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Football Geekery, Week 14

Posted Dec 6, 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 negative-yardage plays, turnover points and rare final scores

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. Proving the Negative

Before a tough trip to Charlotte last weekend, the Tampa Bay offense had begun to find a rhythm and was putting points on the board at a much-increased rate.  After averaging just over 14 points per game during the first seven outings of the season, the Buccaneers essentially doubled that to just under 28 points per game in Weeks 9-12.

-- Tampa Bay's defense ranks second in the NFL in running plays stopped for losses
Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills roll into town on Sunday riding a two-game streak in which they scored 68 points while splitting a pair with the New York Jets and the Atlanta Falcons.  If the Buccaneers can rediscover their new scoring touch after last week's hiccup, and if the Bills can stay hot, fans at Raymond James Stadium might be treated to an offensive shootout.

On the other hand, these are two teams that know how to create negative plays on defense, so the game could also turn into a tense, low-scoring affair.  In fact, the Buccaneers and Bills are among the best in the league at making big plays on defense, when one considers specific categories of plays.

The Bills, in fact, lead the league in negative-yardage plays created by their defense, with a total of 92.  They are actually second in total yardage lost on these plays, but only by the slimmest of margins, trailing Carolina 415-414.  The Buccaneers are tied for 14th in negative-yardage plays on defense, with 79, and 19th in yards lost on such plays, with 308.

The difference is that Buffalo is doing most of its negative-yardage damage on sacks, a category in which it leads the NFL (43 total sacks, 41 of them that lost yardage).  The Buccaneers are just 27th on this list, with 24 sacks for negative yardage.

Those numbers flip when one considers run defense.  Tampa Bay has stopped opposing ballcarriers for losses a whopping 50 times this year, second only to St. Louis' 55.  Buffalo ranks 19th on that list, with 38 run-play "stuffs."

The third category of negative plays are completions that are stopped for a loss of yards, which are obviously relatively rare.  Buffalo happens to lead the league in that category, too, with 13 such plays for a total of 49 yards, the latter of which is better than the second-place team by 21 yards.  This suggests that Buffalo might be particularly good at defending screen passes.  The Buccaneers are tied for 20th on that list, with five negative completions, although the 25 yards lost on those plays is actually tied for sixth in the league.

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2. Turning Turnovers Into Points

As we noted on Monday in our Stats Shots review of the Carolina game, and then broke down in more depth in this week's Data Crunch exercise, the Buccaneers have an excellent turnover ratio in 2013 (+10) that is unfortunately not producing the usual correlation with victories.  One of the possible reasons for that is that their opponents have done a good job of converting the small amount of takeaways they've managed into points.

On the basic list of turnovers committed, the Bucs are tied for fourth, having coughed it up just 14 times.  The Bucs +10 TO ratio is also tied for fourth in the league.  However, opponents have turned those 14 takeaways into 11 scores and a total of 57 points.  Tampa Bay's touchdown percentage in that situation, 42.9% (six of 14) isn't too bad, tying for 10th-highest in the league, but the team's score percentage and average points per possession after turnovers (which includes turnovers taken directly for touchdowns) are both among the highest in the league.

On defense, the Bucs are tied for fifth in raw takeaway numbers, at 24.  However, the offense is middle of the pack in turning those scores into points and in the lower half of the league (if barely) in touchdown percentage and points per possession.  (Again, that includes touchdown returns of turnovers, of which the Bucs have three).

Here is where the Bucs stand offensively and defensively in those stat categories, followed by the league average.  Lower totals are obviously better in the defensive categories, so the teams are ranked from low to high; in other words, giving up more points leads to a lower ranking.

Category

OFF (Rank)

DEF (Rank)

NFL Avg.

Turnovers

14 (t-5th)

24 (t-4th)

19

Score Pct.

54.2 (19th)

78.6 (31st)

58.2

TD Pct.

37.5 (t-14th)

42.9 (t-20th)

37.2

Pts./Poss.

3.13 (17th)

4.07 (29th)

3.23


Simply put, the Buccaneers have had less success (and perhaps some bad fortune) in converting the turnovers they've created into points than their opponents.  Obviously, turnovers can be very useful even when they don't lead directly to points, particularly in preventing opponents from scoring and also in making field-position gains.  Still, the difference in points created off of takeaways has served to narrow the gap somewhat, in the Bucs' otherwise impressive turnover ratio.

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3. Rare Scores…Sort Of

The Bills come to town on Sunday and, as we mentioned in our review of the all-time Bucs-Bills series, Buffalo's visits have created some interesting results in the past.  One was in 1988, when Tampa Bay won 10-5 at Tampa Stadium, marking the first time in NFL history a game had ended in that score.

Pioneering a particular final game score, particularly on the lower edge of the scoring spectrum (a team scoring in the 50s or 60s is more likely to break new ground), is a quirky feat and…well, not quite as unusual as you might think.  Thanks to the all-time database of scores on the extremely useful Pro Football Reference site, it is rather easy to discover that the Bucs' 10-5 win in 1988 is actually one of 258 different final scores that have happened only once in NFL history.

In fact, three new final scores have been put in the books this season.  A team always has a shot at breaking new ground when it allows a safety and then nothing else, as there were only 36 instances of a team finishing with a final score of two before the 2013 season.  The most common score that includes a two is 14-2, which has happened five times.  Five of those 36 games were actually victories – by a 2-0 score obviously – but that hasn't happened since 1938.

So when Jacksonville put up two against Kansas City in Week Eight, the Chiefs had a golden chance to make scoring history, and they did by being the first team ever to win 28-2.  Just three weeks later, San Francisco dropped St. Louis, 35-11, posting a wholly unique final score.  And three weeks after that, Indianapolis beat Denver, 39-33, marking the debut of that particular score in NFL history.

The Bucs-Bills contribution to this list isn't even the only game in Tampa Bay history that finished with a unique score.  For instance, the Buccaneers made life difficult for Donovan McNabb in his NFL debut on September 19, 1999, sacking him repeatedly and drumming the Philadelphia Eagles, 19-5.  That's still the only 19-5 finish in league annals.  Tampa Bay has an affinity for unusual scores involving the number 19, having also beaten Arizona, 19-18, in 1997. That was only the second time that had happened, and the first time in over 30 years.  The Bucs have been on the other end of that sort of "history-making," such as when they lost to Cincinnati, 56-23, on October 29, 1989.  No pair of teams had combined to do that before, and none have since.

The rarest score the Buccaneers have been involved in this year is the 18-17 loss to the New York Jets in the opening week.  That has only happened 12 times in league history, and strangely the Bucs are on the list twice.  They also beat St. Louis by that score in 2010.  Had the Jets not managed a last-second field goal to win that contest, the Bucs would have won just the 11th 17-15 game in league history.

So, could the Bucs and Bills find a way to make final-score history again this weekend?  One team allowing two safeties would be a start; no NFL game has ever ended with one team scoring four points.  A last-second two-point gamble in a defensive battle could do the trick, as there has also never been an 8-7 finish.  Or the Bucs could just score 67; that's the lowest point total above four that has never been posted by an NFL team.  Yet.
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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