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Football Geekery, Week 12

Posted Nov 22, 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 a statistic called protection index and the Bucs' goal-line offense

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Changes in the Bucs' pass protection numbers trace to deep passes and holding penalties
  • The Buccaneers have scored on every one of their goal-to-go situations this year, and usually found the end zone
  • Detroit's Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will test the Bucs' pass defense against running backs
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. Factors in Protection

In 2012, the Illinois-based company STATS, which provides "Global Sports Coverage & Flexible Data Integration," unveiled a new statistical metric called "protection index," which combines a variety of factors to measure a team's ability to protect the passer.  Among the factors considered in producing the final protection index number are the length of pass attempts; sacks, hurries and knockdowns allowed and penalties by offensive linemen.  The index is expressed in numbers between one and 100, with a higher number meaning better protection.

According to this metric, the Buccaneers faced the fifth-best pass protection team in the league last week, yet they still put intense pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan.  On Sunday, Tampa Bay's defense will try its hand against the second­-best pass protection team in the league.  Detroit ranks just behind Denver with a protection index of 86.4.  No other team in the league has an index higher than 73.8.

The Lions have been strong in this category for some team – and some of that credit is probably due to the quick feet and quick release of quarterback Matthew Stafford.  In the last four years, Detroit has ranked eighth, tied for third, first and second in this category.  (Though the protection index was just unveiled last year, the statistical database exists to retroactively apply it to previous seasons.)  This year, the Lions are first in fewest sacks allowed (12), 15th in hurries allowed (32), seventh in knockdowns allowed (45), tied for ninth in fewest false start penalties (eight) and tied for second in fewest holding penalties (3).

-- Tampa Bay's offensive line has been on a roll in recent weeks
So Sunday will likely be one of the stiffest challenges of the 2013 season for Gerald McCoy and the Buccaneers' other QB chasers.  What about the Ndamukong Suh-led Detroit pass-rush?  According to the same metric, they'll be taking on a team that ranks in the middle of the NFL pack in protecting the quarterback.

Tampa Bay ranks 15th in protection index, with a mark of 57.5.  That puts them right behind Washington and right ahead of St. Louis.  The Buccaneers came in seventh on the same table in 2012, with a far superior mark of 72.0; their 57.5 mark this year would actually rank 22nd.  The main differences?  Downfield passing and holding penalties.  Compare where the Buccaneers ranked in various parts of protection index in 2012 and 2013; we'll use NFL ranks in each category rather than the raw numbers, since the 2012 data includes all 17 weeks and the 2013 data just 11 weeks so far.

Year

Yds at Catch

Sacks

False Starts

Holding

2012

9th

t-3rd

t-19th

t-14th

2013

23rd

t-12th

t-19th

31st


There wasn't much appreciable difference in the hurries and knockdown categories not shown above.  The most obvious changes for the Buccaneers are Yards at Catch, which help to measure how far downfield the ball is being thrown, and holding penalties.  Both have suffered this year in comparison to last year.  However, it should be noted that the best work of the Buccaneers' offensive line has been produced in the last three weeks, and that this unit heads into Detroit with a large amount of confidence.

**

2. Punching It In

A nice trend has developed for the Buccaneers' offense over the last month when it has neared the opponent's goal line.

In its last four games, Tampa Bay has driven to a first-and-goal situation seven times.  On every single one of those attempts, the offense was able to punch it in for the touchdown, rather than settling for a field goal.  That is actually an area in which the Buccaneers have excelled all season, as they have encountered 14 goal-to-go situations and managed to net 11 touchdowns and three field goals out of them.  That's a touchdown percentage of 78.6%, a score percentage of 100.0% and an average points-per-possession mark of 6.14.

And that may be as good as the Bucs have ever been in that situation.

First, those are impressive numbers in terms of the league as a whole.  Tampa Bay ranks eight in the NFL in goal-to-go touchdown efficiency, tied for first (obviously) in scoring percentage (with five other teams) and fifth in points per goal-to-go possession.  It's also a significant improvement from last year, when the Bucs' numbers in those three categories were 68.0%, 84.0% and 5.16.

The Buccaneers' public relations department has been tracking goal-to-go statistics since the 2000 season, and STATS has the same numbers going back to 1995.  Thus, we can compare this year's goal-to-go efficiency with the past 18 seasons for a picture that spans almost two decades.  And, yes, in that time, the Buccaneers have never been as good across the board in goal-to-go situations, on a percentage basis, as they have been in 2013.  Here are the three statistical categories tracked above for the Buccaneers for every season from 1995-2013:

Season

TD%

Score%

Pts/Poss.

2013

78.6

100.0

6.14

2012

68.0

84.0

5.15

2011

75.0

93.8

5.69

2010

72.7

95.5

5.68

2009

73.7

78.9

5.21

2008

76.2

95.2

5.90

2007

69.6

91.3

5.48

2006

44.4

72.2

3.94

2005

77.8

88.9

5.78

2004

78.9

89.5

5.79

2003

73.7

100.0

5.89

2002

64.0

88.0

5.08

2001

69.6

87.0

5.35

2000

65.4

96.2

5.50

1999

52.9

88.2

4.76

1998

70.8

79.2

5.13

1997

77.8

88.9

5.67

1996

53.3

86.7

4.60

1995

76.2

90.5

5.71


Tampa Bay's 78.6% touchdown percentage in goal-to-go situations this year is the second-best mark on the list, just a tick below the 78.9% put up by the 2004 team.  The 100.0% score percentage, which cannot be exceeded, has only been matched once, in 2003.  And the 6.14 points per possession average – in the end, the most important number on this chart – is the best the Bucs have ever seen.  It's the first time, in fact, that they've cracked six points per possession, at least in the years studied here.

3. Keeping the Backs in Check

Opposing running backs know they are in for a tough task against Tampa Bay's defense.  The Buccaneers ranked first in the NFL in rush defense a year ago and are once again strong in that area in 2013, ranking ninth with 101.4 yards allowed per game.

That has clearly been a prominent storyline for the Buccaneers over the past two seasons.  What is not as obvious is this: How well has Tampa Bay's defense has done against opposing running backs in the passing game?

Let us reacquaint you with a statistics table on the excellent Football Outsiders web site that we have referenced on several different occasions: Defense vs. Types of Receivers.  If you follow that link, scroll down past the first chart (Defensive Efficiency Ratings) to see the one to which we refer.  As always, it shows the effectiveness of each defense in the league against five different categories of pass-catchers on the opposing team: #1 WR, #2 WR, Other WR, TE and RB.  A team's effectiveness is measured in the form of a proprietary Football Outsiders index called DVOA.  Click here if you want a detailed explanation, but for the purposes of this analysis, simply understand that the lower the number, the better for the defense.

Last year, the Buccaneers' pass defense struggled in a number of ways but was relatively decent against running backs in the passing game, with a DVOA of -1.4%.  That was their best mark against any of these five categories of pass-catchers and the 16th-best in the NFL.

This year, the Buccaneers' pass defense has improved in a variety of ways, according to the FO folks and DVOA, and much of that has to do with the arrival of Darrelle Revis.  But it remains in the middle of the pack against running backs, actually slipping a bit to #19, with a DVOA of 5.7%.  This probably has something to do with the fact that the Buccaneers have already faced three of the top six pass-catching backs (in terms of yards ) in the NFC: New Orleans' Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy.  Why is this relevant now?  Because Tampa Bay is about to encounter two more of those top six pass-catching backs in Detroit: Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

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