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Football Geekery, Week Seven

Posted Oct 18, 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 defensive resiliency, extremely tight series, and more

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Bucs' defense has inherited 15 drives starting at the opposing 40 or closer and allowed only three touchdowns
  • Tim Wright has been an extremely productive target for the Bucs on third down
  • Turnover differential is as important as ever in the NFL, and the Bucs' even ratio has not been a winning edge
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. Defense Fights off LOS Problemos

When the Buccaneers suffered their third last-minute loss of the first four weeks against Arizona on Sept. 29, the game's final points came at the end of a 29-yard drive.  That's all the Cardinals needed to set up Jay Feely's 27-yard field goal because they had taken possession at the Tampa Bay 38 after a poor kickoff return, a Buccaneer series that went in the wrong direction and a punt out of the end zone.

For reasons such as this, the Buccaneers' defense has had to face exactly three drives per game that started at their opponents' 41-yard line or closer.  Eight of those 15 drives have started on Tampa Bay's half of the field.  Like a closer coming in with the bases loaded and just one out, a defense coming onto the field with its own end zone looming just behind its makes it tougher to avoid giving up a score.

Overall, however, Tampa Bay's defense has responded well to such situations, especially in terms of not allowing the ball into the end zone.  Of those 15 drives that have started at the opposing 41 or better, only three have gone for touchdowns.  Another five have ended in field goals, which means almost half have led to no points at all.

This ability to fight back with its backs against the wall can be seen a little more clearly with the help of the collected drive stats for each team found on the excellent Football Outsiders web site.  This page looks at a team's average production (or their opponents' average production) per drive in such categories as points scored/allowed, yardage gained/allowed and time of possession.  The Buccaneers' defense ranks near the middle of the league or a little bit better in most of these: 16th in yards allowed per drive (30.72), 12th in points allowed (1.65), 13th in turnovers gained (.150) and 10th in time of possession allowed (2:28).

-- The Bucs' defense has responded well to bad field position this year
What makes this interesting is another column in the chart marked as LOS/Dr.  The FO site says this represents the average starting field position (line of scrimmage) per drive.  For the most part, this is not within a defense's control, other than the overall ebb and flow of field position throughout the game.  The Bucs' defense can't change the official starting point of a drive if an interception gives the opponent the ball at its own 35.

In that column, the Buccaneers rank 26th, as opponents have an average starting drive position of the 30.23.  Compare that to a Kansas City team that is seeing its opponents drives start at the average yard line of the 21.94, first in the league.  Or, compare Tampa Bay to Washington, which ranks 29th in that category with an average drive start of 30.70 that is quite similar to the Buccaneers.  The Redskins' defense ranks 25th in points allowed per drive, and surely that average starting spot isn't helping.  For the Buccaneers' points allowed ranking to be strong despite those bad starting spots is a very positive statement about the team's defensive resilience.

2. Wright Man, Right Time

Rookie tight end Tim Wright has made a sudden and surprising breakthrough in Tampa Bay's offense, emerging over the last two games as a legitimate receiving threat at a position that had previously been contributing little to the passing game.  Wright's 91 yards on six catches last Sunday, for instance, were the most in a single game by a Buccaneer in two years.

What has been particularly impressive about Wright's work is how effective he has been on third down.  He and Mike Glennon couldn't quite hook up on a third-and-goal attempt in the fourth quarter of that Philadelphia game in a pass through traffic, but almost every other third-down pass in Wright's direction  has worked.

According to Statspass, Wright has been targeted eight times on third-down plays, and six have been completed for a total of 66 yards, or 11 yards per play.  All six of them have produced first downs.  On third downs of seven or fewer yards, he's been targeted five times, with four of those plays succeeding.  From eight yards and farther out, he's been targeted three times and caught two chain-moving passes.

There are some other interesting notes to be found in Wright's pass-catching "splits."  For instance, he's been used a lot more often, and with much greater success, on Tampa Bay's half of the field, or just into opposing territory.  Of his 18 total targets so far, 13 have come from a starting line of scrimmage of the opposing 40 or farther out.  Those plays have produced 12 receptions for 130 yards.  He's been targeted only four times from the opponents' 39-yard line or closer, resulting in a single reception for eight yards.

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3. As Close as Can Be

The Buccaneers will head to Atlanta this weekend to take on the Falcons, and as you may have seen in our look at the all-time Tampa Bay-Atlanta series, these two teams have played it nearly even through the years.  The Buccaneers have a 20-19 edge in head-to-head matchups with the Falcons after winning the most recent meeting in the Georgia Dome, 22-17, in last year's regular-season finale.

That actually makes the Bucs-Falcons series one of the most tightly-contested matchups in all of the NFL, at least among teams that have enough shared history to have played at least 30 times.  Obviously, there are plenty of tied series among teams that have only met a handful of times – the Bucs are 2-2 all-time, for instance, against the Baltimore Ravens.  To stay this close over nearly four decades of play, however, is not nearly as common.

In fact, among all the possible series permutations between the current 32 teams, the Bucs-Falcons win-loss history is one of the 10 closest matchups.  Below are the 10 current head-to-head series in the NFL that are the closest (as of the start of Week Seven in the 2013 season), as measured by the winning percentage of the team that is ahead.  As you'll see, the first three on the list actually have no team in the lead, as they are currently tied.  All percentages are taken to four decimal points instead of the standard three to show the distinctions between some of the close entries on the list. One final note: All teams are listed in their current locations (the Arizona-Philadelphia series, for instance, includes games played between the Cardinals and Eagles when the former team was based in Chicago and then St. Louis).

Series

Record

Pct.

1t. St. Louis & San Francisco

62-62-3

.5000

1t. Kansas City & San Diego

52-52-1

.5000

1t. Chicago & San Francisco

29-29-1

.5000

4. Arizona over Philadelphia

55-54-5

.5044

5. St. Louis over Green Bay

45-44-2

.5055

6. Chicago over Green Bay

91-87-6

.5109

7. Indianapolis over Green Bay

21-20-1

.5119

8t. Chicago over Washington

20-19-1

.5125

8t. Detroit over N.Y. Giants

20-19-1

.5125

10. Tampa Bay over Atlanta

20-19-0

.5128

 

Of course, the Buccaneers-Falcons series will have a slightly different look after Sunday.  The Bucs hope to widen their lead and drop off this list.  However, if the home team prevails, the Tampa Bay-Atlanta series will be just one of four in the current NFL that is dead even with at least 30 games played.
Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers