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Football Geekery, Week 16

Posted Dec 20, 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 sack differential, a hidden standout on the Bucs' O-line and more

  • The Bucs' winning percentage goes up steadily when they record more sacks than their opponents do
  • Tampa Bay and St. Louis have two of the best defenses in terms of producing negative rushing plays
  • Some analysis indicates that the Bucs' Demar Dotson has been among the best poass-blocking tackles in the NFL this year
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. Cleanest QB Wins

The Buccaneers' public relations department has been tracking "Situational Records" for years; that is, the team's won-lost record under certain circumstances in each game, ranging from who wins the coin toss to how many rushing yards are gained.  As an example, Tampa Bay is 20-9 over the last five years in games in which it holds its opponents to 20 points or less, and it is 5-23 in that span when it has a negative turnover ratio.

These situational records also track when the Bucs have done when they allow quarterback sacks in various totals (0-2, 3-5, 6 or more) and when they record sacks on defense in the same ranges.  Not surprisingly, the team's winning percentage goes down as it allows more sacks (44.0%, 21.4% and N/A respectively in those aforementioned ranges) and it goes up as it records more sacks (29.8%, 50.0%, 60.0%).

It is possible, however, to track sacks and sacks allowed much more specifically, and also to track the two statistics in tandem.  That is, a six-sack game by the Bucs' defense is nice, but not necessarily as predictive of a win if the Bucs' offense also allows seven sacks.  In the 158 regular-season games the Buccaneers played in the last 10 seasons (2004-13), through Game 14 of this year, they have recorded anywhere from zero to seven sacks in each one.  It's the same range in sacks allowed in that span, zero to seven.  Let's track the Bucs' win-loss records as they follow three different categories: sacks record one defense, sacks allowed on offense and the differential between the two.

-- T D. Dotson may soon begin to draw more notice for his ever-improving play
Sacks Recorded on Defense Per Game




























The progression starts to slip right at the top in the handful of very high-sack games, but for the most part it's clear that the Bucs' chances of winning go up significantly with each sack the defense is able to get.  The cutoff for victory, at least in the past 10 years, has been two sacks; get to that number, and the Bucs win 59.1% of the time.  Below that, and it's only a 24.3% chance of victory.

Do we see the same thing when it comes to giving up sacks?

Sacks Allowed on Offense Per Game




























Here, the progression is even more stark, and the trouble starts right away for the Buccaneers when they start to allow more sacks.  Keep the QB clean the whole game and it's a stellar 83.3% chance of winning, but it drops all the way to even with one sack and falls rapidly from there.  There is no break in the progression on this one; each sack leads to a lesser chance to win, up to six.

It's important to note that this doesn't necessarily prove a causal link.  In some cases, the circumstances of the game may dictate how the sack totals rise or fall, not the other way around.  For instance, a team that is losing by two touchdowns in the second half is likely to throw the football more frequently, which obviously increases the opportunity for the opposing defense to get sacks.

In this last chart, we look at the differential between the sacks allowed and the sacks gained by the Buccaneers in each game.  In other words, if the Bucs' defense records five sacks but the opposing defense gets Tampa Bay's QB down twice, that would be a +3 differential.  Given the two previous tables, it's obvious that these differentials would have to range between -7 and +7; in fact, there were no instances of either of those extremes, so the categories actually range from -6 to +6.

Sack Differential Per Game

Sack +/-










































Here, the progression isn't completely smooth, either.  The rise in winning percentage is interrupted between -2 and -3 before spiking back up again, and the jump from 0 to +1 is much higher than one would expect, with it then leveling off at +2.

Still, there is a clear difference between winning and losing the sack battle.  Overall, the Bucs win at a 21.6% clip when they have a negative differential, at a 35.7% clip when it's even and at a 71.4% clip when they have a positive differential.


2. Stopping Them in Their Tracks

Sunday's game in St. Louis will feature two rushing attacks centered around unexpected leading backs.  The Buccaneers are currently running with Bobby Rainey, an October waiver-wire claim, after season-ending injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James.  The Rams had to sort such through such backs as Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead before concluding that sixth-round rookie Zac Stacy was their best option.

Rainey and Stacy are positive stories for two teams that will miss the playoffs, but on Sunday they will both have to be careful to avoid the negative play.  That's because both the Rams and Buccaneers also feature defenses that are particularly good at stuffing running backs behind the line of scrimmage.

This is not a new development, either.  Last year, the Buccaneers' defense ranked first in the NFL in producing negative rushing plays with 89, 80 of which were straight running plays and not QB kneel-downs at the end of a half.  The Rams ranked third on that list with 73 negative rushing plays, 59 of which were not kneel-downs.

In 2013, the Rams have taken over the top spot in that regard, already recording 60 negative rushing plays on defense, 52 of which are non-kneeldowns.  That's an average of close to four non-kneeldown negative rushing plays per game.  The Bucs remain in the top five, tying Chicago for fifth with 59 such plays, 44 of which are not kneeldowns.

Taking kneeldowns out of the equation, the Rams are stopping opposing runners for negative yards on 13.9% of their runs, the third-best mark in the league behind the Lions and the Cardinals.  The Buccaneers have a 12.4% negative-yardage-play percentage, ranking fifth in that category behind the aforementioned teams and the Jets.


3. On the Dot

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy got his Pro Bowl invite last year and has done nothing to harm his reputation in 2013.  This year, linebacker Lavonte David has gradually built up a steady buzz that might land him a well-deserved spot in the all-star game, too.  On a different level, tight end Tim Wright is starting to gain recognition as one of the most productive rookies at his position, and fellow rookie William Gholston has raised his profile significantly, too, at least locally.

That's all good, but here's another Buccaneer who might deserve a little more buzz based on his level of play this season: tackle Demar Dotson.

At least according to the fine analytical folks over at Pro Football Focus, Dotson has been one of the top seven performers in the NFL at the tackle position.  And, on that PFF list of top tackles, he's the first entry who plays right tackle instead of left.  Here's the top 10 according to PFF, with more explanation to follow:




Joe Thomas



Trent Williams



Jordan Gross



Joe Staley



Jake Long



Tyron Smith



Demar Dotson



Nate Solder



Tyler Polumbus



Cordy Glenn



Pro Football Focus does its own analysis of game footage, grading the players in every snap of every contest.  Their methods are explained here.  In the case of offensive tackles, they create a cumulative grade for the purpose of ranking the players that is a combination of grades for pass blocking, run blocking, screen-play blocking and penalties drawn.  PFF also tracks snap totals (because the more a good player is on the field, the more he's worth to his team) and how many sacks, QB hits and QB hurries each tackle allows.

Thomas, the top-ranked tackle, has a cumulative grade of 32.6 (higher numbers are better), built largely on a 28.4 grade in pass-blocking, by far the best in the league.  Dotson does well in this category, with a grade of 14.5 that ranks fifth in the NFL and second among right tackles to Zach Strief (17.3) of the New Orleans Saints.  Dotson also gets above-average grades in run-blocking and penalty avoidance; he has no score in screen blocking, perhaps because it's not a play the Buccaneers' offense employs much.

According to PFF, Dotson has allowed four sacks, two QB hits and 22 QB hurries this year.  Those numbers compare nicely to those recognized as the best in the business at the tackle position.  For instance, the top-rated Thomas has allowed just one sack but has given up eight hits and 21 pressures.  St. Louis' Jake Long has allowed six sacks, four hits and 22 pressures (Long's overall grade is helped greatly by the league's best run-blocking grade).

The Buccaneers' 4-10 record and Dotson's obscure roots – he was an undrafted free agent who mostly played basketball in college and had to learn the tackle position on the NFL level – have kept his profile low in 2013.  But if he continues to perform as he has this year, his name should soon be better known in league circles.