Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Excel in TOs, Goal-to-Go

Football Geekery: The Bucs have been the NFL's best goal-to-go offense this season, and they have a chance to be one of the best in decades…Also, the team's turnover turnaround is unprecedented.

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.

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, we take a look at the continued prowess of the Tampa Bay's offense in goal-to-go situations, and how it compares to the team's past and to the rest of the NFL in recent years. We also shine a light on the most complete turnaround of turnover ratio in franchise history.

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1. Punching It In

In the third quarter of last Sunday's win over Chicago, already leading by a 24-10 margin, the Buccaneers drove down to the Bears' six, where they gained a new set of downs. However, after quarterback Jameis Winston absorbed a 15-yard sack on first-and-goal, the Buccaneers ran on second and third downs to end up with a fourth-and-goal at the nine. They settled for a field goal and a 27-10 lead.

Those three points were certainly helpful at the time, but Roberto Aguayo's 27-yard chip shot ended an impressive streak by the Buccaneers' offense. That was the first time all season that Tampa Bay had achieved a goal-to-go situation and not gone on to score a touchdown.

After going 11-for-11 in that situation in Games 1-8, the Bucs saw their goal-to-go touchdown percentage drop from 100.0% to 91.7% on that drive. Later, in the fourth quarter, Doug Martin scored on a third-and-goal run from the one, pushing the Bucs goal-to-go TD rate back up to 92.3%.

As we noted in Stat Shots on Monday, that goal-to-go success rate is still tops in the NFL. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who are 11-for-12 in such situations, are second at 91.7%. Statspass has goal-to-go drive data available back through the 1995 season, and in that 22-season span the Buccaneers have never led the league in this particular category.

It is a difficult pace to maintain, of course. The Bucs' first goal-to-go "failure" cost them over eight percentage points. If, for instance, Tampa Bay's offense were to once again settle for a field goal on its next goal-to-go opportunity, its TD rate would fall from 92.3% to 85.7%. Only two teams in that 22-year span of available data have finished a season at 90% or better. The chart below shows the Buccaneers' goal-to-go TD efficiency each season from 1995-2016, along with the NFL leader for that season and that team's TD rate.

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The Buccaneers are averaging 1.44 goal-to-go opportunities per game. If that rate holds, they would have approximately 10 more chances through the last seven games of the season, for a total of 23 through 16 games. To maintain a TD rate of 90% or better, the Bucs would have to be successful on 21 of those 23 tries, which means they would need to make it to the end zone in nine of the next 10 goal-to-go drives. That would be a rate of 91.3%, which would be higher than any other season leader on the list above.

By the way, Tampa Bay is one of 10 teams in the NFL this season that still have a 100% scoring efficiency on goal-to-go drives. That is, all such possessions have led to a touchdown or a field goal. That's not nearly as uncommon an occurrence as a 90% TD rate. At least one team has done it in all but two of the last 21 years (2002 and 1995), and a total of 47 teams have done it in that span. The most to do it one season was six in 2005 (Carolina, Houston, Jacksonville, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh and San Francisco). The only season in which the Buccaneers have had a 100% goal-to-go scoring rate was 2003, when they were 19-for-19.

2. A Complete Turnaround

The Buccaneers opened up a 17-3 lead over the Bears in last Sunday's game thanks in part to four takeaways by the defense over the course of Chicago's first six possessions. Tampa Bay's offense turned it over once, on a deflected-ball interception on the last play of the first quarter. That plus-three turnover ratio not only was a harbinger of victory for the Buccaneers, it also put the team back to even in that category on the season.

Pictures of the Buccaneers' practice on Thursday, November 17.

Turnovers plagued the Buccaneers during their 1-3 start to the season, as they committed 11 of them while taking it away only twice. That put Tampa Bay right at the bottom of the league turnover-ratio ranking and gave them one very clear area on which to focus in their efforts to rebound from a slow start.

Obviously, the Bucs have addressed that turnover issue well; in fact, they lead the league over the last five weeks with 13 takeaways. The extent to which Tampa Bay has turned around its turnover problem has even surprised the coaching staff.

"The number-one way you win and lose is protecting the football," said Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. "And we at one point were I think a minus-nine five weeks ago and now we're even. I would've never guessed we'd gotten ourselves to even that fast. But, you can see how it flips the game."

Head Coach Dirk Koetter echoed that same thought during this week's All-Access interview here on Buccaneers.com. Tampa Bay coaches intuitively believe that getting back to even in the turnover category after being so far down is rare…and they're right, at least in terms of Buccaneer history.

The four-game mark in this season represented the 12th time in franchise history that the team has gotten down by a turnover ratio of -9 or worse before the final game of the campaign. Not once in the previous 11 instances did the team that was down by -9 make it back to even at any point in that season.

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In the chart above we have listed each team's final turnover ratio at the end of the season. That only indicates that each team failed to finish at even or better in the end, but in each case the team in question never made it back to even at any point after going down by nine or more. We've listed the game at which the team hit -9 for the first time during the season; as you can see, in some cases, they went beyond that to -10 or worse in that same game.

The 2009 team made some strides at the very end but ran out of time after hitting the -9 mark in December. The 1999 team came the closest, closing the gap from -10 after just five games to -4 at the end. Despite finishing in the red, that team made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. The presence of the 1977 team as one of the improving teams on the list is a bit of a surprise, as that crew started out 0-12 before finishing the season with the first two victories in franchise history.

If the 2016 Buccaneers can at least break even in turnovers over the final seven games of the season, they'll be the first Tampa Bay team ever to do so after climbing out of a -9 or worse hole. Of course, if the Bucs want to keep playing in January, they'll almost surely need to finish on the positive side of the ledger.

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