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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tale of the Tape: Lions vs. Buccaneers

The Bucs-Lions game on Sunday will feature two efficient passing attacks but also a pair of defenses that have made things difficult for opposing quarterbacks

The 3-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 4-1 Detroit Lions have each rushed out to first place in their respective NFC divisions and will meet on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in a referendum on who should rank higher in the NFC hierarchy. Detroit, which is seeking its first NFC North/Central division title since 1993, has won 12 of its last 15 games dating back to last year. The Buccaneers, formerly division mates with the Lions back in the Black-and-Blue days, is trying to capture it's third straight NFC South crown.

How do these two teams stack up? Well, the Lions rank sixth in the NFL on both offense and defense, in terms of total yards. The Bucs are 11th on defense and 22nd on offense in the same metrics. You can see all of the two teams' league rankings and statistical leaders in this week's Game Preview, but we can also dive a little deeper into the numbers, with the help of NFL Next Gen Stats, to see where each team might have an advantage on Sunday. Or where both teams are thriving and will be trying to outdo each other. Or simply what tendencies on offense or defense opposing coaches will be preparing to counter.

It's a Next Gen Tale of the Tape.

1. Two Efficient Passing Attacks

  • Buccaneers' Average Pass EPA: +0.11, 5th in the NFL
  • Lions' Average Pass EPA: +0.10, 6th in the NFL
  • NFL Average Pass EPA: -0.08

In the Next Gen lexicon, EPA stands for "expected points added." As it is defined, "Pass Expected Points Added is derived from the Next Gen Stats Expected Points model, which measures how each play potentially affects the score of the game relative to the situation. EPA is the change in the expected points value from pre-play to post-play."

In other words, when Baker Mayfield has dropped back to pass this season, it has had, on average, a positive effect on the game's final score of roughly a tenth of a point. The same is true for the Lions' Jared Goff. Across the entire NFL, quarterbacks dropping back to pass have actually had a negative effect on the game's expected final score.

The Buccaneers' passing game in 2023 hasn't been as wildly productive as it was the previous three years, when a Tom Brady-led aerial attack averaged 4,814 yards and 37 touchdowns per season, but it has been very efficient. Among qualified passers so far this season, Mayfield ranks sixth in EPA per dropback behind only Brock Purdy, Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, at 0.12. Goff is next at 0.10.

Simply in terms of yards gained, the Lions rank ninth in the passing game and the Buccaneers are 16th. Sunday's game may nor may not develop into a high-scoring shootout, but both offenses should be able to move the ball consistently through the air.

2. Two Stingy Pass Defenses

  • Buccaneers' Average Pass EPA Allowed: -0.18, 9th in the NFL
  • Lions' Average Pass EPA Allowed: -0.14, 11th in the NFL
  • NFL Average Pass EPA Allowed: -0.08

Or will they?

The problem for both Mayfield and Goff is that the opposing defenses have also been quite good against the pass.

Detroit's offense has been very good in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on 63.2% of its possessions that breached the opponent's 20-yard line, good for seventh in the NFL. But the Buccaneers' defense ranks second in that category, allowing just a 27.3% red zone touchdown rate. Goff and his receivers could have trouble getting the ball across the goal line, because according to NGS Tampa Bay is allowing only a 12.5% completion rate on passes thrown into the end zone, which ranks second in the NFL.

Meanwhile, Detroit's defenders have done a good job of keeping tight coverage on opposing pass-catchers. According to the NGS definition, a "wide open" target is one who has at least five yards between him and the nearest defender when a pass arives. Passers against the Lions this season have only thrown to wide open targets on 19.0% of their throws, which is the ninth-lowest mark for any defense in the league.

3. Lots of "12" Personnel

  • Buccaneers' Percentage of Plays with 2+ Tight Ends: 34.4%, 9th in the NFL
  • Lions' Percentage of Plays with 2+ Tight Ends: 34.1%, 11th in the NFL
  • NFL Average Percentage of Plays with 2+ Tight Ends: 27.5%

Expect to see a good amount of plays with at least two tight ends for both teams on Sunday. Both the Buccaneers and Lions are well above average in terms of how often they use those personnel groupings, which in Tampa Bay's case, under the direction of new offensive coordinator Dave Canales, is a significant shift from their previous offensive scheme.

Detroit has been more effective than Tampa Bay so far on such plays. The Lions have a 127.8 passer rating on 36 throws on plays with the specific "12" personnel, which is two receivers, one back and two tight ends. Three of those passes went for touchdowns. That passer rating is the third best in the NFL in that category. The Bucs' passer rating on 27 throws with 12 personnel is just 73.1, and they have yet to score a touchdown with that grouping.

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