Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers Adept at Timely Turnovers

Football Geekery: Recent fourth-quarter interceptions add to a 20-year trend for a defense that has made big plays at opportune times.

Last November, thanks to a response regarding his approach to game-planning, Dirk Koetter was briefly labeled as an "anti-analytics" coach. When it comes to drawing up his play sheet for a specific opponent, Koetter values breaking down tape of that opponent over studying a page of team statistics.

In reality – and has gradually become clear over his two seasons with the Buccaneers, first as offensive coordinator and now as head coach – Koetter uses statistical analysis as much as any coach. Perhaps more than some. In particular, he has studied and distilled the factors that are most correlated with winning and regularly presents his team with a list of statistical goals before a game.

Pictures of the Buccaneers' practice on Thursday, December 1st.

The distinction, as is always the case with statistics, is how they are wielded. Numbers can be illuminating, even predictive. For Koetter, they will never take the place of the scouting he can do with his own eyes, but they can assist in that process.

That's our goal with Football Geekery.  Each week, we're going to give you a sampling of statistical and/or historical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Buccaneers' current state of affairs.  This week, prompted by critical interceptions by safeties Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald in recent wins, we look at which teams and which Buccaneer players have been particularly adept at getting late-game picks. We also note one big area of improvement in Jameis Winston's game and a chance for the Buccaneers to do something this weekend that they've never done in franchise history.

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1. Timely Picks

Last Sunday, safety Bradley McDougald sealed the Buccaneers' 14-5 win over the Seattle Seahawks with an interception at Tampa Bay's  two-yard line with approximately 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was trying to hit wide receiver Tyler Lockett in the end zone, and had he succeeded the Seahawks would have tried an onside kick with a chance to recover and get in range for a game-winning field goal.

The interception was the second of the season for McDougald and the fifth of his career, all of which has been spent in Tampa with the exception of one game. It was also the second fourth-quarter interception of his career and the second time in the last two seasons he's picked off a pass deep in Bucs territory near the end of regulation. In last year's 10-6 win over Dallas on Nov. 15, McDougald celebrated his 25th birthday with an interception in the end zone of a pass intended for Dez Bryant with 14 seconds remaining.

Two weeks earlier, McDougald's fellow starting safety, Chris Conte, made a big play in the fourth quarter, intercepting a pass in the end zone in Kansas City with the Chiefs threatening to take the lead in a 12-10 game. Conte returned the ball to midfield, setting up the game-clinching touchdown drive in a 19-17 final. Conte also has two fourth-quarter interceptions, out of four total, in his two seasons as a Buccaneer.

Those plays are reminiscent of the career of the greatest player in franchise history at McDougald and Conte's position, nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch. During the course of his 11 years as a Buccaneer, Lynch became known as , "The Closer," a nickname bestowed on him by long-time Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin. And Kiffin knew what he was talking about: Lynch is tied for the all-time lead in fourth-quarter interceptions in franchise history, with 13, more than half of the 23 total he had as a Buccaneer.

Conte and McDougald are already among the 29 Buccaneers who have secured multiple fourth-quarter interceptions, and if either gets one more he will be just the 15th player in team history to do it three times. Here are the top five Buccaneers on the list:

Most Fourth-Quarter Interceptions, Buccaneers History

Player

Pos.

Seasons

No.

1t. Ronde Barber

CB

1997-2012

13

1t. John Lynch

S

1993-2003

13

3t. Donnie Abraham

CB

1996-2001

12

3t. Brian Kelly

CB

1998-2007

12

  1. Derrick Brooks

LB

1995-2008

10

McDougald's pick against the Cowboys preserved a one-score lead, but his game-sealing play this past Sunday came with his team up by nine points, meaning the Seahawks still had to score twice. Nobody in team history has been better than John Lynch at intercepting passes in the fourth quarter of a one-score game. The top five will look familiar.

Most Fourth-Quarter Interceptions with the Bucs Up or Down By 7 or Fewer Points

Player

Pos.

Seasons

No.

  1. John Lynch

S

1993-2003

11

  1. Donnie Abraham

CB

1996-2001

7

3t. Ronde Barber

CB

1997-2012

5

3t. Brian Kelly

CB

1998-2007

5

  1. Derrick Brooks

LB

1995-2008

4

The Buccaneers' 2016 season is their 20th since the 1997 resurgence that ended a 15-year playoff drought and began the team's rise to Super Bowl power. For years, the Bucs featured one of the league's best takeaway teams, and the current defense is starting to produce similar results. Over this 20-year period, intercepting passes in key fourth-quarter moments has been something of a calling card.

Since 1997, the Buccaneers rank fourth in the NFL in interceptions by its defense, with 357, two behind both Baltimore and New England (359) and a bit more behind leader Green Bay (384). When we consider only fourth-quarter interceptions, the Bucs move up to third with 128, behind Baltimore (134) and New England (135). However, Tampa Bay has the most fourth-quarter interceptions in games that are within a single score of any team in that span. And it's not particularly close.

Most Fourth-Quarter Interceptions with Team Up or Down By 7 or Fewer Points, NFL, 1997-2016

Team

INTs

Yards

TDs

  1. Tampa Bay

71

951

7

  1. Miami

58

651

5

  1. Tennessee

57

479

5

  1. N.Y. Giants

52

740

7

  1. New England

51

472

4

2. More in the Zone

Jameis Winston is on pace to become the first quarterback in league history to start his career with consecutive 4,000-yard passing seasons. He obviously had a very promising rookie campaign, and in 2016 he's seen incremental improvement in such areas as completion percentage (58.3% to 61.3%), touchdown percentage (4.1% to 5.4%) and passing yards per game (252.6 to 263.6).

There is another specific game situation in which Winston's results have been significantly better in 2016: red zone passing. In his rookie season, Winston compiled an overall passer rating of 84.2, and his work in the red zone was nearly identical, with an 83.8 passer rating. However, that should actually be flagged as an area of concern, because quarterbacks tend to have a higher rating inside the 20 than overall, largely due to higher touchdown percentages and, often, the highest possible score in interception percentage.

As an example, there are currently seven quarterbacks in the NFL who have a passer rating of 100 or better this year, but there are 18 who have a red zone rating of 100 or better. Of those 18 QBs in the latter group, 15 of them have rated better in the red zone than they have overall. Jameis Winston is one of those 15; his red zone passer rating so far this year is 102.6.

That's a very significant jump up from his mark as a rookie, and it lends credence to the eyeball test that Winston has been very effective around the goal line this year, often throwing TD passes after scrambling to extend plays. If he can maintain his current red zone rating it would rank as the second-best mark in team history among all quarterbacks who played in at least 10 games in a given season. It would only take a slight improvement for him to surpass the top spot, as well.

Best Red Zone Passer Rating, Single Season, Buccaneers History (min. 10 games)

Quarterback

Year

GP

Att.

Cmp.

Pct.

Yards

TDs

INTs

Rtg.

Brad Johnson

2003

16

58

37

63.8

220

16

1

103.4

Jameis Winston

2016

11

46

25

54.3

173

15

0

102.6

Josh Freeman

2012

16

68

38

55.9

301

20

1

100.6

Brian Griese

2004

11

38

28

73.7

175

12

2

100.3

Josh Freeman

2010

16

50

30

60.0

202

15

1

100.2

Jeff Garcia

2007

13

30

16

53.3

63

5

0

98.6

Chris Simms

2005

11

28

14

50.0

88

5

0

96.4

Jeff Garcia

2008

12

33

16

48.5

102

4

0

94.9

Shaun King

2000

16

49

29

59.2

232

13

2

93.7

Mike Glennon

2013

13

47

22

46.8

119

12

0

93.2

It's easy to see where Winston has excelled in the red zone and where he can continue to improve. His 15-0 TD-INT ratio is excellent, and he has the fifth-best TD percentage of all 18 QBs on the aforementioned list. However, his 54.3% completion rate is fifth-worst on that list.

3. Going Back to Cali

In Week Seven, the Buccaneers went to San Francisco and defeated the 49ers, 34-17, at Levi's Stadium. Now, in Week 13, they're headed back to California to attempt to take down the San Diego Chargers. If they can accomplish that feat, it will mark the first time Tampa Bay has won two games in the Golden State in the same season.

At one point, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise bore a stigma that it could not win on the West Coast. In reality, this was born out of the team's overall struggles that lasted from the early '80s to the mid-'90s. The Buccaneers won at San Francisco in 1980, during their first period of regular playoff contention, then won at San Diego in 1996 as the franchise renaissance that would lead to a Super Bowl victory (in San Diego!) was beginning. The tough years from 1983-95 also led to the belief that the Bucs could not win in cold weather, which was dispelled when the team started to get competitive overall.

Still, there is a general feeling that long trips add to the difficulty of winning for a traveling team in the NFL. The Bucs might consider it quite a feat if they leave California with their second win in that state in the span of two months. If we discount teams within the same division (for many years, Atlanta and then Carolina were strangely in the NFC West), two California road wins in the same season is a relatively rare accomplishment in the NFL. From the 1970 AFL-NFL merger through last season, a span of 46 seasons, 18 teams based East of the Mississippi River had won multiple regular-season road games in the state of California. Unsurprisingly, most of those teams did so in the midst of very good seasons overall.

Season

Team

Cali. Wins

Record

Playoffs?

1973

Pittsburgh

@OAK, @SF

10-4

Yes

1980

Buffalo

@SD, @SF

11-5

Yes

1983

N.Y. Jets

@SD, @SF

7-9

No

1983

Washington

@SD, @LA

14-2

Yes

1984

Pittsburgh

@LA*, @SF

9-7

Yes

1986

N.Y. Giants

@LA*, @SF

14-2

Yes

1990

Cincinnati

@SD, @LA

9-7

Yes

1993

Cleveland

@LA*, @LA

7-9

No

1999

Green Bay

@SD, @SF

10-6

Yes

2003

Green Bay

@SD, @OAK

12-4

Yes

2005

Miami

@SD, @OAK

9-7

No

2005

N.Y. Giants

@OAK, @SF

11-5

Yes

2008

Atlanta

@SD, @OAK

11-5

Yes

2008

Carolina

@SD, @OAK

12-4

Yes

2008

New England

@OAK, @SF

11-5

No

2009

Baltimore

@SD, @OAK

9-7

Yes

2015

Cincinnati

@OAK, @SF

12-4

Yes

2015

Green Bay

@OAK, @SF

10-6

Yes

( Raiders, who were based in Los Angeles from 1982-94)

*Two other teams have already beaten the Buccaneers to the punch this year, as Miami has won at San Diego and at Los Angeles while New Orleans has come back from San Francisco and San Diego with victories. Notably, the Dolphins beat the Chargers in back-to-back weeks and actually stayed in California between those two games, lessening the travel burden considerably.

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