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 it's all about winning on the road, including a potentially rare start for Tampa Bay and a quarterback who has fared quite well away from home.
1. Road Warriors
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers – and only the Buccaneers, Bengals and Packers – have a chance to do something this season that no team has done since 2013, and that only 34 teams have done since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Those three clubs are in a position to join this short list thanks to the NFL schedule-makers and their own prowess in Week One. The Bucs, Bengals and Packers were three of the four teams whose 2016 schedules required them to start the season with two straight road games. While the fourth team in that group, Miami, lost a heartbreaker in Seattle in Week One, the others all opened their seasons with road victories. Thus, they are in now have an opportunity to start a season with two consecutive wins on the road before ever playing at home, and that's a relatively rare accomplishment.
It won't be easy for any of those three teams. The Buccaneers head to Arizona for a tough Week Two assignment, while the Bengals have to take on the archrival Steelers at Heinz Field and the Packers have a divisional battle in the regular-season debut of Minnesota's new U.S. Bank Stadium. If any or all of those three road teams win, they will be the first 2-0 team with two road wins since Miami in 2013.
Since that merger in 1970, there have been 34 teams in 46 seasons that have accomplished that feat. Strangely, the Dolphins are the only team to have done so in the last half-dozen years, as they also kicked off their 2010 campaign with a pair of road victories. Miami actually shows up the list three times (also 1977), as do the Vikings, Seahawks, 49ers and Cowboys, while the Broncos, Raiders, Redskins and Lions have all done it twice. Coincidentally, the Buccaneers, Bengals and Packers are among the 13 teams that have not once opened a season with consecutive road wins since the merger.
There's no doubt that a 2-0 start with two road victories would be encouraging for the Buccaneers (and maybe the Bengals and Packers, too, but that's not our concern). As wide receiver Vincent Jackson noted on Thursday, an early road sweep could put the Bucs in a favorable position in terms of their schedule later in the year. For instance, beginning in Week Three Tampa Bay will only have to travel twice in an eight-week span, with their bye week in the middle of that run.
"I think it's good for us to have some challenges up early," said Jackson. "Then hopefully we can take advantage of that in the back end."
What would be even better is if history suggested a trend of positive endings for those teams that start a season with two road wins. As it turns out, however, those 34 teams who have done it since 1970 present something of a mixed bag. Here's the list:
The good news is that there are four Super Bowl winning teams on the list, and one other that made it to the final game but lost. The bad news: 17 of those 34 teams, or exactly half, failed to even make the playoffs. The 1988-91 seasons present that split very well. In 1988, the San Francisco 49ers won two road games to start their season and ended up as Super Bowl champs. The next year, the 49ers did it again, and once again hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, but the Phoenix Cardinals also won two road games to start the year and finished 5-11. Two years later, Phoenix opened with two road wins in 1991 and then won only two more games the rest of the way.
Make no mistake: If the Buccaneers can bring home a win from the desert and become the 35th team since the merger to go W-W on the road in Weeks One and Two, they will be expecting great things from the rest of the season. The lesson suggested by the chart above, however, is that there will still be * a lot* of work to be done.
2. Handling the Hostile Crowd
Pictures of the Cardinals' starting offense and defense, according to the team's depth chart.
Since the Arizona Cardinals moved into University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, they've enjoyed a pretty significant home field advantage. In their first decade of play in the new venue (2006-15), since leaving Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, the Cardinals went 52-28 at home, a .650 winning percentage that ranks eighth in the NFL in that span. It obviously gets quite loud in that retractable-roof dome; Cardinals opponents have had 135 accepted false start penalties against them since 2006, the most for any home team in that duration.
Of course, the Buccaneers handled the raucous atmosphere in the Georgia Dome last Sunday just fine, leaving with a 31-24 win. Second-year quarterback Jameis Winston apparently wasn't bothered by the noise as he threw for 281 yards and four touchdowns, and a passer rating of 122.6. Of course, that's nothing new for Winston; last season in Philadelphia – not the friendliest of destinations for opposing players – Winston tossed five touchdown passes against no interceptions in a 45-17 win at Lincoln Financial Field.
In fact, Winston has been one of the NFL's best road quarterbacks since he entered the league in 2015, or at least one of the most likely to crank out a big game away from home. Since the start of last season, Winston has put up a passer rating better than 110 in four of his nine road starts, and only Cincinnati's Andy Dalton has done that more often.
Though it is likely just coincidence exacerbated by a small sample size, Winston has had more success on the road than at home to this point in his brief career. In nine road starts, the former first-overall pick has compiled a passer rating of 95.4, while his eight home starts have resulted in a cumulative 76.1 rating.
That does give him one of the biggest road-home splits, in favor of road games, in the league since the start of 2015. There are 34 quarterbacks who qualified for the league rankings in both road and home games in that span by virtue of starting at least four games in both situations. Of those 34, Winston had the biggest split in his road and home passer ratings, in favor of the former, and he's first among all quarterbacks who have made every team start in that span.