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Football Geekery, Week Three

Posted Sep 20, 2013

In this feature, we channel our inner pigskin nerd and dive a little deeper into the statistics generated by the Buccaneers from week to week...This week, we check back in with one of our favorite charts from last year, look at third-down trend and discuss early-season stat leaders

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Patriots' defensive results against various types of receivers suggest Mike Williams could have a big game Sunday
  • The Bucs have been better on third downs both offensively and defensively in the second half of games
  • Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson are strong bets to maintain their early top-10 rankings in the league stats
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.

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1. Like Mike

Here's a resource I checked in on several times last year in our statistical geekery, we might as well bring it out again at the start of a new season: Football Outsider's chart of defensive effectiveness by receiver type.

As we've mentioned before, much of the statistical work done on the FO site is expressed in a catch-all construct they call DVOA; go here if you want to learn more about it.  To get the point here, however, you just need to know that higher numbers are better for the offense and lower numbers are better for the defense.  Plus, FO ranks the teams once each one's DVOA is calculated, so that's obviously easy to understand.

This particular chart tracks how effective each defense in the league is against the five basic types of pass-catchers on each offense: #1 receiver, #2 receiver, other wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.  (There are two charts on the page linked above; if you visit it, scroll down to the second one to see what we're talking about.) Often, you'll find that particular defense is good against several of those categories but has one or two specific weaknesses.

That is definitely the case for the Buccaneers' Week Three foe, the New England Patriots, at least through the first two weeks of the 2013 season.  The Patriots' defense has played well so far, ranking third on FO's overall defensive efficiency chart (the Buccaneers are fifth).  New England has been extremely good against other team's #1 receiver, ranking second, and even better against "other" receivers, ranking first in the entire NFL.  It has fared well against opposing tight ends, too, but has had a little more trouble with running backs.  The glaring number, however, is in the #2 receiver category.

New England's defense ranks dead last against opposing #2 receivers, and it's not even close.  The team ranked second to last, San Francisco, has a DVOA of 95.5 (remember, big numbers are bad for the defense), and the team ranked 30th, St. Louis, is always down at 48.7.  New England's DVOA against #2 receivers is a whopping 148.7.

- WR Mike Williams may find a favorable matchup on Sunday

What does that mean for Sunday?  Well, if the trend holds, it should be a good day for Mike Williams, the Buccaneers' #2 receiver.  The Bucs' #1, Vincent Jackson, has accounted for a huge percentage of the team's passing yards through the first two weeks, but this might be the game where Williams (and, to a lesser extent, RB Doug Martin) close the gap a little bit.

By the way, while we're on this chart, note that the Buccaneers' pass defense has been very good against #1 and #2 receivers, as well as "other" receivers.  It's the tight ends that have been a problem for Tampa Bay so far, so it would be wise to keep an eye on New England's injury report to see if Rob Gronkowski is going to make his 2013 debut this week.

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2. Third-Down Trends

So far this season, the Buccaneers have performed a little worse than league average on third downs on offense and a little better than average in the same category on defense.  The Bucs are converting 37.9% of their third downs on offense (tied for 18th) and allowing a conversion rate of 37.5% (15th).

The numbers are a little more interesting, however, when you break them down a little further.

For instance, the Buccaneers are apparently making some pretty good halftime adjustments (though Head Coach Greg Schiano has said that the notion of halftime adjustments is overblown).  The Bucs are converting just 30.8% of their tries and allowing 47.1% before halftime; after the intermission, those numbers flip to 43.8% for the Buccaneers and 28.6% for their opponents.  Last week, in a dogfight with the high-powered Saints, Tampa Bay's defense allowed only one of six third-down tries to succeed in the second half.

While that’s fairly straightforward, there is an unusual and difficult-to-explain trend on the chart of third down success by distance.  The Buccaneers are three of four so far on third down tries of 1-3 yards, which of course should be the easiest category in which to succeed.  However, their success rate falls off to 16.7% (one of six) when trying to convert from four to six yards away.  Weirdly, it bumps back up to 50% (six of 12) from seven to 10 yards.  There's not an obvious answer why the Bucs would be better from a little farther away on third downs, and in fact this may be nothing more than an anomaly based on small sample size.  Still, going forward, it will be interesting to see if the Bucs continue to do better on third downs in the second half and if the intermediate-range attempts continue to give them trouble.

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3. Long Way to Go

Through the first two games of the 2013 season, Buccaneers RB Doug Martin has 209 rushing yards, ranking second in the NFL, while his teammate, WR Vincent Jackson, has 231 receiving yards, ranking fifth in the NFL.  Martin is on pace for 1,672 yards on the ground, Jackson for 1,848 through the air.

Of course, there's a reason why people don't start making serious season-long projections after just two games.  Last year, there were seven receivers on pace for at least 1,600 yards after two games; only one, Detroit's Calvin Johnson, actually got there (and then shot, way, way past that mark).  At the same time, there were seven backs on pace for 1,500 rushing yards and only four (Adrian Peterson, Alfred Morris, Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles) made it.  However, both Doug Martin and Arian Foster got close to 1,500, so the backs were, as a group, more able to sustain their early success.

The good news is that a quick start does seem to give these players a good chance to be in the league's top 10 producers in their categories by season's end, though again, that is more true of the running backs.  Here are the top 10 running backs after two games last season, their projected season-long rushing totals to that point, there actual season-ending totals, and their final NFL rank (players marked with an asterisk missed a significant part of the season due to injury):

1. C.J. Spiller (BUF)

2,336

1,244

8th

2. Reggie Bush (MIA)

1,928

986

17th

3. Marshawn Lynch (SEA)

1,656

1,590

3rd

4. Frank Gore (SF)

1,608

1,214

10th

5. Stevan Ridley (NE)

1,568

1,263

7th

6. LeSean McCoy (PHI) *

1,528

840

19th

7. Arian Foster (HOU)

1,512

1,424

6th

8. Alfred Morris (WAS)

1,480

1,613

2nd

9. Willis McGahee (DEN) *

1,416

731

26th

10. DeMarco Murray (DAL) *

1,400

663

29th

 

If one discounts the three players whose numbers were hampered by injury, then the only running back who started the season in the top 10 after two weeks and then fell out was Miami's Reggie Bush.  The three backs who came the closest to matching their early projections were Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, Houston's Arian Foster and Washington's Alfred Morris.  Actually, Morris outdid his early projection, the only player on the whole chart to do so (Martin, who was not in the top 10 after two weeks, also shot past his early projection).

Here's the same chart for the receivers:

1. Nelson Cruz (NYG)

1,896

1,092

15th

2. Hakeem Nicks (NYG) *

1,896

692

56th

3. Danny Amendola (STL) *

1,840

666

65th

4. Brent Celek (PHI)

1,776

684

59th

5. Steve Smith (CAR)

1,680

1,174

12th

6. Reggie Wayne (IND)

1,648

1,355

7th

7. Calvin Johnson (DET)

1,640

1,964

1st

8. DeSean Jackson (PHI) *

1,528

700

54th

9. Roddy White (ATL)

1,512

1,351

9th

10t. Percy Harvin (MIN) *

1,504

677

t-60th

10t. Demaryius Thomas (DEN)

1,504

1,434

4th

 

Again, there are four players on the list who missed chunks of the season due to injury and thus are hard to judge.  However, of the remaining six, only four remained in the top 10.  Reggie Wayne, Roddy White and Demaryius Thomas all approached their early-season paces, while, again, Calvin Johnson obliterated his, and the NFL's single-season record as well.

Last year, neither Martin nor Jackson were in the top 10 after two games, but they both came on very strong, and both finished fifth.  This year, they'll try to go wire-to-wire among the leaders, but last year's results suggest at least a handful of those on top after two weeks won't be there at the end.  Barring injuries, the Bucs' duo is a good bet to hold their spots.