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Football Geekery (Week of Oct. 8)

Posted Oct 12, 2012

In this regular column, we'll channel our inner pigskin nerd and dive a little deeper into the statistics generated by the Buccaneers from week to week


Coaches don't always care for stats…but we love them!  Each week, we're going to give you a closer look at three or four pieces of statistical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Buccaneers' current state of affairs.

 

Let's get started.

 

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1. Get 'Em in Third-and-Long!

 

Offensive coordinators often talk about creating "manageable" third-down situations.  That is, good yardage production on first and second down, even if not huge downfield plays, lead to third downs that are easier to convert.  This is stating the obvious, of course: You're more likely to convert on third-and-three than third-and-10, and you have many more play-calling options at your disposal in the former situation.

 

Conversely, defenses like to get their opponents in third-and-long situations so that they can, as pass-rushers are fond of saying, "pin their ears back" and go after the quarterback.  You don't have to see the stat tables to know that defenses have better third-down conversion rates on third-and-10 than they do on third-and-three.

 

We can compare teams against each other within those different categories of third downs, however.  And when we do, we see that Tampa Bay's defense has been particularly good at stopping opponents on longer third down tries.

 

On Statspass, third-and-long situations are described as those where the offense needs to pick up more than six yards to convert.  The Bucs have faced 30 such third downs so far, and allowed only four of them to be converted, for an opposing success rate of 13.3%.  Here are the top five defenses in the league in third-and-long situations so far:

 

Team

Att.

Made

Pct.

1. Baltimore

36

4

11.1%

2. Houston

33

4

12.1%

3. Tampa Bay

30

4

13.3%

4. Dallas

22

3

13.6%

5. Indianapolis

29

4

13.8%

 

Not surprisingly, the Bucs' defense has been especially tough when their opponents need more than 10 yards to convert a third down.  Of those 30 third-and-longs covered in the table above, 19 of them have been for 10 or more yards, and in that situation opponents are just two of 19, for a success rate of 10.5%

 

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2. Positive Yardage

 

Rookie RB Doug Martin had a solid first quarter of the season, rushing for 247 yards to put him on a pace for nearly 1,000.  The missing element to this point has been the breakaway run, as his long on the season so far is just 17, but the Bucs fully expect that to change, and for Martin's average of 3.6 yards per carry to go up.

 

Though he hasn't hit the home run yet, Martin has also rarely struck out.  Of his 71 carries so far, only seven have been stopped for no yards or negative yards.  That's a "stuff" percentage of 9.9% that ranks a respectable 15th in the NFL among all players with at least 50 carries.  It slots him just between Arian Foster and Darren McFadden on the list, and ahead of fellow rookies Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson.  Even for those quite low on the list, a large "stuff" percentage isn't necessarily – or, at least, completely – a knock on the running back, as many negative-yardage runs are the result of immediate blocking breakdowns.

 

The Bucs haven't had too much of a problem with that, even when they've allowed Martin to be stuffed.  His seven carries that failed to gain positive yardage have only lost a total of nine yards.  In terms of total yards lost on non-successful runs, Martin is tied for seventh best with Chicago's Matt Forte among players with at least 50 carries.  Last on the list is one of the Bucs' opponents this week, Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles and his 59 yards lost on runs that were stuffed.

 

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3. Favorable Bounces

 

The Bucs' special teams have been good in 2012, particularly when it comes to kicker Connor Barth, who is still riding an NFL-long string of 25 consecutive field goals made.  Michael Koenen has dropped 11 of his 25 punts inside the 20, the punt return team has blocked one opposing kick and Arrelious Benn has looked promising as the new kickoff returner.

 

Apparently, the Bucs have also been fortunate in the kick and return game through the first quarter of the season.  At least, that's the analysis of the folks at Football Outsiders, whose web site has "innovative statistics [and] intelligent analysis" to which we refer frequently.  This time, a note of interest pops up in the site's special teams breakdown.

 

As is the case with most of the FO specialty stats, the special teams analysis combines many different elements.  In this case, one of them is a category the site labels as "HIDDEN" and describes as "the advantage teams have received from elements of special teams generally out of their control: opposing field goals, kickoff distance, and punt distance."  That last example is an easy one to visualize – other than blocking the kick or severely rushing the punter, a team can't do much about how far its opponent blasts a punt.

 

That's also the best example when it comes to the Buccaneers' good fortune in this HIDDEN category, because Tampa Bay ranks first in the NFL in opponent gross punting average.  In other words, the distance opposing punters have kicked the ball against the Bucs is the shortest of any team in the NFL.

 

That surely has a lot to do with the reason the Bucs rank first in this HIDDEN category that makes up part of the FO special teams breakdown.  The site explains that HIDDEN is "listed as points worth of estimated field position, and is ranked from the team with the biggest advantage to the team with the biggest disadvantage."  FO contends that these issues out of the Bucs control have resulted in an estimated field position gain of 9.7 yards, which is by far the highest number on the list.  The next highest is New Orleans at 6.3, and the range of figures goes all the way down to Philadelphia at -6.5.

 

There's no bragging element to this particular stat; again, these are issue that are considered out of a team's control.  Still, it's nice that in at least one way the ball has bounced in the Bucs' favor this year; hopefully, that continues for 12 more weeks.