot
  • The fast start to the season by the Bucs' pass rush does bode well for the entire season in terms of sacks produced
  • Mike Glennon will be the 10th rookie QB to make his first start for Tampa Bay, and two of the last three have won their debuts
A wise Buccaneer man once said, "Stats are for losers."  We concede the point, in that the ultimate worth of a football game is found in letters (Ws and Ls) rather than numbers.  Still, if treated right, the numbers can bring us a greater understanding of how wins and losses occur, or at the very least entertain us.  We hope to do that each week with our football geekery, giving you a closer look at a few pieces of statistical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' current state of affairs.

Let's get started.

**

1. Winning at the Slots

Vincent Jackson has sore ribs, but the Buccaneers are sorely hoping he can play on Sunday against Arizona because he has been, along with RB Doug Martin, one of the two players who has been able to effectively move the chains for his team.  Jackson is tied for 13th in the NFL in first downs produced, only four wideouts have more receiving first downs than his 14.  He has done this while operating in an offense that is tied for last in the NFL in first downs gained.

What's interesting about Jackson's production is the formation that a lot of it is coming from.  Jackson has said since his arrival in Tampa 18 months ago that he pictures himself as a complete receiver, not just a deep threat, able to work any part of the field.  His large frame and inherent toughness, in fact, allow him to make catches in the middle of the field as well as any NFL receiver.

The Bucs obviously agree, because they've put him in the slot quite a bit this year.  According to the splendid number-crunchers at Pro Football Focus, Jackson is second in the entire NFL with 204 receiving yards out of the slot, which accounts for 77.0% of his overall total of 265 yards through three games.  That analysis is part of their "Three to Focus On" article about this Sunday's Bucs-Cards game at Raymond James Stadium.

The PFF crew says that Jackson has lined up in the slot on 53% of the plays he's been on the field for, and has been targeted 30 times.  PFF even has a stat showing the yards per route run for each slot receiver, with Jackson's 4.64-yard mark leading the way in the NFL.  However, the same analysis also suggests that Josh Freeman was focused too much on Jackson, and that new starter Mike Glennon might be well served to spread it around more in his first start.  Given that the Cardinals' coaches have surely noticed much of the above in their videotape study this week, that's probably good advice.

- WR Vincent Jackson leads the NFL in yards per route run out of the slot

**

3. No Stopping the Sack Train

The Buccaneers' defense has 12 sacks through the first three games, its highest total in such a season-opening span since the 2000 team had 18 and went on to record a team-record 55.  Of course, as Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out on Friday, three games isn't enough evidence to buy into the NFL's offensive and defensive rankings just yet, and the same is true of full-season projections.  The current team is on pace for 64 sacks by season's end, but it's far too early to believe that will happen.

But considered in more general terms, does Tampa Bay's early-season flurry of sacks indicate that the pass rush, finally, is for real and will continue to put up good numbers through the rest of the season?  Bet on it.

Only four times in the previous 20 years did the Buccaneers hit double digits in sacks after only three games; in each of those four seasons, the Bucs finished with at least 43 sacks.  The average season-ending total for the other 16 Buc teams: 31.1. sacks.

The chart below tracks the sack total after the first three games for each of the last 20 Buccaneer seasons (the column headed "Thru 3").  That is followed by what that early total projects to over a full season ("Proj."), the team's actual final total ("Final") and the difference between the projection and the actual total ("Diff.").  A negative difference indicates that the team finished that many sacks behind the projection, and a positive difference indicates the team finished that many sacks ahead of the prediction.

Season

Thru 3

Proj.

Final

Diff.

2012

7

37.3

27

-10.3

2011

6

32.0

23

-9.0

2010

4

21.3

26

4.7

2009

3

16.0

28

12.0

2008

8

42.7

29

-13.7

2007

5

26.7

33

6.3

2006

7

37.3

25

-12.3

2005

7

37.3

36

-1.3

2004

6

32.0

45

13.0

2003

6

32.0

36

4.0

2002

10

53.3

43

-10.3

2001

4

21.3

45

23.7

2000

18

96.0

55

-41.0

1999

13

69.3

43

-26.3

1998

5

26.7

37

10.3

1997

12

64.0

44

-20.0

1996

4

21.3

35

13.7

1995

6

32.0

25

-7.0

1994

3

16.0

20

4.0

1993

5

26.7

29

2.3

 

As you can see, the season-ending differences between the three-game projection and the actual final total all over the board.  Last year's team finished 10 sacks behind what its first three games suggested, but the 2009 team picked up steam after a slow start.  The 2001 team had just four sacks after three games but was able to streak to a fine total of 45 by season's end; contrastingly, the 1994 team started just as slowly and never caught fire.

However, double-digit totals early always meant 43+-sacks.  It's true that all four of those teams finished behind their early blistering pace, but they didn't even come close to shutting down.  While the 2000 team couldn't possibly keep up with the 98-sack pace it set in the first three weeks, it still had 37 more sacks over the last 13 weeks, or close to three a game.  Think the current team would appreciate 37 more sacks the rest of the way and a final total of 49?  You betcha.

Only four times in the previous 20 years did the Buccaneers hit double digits in sacks after only three games; in each of those four seasons, the Bucs finished with at least 43 sacks.

So, don't necessarily expect that the Bucs are going to get four sacks per game the rest of the way, but don't be surprised if they manage something close, like three per game.

**

3. Rookie No. 10

On Sunday, Mike Glennon will become the 10th rookie quarterback to make his first start as a Buccaneer, and the first since the man he's replacing, Josh Freeman, did so in 2009.  From that list of 10, Glennon will be the fifth QB to make his rookie starting debut for the Bucs in a home game.  As it turns out, those players have fared pretty well.

Thanks to the vast differences in circumstances between the 10 different games presented in the chart below, the predictive value of the numbers is probably not very high.  For instance, it's hard to hold Parnell Dickinson or Randy Hedberg too accountable for their debut losses in 1976 and 1977, as every Buccaneer QB lost his start for the first 26 games in franchise history.  Likewise, Shaun King inherited an incredibly good defense late in the 1999 season when he took over, while Bruce Gradkowski was forced into the lineup as a rookie sixth-rounder in 2006 on a team that had lost its first three games badly.

Still, on the occasion of Glennon's first start, it is at least interesting to look back at the nine previous rookies who came before him.  In the chart below, the quarterback's stats are listed in this order: attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating.  Dickinson and Williams are marked with asterisks because both were injured early in their first starts and didn't actually see much action.

Player

Opp, Date

W/L

ATT-CMP-YDS-TD-INT-RTG

Parnell Dickinson *

MIA, 10/24/76

L

4-4-55-1-0-158.3

Randy Hedberg

PHI, 9/18/77

L

25-10-66-0-0-47.9

Doug Williams *

NYG, 9/2/78

L

5-1-9-0-1-0.0

Steve Young

DET, 11/24/85

W

27-16-167-0-0-77.2

Vinny Testaverde

NO, 12/6/87

L

47-22-369-2-2-70.3

Trent Dilfer

SF, 10/23/94

L

23-7-45-0-1-21.8

Shaun King

MIN, 12/6/99

W

19-11-93-2-1-83.9

Bruce Gradkowski

NO, 10/8/06

L

31-20-225-2-0-107.6

Josh Freeman

GB, 11/8/09

W

31-14-205-3-1-86.1

 

While those numbers are all over the board, they combine for a relatively decent 71.5 passer rating, and a nice 10-6 TD-INT ratio.  And, perhaps most encouragingly, the last three rookie quarterbacks who made their first Buc start in a home game – Young, King and Freeman – all came out victorious.