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Football Geekery, Week 15

Posted Dec 13, 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 second-half turnarounds, another type of "defeat," and more



STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Buccaneers have a chance to finish the best second-half turnaround by an NFL team in a 16-game season
  • Lavonte David is leading the NFL in a stat category that measures negative-impact defensive plays
  • Tampa Bay leads the league in stopping opponents on kickoff returns
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. Florida Revivals

The first half of the 2013 NFL season was tough on the Sunshine State.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers came in with great expectations but stumbled to an 0-8 start.  The Jacksonville Jaguars got a new head coach in Gus Bradley but didn't treat Bradley to any victories through the first eight games, either.  The Miami Dolphins burst out to a 3-4 start and promptly dropped four in a row.

Things are definitely looking up for Florida football in the second half of the season, however.  The Buccaneers and Jaguars have each won four of five since their 0-8 starts.  The Dolphins have moved back into playoff contention by winning four of their last six.  While the Bucs and Jags would obviously rather be in Miami's shoes, they do have a pretty interesting statistical milestone they can chase in lieu of the postseason.

Winless first halves aren't terribly unusual in the NFL; Indianapolis had one in 2011, and Buffalo the year before that.  Obviously Detroit had one, and then an identical second-half when they went 0-16 in 2008.  Finishing the first half with a 1-7 or 2-6 mark is obviously common, as well; somebody has to be at the bottom of the standings. What is far more unusual is following that kind of first half difficulty with a sudden revival in the second-half of the season, as the Bucs and Jags are in the process of doing.

In fact, both Florida teams have a chance to make the most dramatic second-half turnaround ever in a 16-game season.  The NFL went to 16 games in 1978 (but played only nine in 1982 and 15 in 1987 due to player strikes); since then there have been only eight teams that have improved their winning percentage by .625 or more from the first half to the second-half.  The 1978 St. Louis Cardinals and 1984 Green Bay Packers had the biggest turnarounds, improving their records by .750.  Here's the full list of those eight teams:

Team

1st Half

W%

2nd Half

W%

Diff.

1978 STL

0-8

.000

6-2

.750

.750

1984 GB

1-7

.125

7-1

.875

.750

1978 SD

2-6

.250

7-1

.875

.625

1989 DET

1-7

.125

6-2

.750

.625

1997 ATL

1-7

.125

6-2

.750

.625

1997 CIN

1-7

.125

6-2

.750

.625

1998 Was

1-7

.125

6-2

.750

.625

2004 CAR

1-7

.125

6-2

.750

.625


There are four possible winning percentages the Buccaneers (and Jaguars) will finish with this season.  All four would be noteworthy in some way for Tampa Bay (and the first three also apply to Jacksonville):
  • If the Buccaneers win out, they will finish the second half with an .875 winning percentage, which would obviously be an .875 improvement from the first half.  That would be the biggest second-half turnaround ever for an NFL team in a 16-game season.
  • If the Buccaneers win two of three, they will finish the second half with a .750 winning percentage and a .750 improvement.  That would tie the 1978 Cardinals and 1984 Packers for the biggest turnaround
  • If the Buccaneers win one of three, they will finish the second half with a .625 winning percentage and a .625 improvement.  That would tie them with the six teams above for the third-best second-half turnaround.
  • If the Buccaneers lost their remaining three, they will finish the second-half with a .500 winning percentage and a .500 improvement.  That is obviously not the preferable outcome, but even that would match the best second-half turnaround in franchise history.  The 1996 Buccaneers started the season 1-7 (.125) before finishing 5-3 (.625) for a .500 improvement.
Most Buccaneer fans will recall that 1996 was the team's first season under new Head Coach Tony Dungy, and that second-half revival augured great things.  The 1997 Buccaneers broke a 15-year franchise playoff drought and started a run of success that culminated in a Super Bowl championship in 2002.  That begs the question as to whether the second-half turnarounds noted above also foretold success for those teams in the seasons that followed.

The answer: Sort of.

Four of the eight teams listed above made it to the playoffs the following season, led by Atlanta, which followed its 1997 turnaround with a 14-2 record and a trip to the Super Bowl the next season.  Five of the eight teams made the playoffs in one of the next two years; six made it within the following four years.  The Chargers' turnaround in 1978 portended the most lasting rise, as San Diego followed with four straight playoff seasons.  However, the 1984 Packers followed their big revival with a string of essentially .500 football over the next five years, and the big turnaround for the 1997 Bengals turned out to be a mirage, as they averaged less than four victories over the next five seasons.  Here are the five-year record progressions for each of the eight teams in the above chart (playoff seasons marked with asterisks):
  • 1978 St. Louis – 5-11, 5-11, 7-9, 5-4*, 8-7-1
  • 1984 Green Bay – 8-8, 4-12, 5-9-1, 4-12, 10-6
  • 1978 San Diego – 12-4*, 11-5*, 10-6*, 6-3*, 6-10
  • 1989 Detroit – 6-10, 12-4*, 5-11, 10-6*, 9-7*
  • 1997 Atlanta – 14-2*, 5-11, 4-12, 7-9, 9-6-1*
  • 1997 Cincinnati – 3-13, 4-12, 4-12, 6-10, 2-14
  • 1998 Washington – 10-6*, 8-8, 8-8, 7-9, 5-11
  • 2004 Carolina – 11-5*, 8-8, 7-9, 12-4*, 8-8

In short, there will be reason for optimism for 2014 if the Buccaneers continue their current winning ways to the end of this season, but it will be no guarantee of future success.

2. Defeatist Attitude

-- The Buccaneers have won four of five after starting the season 0-8
The excellent football analysis web site Football Outsiders has developed a number of interesting metrics and statistics, and one of them paints a very good picture of a rising star among the Buccaneers' ranks.

You've heard a little bit about Lavonte David in recent weeks.  His Pro Bowl buzz has been steadily building, and it grew quite a bit louder after he racked up his sixth sack and his fourth and fifth interceptions last Sunday against Buffalo.  David is the first linebacker since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to have at least six sacks and at least five picks in the same season.  Frankly, it would be a massive oversight if David was not playing in Hawaii in February.  Head Coach Greg Schiano, in fact, believes David should get consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"Show me somebody who's more productive than him, all around," said Schiano.  "The guy does it all.  To me, he's my Defensive Player of the Year."

Football Outsiders has another way of showing how productive David has been in 2013, and it's through a statistic called "Defeats."  FO defines a defeat as any play that falls into one of the following three categories:

1. Tackles for a loss
2. Turnovers, or pass deflections leading to interceptions by someone else
3. Tackles, assists, or PDs that prevent conversion on third or fourth down.

According to FO's analysis, David is leading the NFL in that category by a wide margin.  Here are the top five players in the NFL in Defeats:

Player

Team

Pos.

Defeats

1. Lavonte David

TB

LB

43

2. Thomas Davis

CAR

LB

29

3. J.J. Watt

HOU

DE

28

4t. Kiko Alonso

BUF

LB

27

4t. Luke Kuechly

CAR

LB

27


Watt, who ranks third on that list, had a historic year in terms of Defeats in 2013, with 56, the most FO has come across, with their counts going back to the 1996 season.  Only Baltimore's Ray Lewis and the Bucs' own Derrick Brooks have even hit 40 Defeats in a season in that same span.  David has a chance to be just the second player since 1996 to finish a season with 50.

3. Pinning 'Em Deep

The Buccaneers have one of the NFL's best touchback-producers on kickoffs in punter Michael Koenen.  The thing is, they often fare just as well when Koenen doesn't blast the ball out of the back of the end zone.

Tampa Bay ranks first in the entire NFL in average opponent kickoff drive start.  That stat does not include onside kick attempts or kickoffs that are the last play of the half (unless that kickoff is returned for a touchdown).  It does include most kickoffs, however, and when Koenen knocks it off the tee Buccaneer opponents can expect to be starting at their 20-yard line or worse.

Tampa Bay opponents have averaged a kickoff drive start of the 19.4-yard line in 2013.  Only the Bucs and Jaguars (19.5) have held their foes to a start worse than the 20.  For Tampa Bay, that's a function of not only Koenen's excellent 63.6% touchback percentage but also stifling coverage teams.  When opponents do try to run back a Koenen kick, they average a league-low 19.1 yards per attempt.

The Bucs have been among the league's best at avoiding big plays in that facet of the game.  The Bucs rank 11th in lowest percentage of kickoff returns that gain 20 yards or more, at 61.9%, and when foes do get over 20 they are stopped at an average of 27.3 yards.  Tampa Bay is one of only seven teams in the league that have yet to allow a kickoff return of 40 or more yards.

Put it all together and it means a not-insignificant field position edge for the Buccaneers.
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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