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Football Geekery, Season Review Edition

Posted Jan 10, 2014

Channeling our inner pigskin nerd, we dive a little deeper into the statistics generated by the Bucs in 2013...With the season concluded, we look at such key issues as turnover points produced and more

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Buccaneers were quite good at forcing turnovers in 2013 but not as proficient at turning them into points
  • Tampa Bay's second-half scoring difficulties were most evident right out of halftime
  • The Bucs' defense was once again one of the NFL's best at stopping ballcarriers behind the line of scrimmage
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.  During the 2013 season, we attempted to do that each week with our bit of football geekery, giving you a closer look at a few pieces of statistical analysis, hopefully in a way that was relevant to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' current state of affairs.  Now, with 2013 in the rearview mirror, we highlight three statistical trends that had a lot to do with how the season turned out.

Let's get started.

**

1. Broken Link: Takeaways Failed to Equal Points

During his introductory press conference on Monday, new Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith spent some time describing his approach to defense and the manner in which his Chicago Bears teams succeeded on that side of the ball.  One of his main conclusions should come as no surprise: Takeaways create victories.  "[F]or us," said Smith, "the thing that dictates whether you win or lose each week the most will be turnover ratio."

It's not difficult to find the numbers to back up Smith's assertion…unless you happen to be restricted to the 2013 Buccaneers.  Tampa Bay's just-completed season was a major aberration in terms of the connection between takeaways and victory, and that certainly qualifies as one of the most telling statistics the team generated in 2013.

There were nine NFL teams that produced at least 30 takeaways (TA, in the chart below).  Here they are, along with their final 2013 regular-season record:

Team

TA

W-L

1. Seattle

39

13-3

2. Kansas City

36

11-5

3t. Cincinnati

31

11-5

3t. Philadelphia

31

10-6

3t. Tampa Bay

31

4-12

6t. Arizona

30

10-6

6t. Buffalo

30

6-10

6t. Carolina

30

12-4

6t. San Francisco

30

12-4


The Buccaneers and Bills obviously share outlier status here.  The other seven teams on the list all won at least 10 games, and six of those seven made the playoffs.  So why weren't the Buccaneers and Bills able to turn their high numbers of takeaways into double-digit wins like the rest of the teams on the list?

The answer is simple: They weren't as proficient as turning those opportunities into points.  Now, turnovers can be very helpful even if they don't lead directly to points; an interception in one's own end zone turns a possible seven points and an almost certain three points into zero for the opposition, for instance.  Over the course of a season, however, a good number of takeaways are going to create prime scoring opportunities, and the teams that combined a high number of such opportunities with an ability to turn them into points found themselves at the top of the standings.

-- DE A. Clayborn tied for the NFL lead with 14.5 run stuffs in 2013
Look at that same list of nine teams again, but with a few other numbers added that point to how well they were able to turn their takeaways into points.  The chart below adds columns for total points scored off turnovers (TP), the percentage of turnovers that led to touchdowns (TD%) and the average number of points scored on possessions following turnovers (APP), including those returned directly for scores.  In each of those three columns, the team's totals will be followed by their NFL rank in that category.

Team

TA

TP

TD%

APP

1. Seattle

39

119 (3)

35.9% (18)

3.05 (18)

2. Kansas City

36

147 (1)

50.0% (2t)

4.08 (3)

3t. Cincinnati

31

103 (7)

45.2% (7)

3.32 (12)

3t. Philadelphia

31

97 (9)

38.7% (13)

3.13 (17)

3t. Tampa Bay

31

84 (14)

29.0 (26)

2.71 (25)

6t. Arizona

30

94 (11t)

33.3 (19t)

3.13 (16)

6t. Buffalo

30

82 (15t)

23.3 (29)

2.73 (24)

6t. Carolina

30

98 (8)

36.7 (17)

3.27 (14)

6t. San Francisco

30

129 (2)

50.0 (2t)

4.30 (1)


There's a little more variety in this list; even among the best takeaway teams that made the playoffs, there were differences in how well they turned turnovers into points.  Kansas City and San Francisco were particularly strong in this regard, while Seattle, Philadelphia and Carolina were more in the middle of the pack.

Still, in each category, the Buccaneers and the Bills had the two lowest rankings among those nine teams.  Their numbers were very similar, in fact, and starkly contrasted to a team like the 49ers, which scored a touchdown off half of their turnovers, leading to 45 more takeaway points than the Buccaneers on one fewer overall takeaway.  Given that the Buccaneers had an equal or positive turnover ratio in 13 of their 16 games, and that they lost five outings by eight points or less (that is, a one-score game), it's fair to wonder if a little more production off of takeaways might have made their final record look a lot more appealing.

**

2. Second Verse, Not the Same as the First

You don't need a complex statistical breakdown to recognize one of the Buccaneers' primary offensive themes in 2013: The team simply struggled to score after halftime.

Over the course of the entire 2013 season, the Buccaneers played their opponents to an almost total draw in the combined first halves of the 16 games.  In fact, they won the pre-halftime scoring battle by a single point, 205 to 204.  Tampa Bay even outscored its opponents in the first quarter, 80-64.  Obviously, given that the Bucs finished the season with a -101 turnover differential, that means most of their 16 second halves (and one overtime period) didn't go as well.

What is particularly telling, however, is how much the Tampa Bay offense struggled right out of the gate after halftime.  As has become the trend for many teams, the Buccaneers generally chose to defer if they won the game-opening coin toss, meaning they would start the first quarter on defense but would get the ball first coming out of halftime.  That certainly can play into a coach's strategy near the end of the first half; if the game is close and you know you get the ball first in the third quarter, you might be less inclined to risk it with a last possession before halftime.

That strategy doesn't deliver, however, if your team is consistently unable to make use of that opening second-half possession.  Unfortunately, that was the case for the Buccaneers in 2013.  In fact, the Buccaneers and the Giants were the only teams in the NFL that scored just one touchdown on their collected first drives of the second half this past season, and only the Giants, with 10, scored fewer overall points than the Bucs' 16.

Those numbers include the teams' first possessions in every second half, regardless of whether they had the ball first or not, so there are a total of 16 instances for each club.  The Buccaneers turned those 16 drives into one touchdown, three field goal attempts (all successful), nine punts and three turnovers.  By contrast, the league average was four touchdowns, two field goal attempts, seven punts, two turnovers and one drive given over on downs.

The league's most successful offense coming out of halftime was Denver's, which produced eight touchdowns and one field goal in 16 tries, for a total of 59 points.  The Cowboys were next with seven touchdowns and three field goals, for a total of 58 points.

The one game in which the Buccaneers did score on their opening possession of the second half?  That would be Week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons.  Vincent Jackson's acrobatic 53-yard catch at the Falcons' four-year line set up Mike Glennon's four-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Rainey, extending an 18-point lead to 31-6.  The Buccaneers ended up winning, 41-28, in what was easily their most impressive outing of the season.

3. Big Plays in the Making

A 468-yard day by Drew Brees and the Saints' Superdome-loving offense put a dent in the Buccaneers' defensive ranking, dropping them to 17th overall at season's end.  Still, this was a crew that hovered around the top 10 for most of the season and obviously showed a lot of promise.  With two Associated Press All-Pro First-Team selections (DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David) and a third starter in the Pro Bowl (CB Darrelle Revis), the future looks bright on that side of the ball for the Buccaneers.

In particular, those two All-Pros up front, McCoy and David, led the charge for a Buccaneers defense that was very good at turning opposing rushing attempts into negative plays.  In 2012, Tampa Bay led the NFL in overall rushing defense and also in the number of opposing rushing plays that produced negative yardage.  In 2013, Tampa Bay's overall rush defense ranking dropped to 15th, but they remained one of the best teams in the NFL in that latter category.

In fact, only the St. Louis Rams produced more negative rushing plays by the opposition, and only by one.

The Buccaneers actually led the NFL in that category with 77, to the Rams' and Redskins' 72, but that includes kneel-downs by the opposition.  Since those plays are technically carries for losses but require no skill by the defense, it's best to strip them out of the analysis.  When that is done, the Rams rank first in the NFL with 61 and the Buccaneers come in next at 60.

However, Tampa Bay had the highest percentage of such plays, dropping opposing ballcarriers behind the line of scrimmage on a whopping 14.3% of their attempts.  St. Louis was next at 14.2, with Arizona third at 13.9.  Here were the NFL's top five defenses in 2013 in producing negative-yardage rushes (on non-kneel-down plays):

Team

Rushes*

For Loss *

Pct.

1. St. Louis

429

61

14.2%

2. Tampa Bay

421

60

14.3%

3t. Arizona

361

50

13.9%

3t. N.Y. Jets

410

50

12.2%

3t. Washington

421

50

11.9%


* Excluding kneel-downs

Individually, two Buccaneers were among the NFL leaders in "stuffs," a term used to describe any tackle of a ballcarrier behind the line of scrimmage.  One was David, who had 14.5 stuffs in 2013 to tie for NFL lead.  And while McCoy was clearly a linchpin in the Buccaneers' rush defense, it was actually defensive end Adrian Clayborn who matched David in this particularly category.  Clayborn also had 14.5 to tie for the NFL lead with his teammate and Houston defensive end J.J. Watt.  The Buccaneers and the Rams were the only two teams to have two players rank in the top 10 in stuffs, as seen in the chart below.

Player

Team

Stuffs

1t. Adrian Clayborn

TB

14.5

1t. Lavonte David

TB

14.5

1t. J.J. Watt

HOU

14.5

4t. Kevin Burnett

OAK

10.5

4t. Erin Henderson

MIN

10.5

4t. Robert Quinn

STL

10.5

7t. Lance Briggs

CHI

10.0

7t. Alec Ogletree

STL

10.0

9t. Derrick Johnson

KC

8.5

9t. Sheldon Richardson

NYJ

8.5

9t. T.J. Ward

CLE

8.5


Tampa Bay's defense wasn't perfect in 2013, but it showed plenty of promise.  With the aforementioned proclivity for creating turnovers and an ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage, there is clearly plenty on which Lovie Smith can build.

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