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Data Crunch: A Rare Trio of Runners

Posted Nov 29, 2013

In the eight of our weekly ventures into data visualization, we look at how frequent 100-yard games are in the NFL, and how common it is for a team to have three different players accomplish the feat in one season

Every week, we football fans consume the NFL through live game action, replays and highlight shows. And then we consume it again through the numbers. Whether it's via fantasy football, statistical analysis or simply the league standings, numbers help us understand and digest the game we love.

This season, Buccaneers.com wants to help you see what the numbers are saying.

Welcome back to Data Crunch, our weekly foray into data visualization that will help tell the story of Tampa Bay Buccaneers football and the 2013 NFL season as a whole. Here, we will not only dive deep into the statistics generated each week by the Buccaneers but we'll present it to you in graphical form to better convey what the numbers are telling us. These interactive graphs allow the user to identify trends, gaining a better understanding of how wins and losses are generated and where the team and individual players are headed.

Our eighth data visualization exercise of the season is inspired by the unusual happenings in the Buccaneers' offensive backfield this season. Second-year running back Doug Martin, a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2012, was expected to carry most of the load this season, but a shoulder injury in Week Seven ended his campaign prematurely. Rookie Mike James stepped in and was extremely productive for a three-week stretch, but he too was lost for the season to a fractured ankle in 10. Second-year player Bobby Rainey was next up, and he played well enough to win NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Week 11.

Along the way, all three backs posted a 100-yard game on the ground, something a trio of players had never before accomplished in franchise history. That prompted a look into the archives to see how common such a feat was across the NFL, and the result was the data visualization below. Seasons with three different 100-yard backs are not unheard of, but they are relatively rare. The Buccaneers are one of two teams to have done so this season, and one of only 45 since 1980. The charts below allow the user to advance through seasons with one, two and three 100-yard backs to see how the instances gradually become less common. The three-back occurrences peaked in 2004 when Denver, Kansas City, Oakland and Pittsburgh all pulled it off. Hover any entry on the chart to see the specific names of the players involved.

There has never been a team with four 100-yard rushers in the same season. With five games still to play, perhaps Brian Leonard or Michael Hill can help the Buccaneers make history.