Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Football Geekery: Rushing to the Postseason?

Once again this year we channel our inner pigskin nerd and dive a little deeper into the statistics to help illuminate Buc football…This week: the spoils of dominating the run game, and more.

Statistics can help illuminate the game of football…or they can take us down a misleading path.  As Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith said: "I believe in stats, but it's [which] stats."

Smith, for instance, doesn't pay much attention to the NFL's defensive rankings, since they are based on yards, which he considers a meaningless measure.  When he shares defensive stats with his team, he focuses on points allowed, takeaways, scoring on defense and red zone proficiency.

Photos of the Saints' starters via team depth chart.

Here on Buccaneers.com, we unabashedly love stats, but we also understand the need to wield them wisely.  Sometimes, we can get a better feel for why the team is performing as it is by going a little deeper into the numbers. Other times, we simply want to point out a few numbers we consider interesting, and hope you will find it interesting as well.

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 look at a group of very successful teams that Tampa Bay could join this year if it keeps running the ball and defending the run well. We also note a potential opportunity for Doug Martin this week and find other WR tandems as good at moving the chains as Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Let's get started.

1. Dominating on the Ground
On Monday, after the Bucs ran for 166 yards and allowed 64 in a Week 13 win over Atlanta – the third straight game in which Tampa Bay out-rushed its opponent by more than 100 yards – we noted that the team is on pace for its best rushing yardage differential in franchise history. With four games to play, the Bucs have out-rushed their opponents by 584 yards.

On a per-game basis, the Buccaneers are averaging 143.3 rushing yards while allowing 94.7. They are one of three teams in the NFL this season that can boast an offensive average of 140 or better and a defensive average less than 100. The other two are the 12-0 Carolina Panthers and the 7-5 Seattle Seahawks.

READ: KEY MATCHUPS

It's not surprising to see teams with that much of an edge in the running game have winning records. On Wednesday, New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton, who will bring his team to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, made note of the Buccaneers' good results this year in the ground game, both offensively and defensively. Said Payton: "So when you're stopping the run as effectively as they are and running the ball as effectively as they are, that's a good starting point."

As if often the case, Payton knew what he was talking about. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, there have been 55 teams to meet that criteria of at least 140 rushing yards per game on offense and fewer than 100 on defense, not including the Bucs, Panthers and Seahawks this year. Incredibly, only two of those 55 teams finished the season with losing records. The two exceptions were the 1990 San Diego Chargers (6-10) and last year's New York Jets (4-12). All but 10 of those 55 teams made the playoffs. Since Carolina has already clinched both a winning record and a division title, you can basically update those totals to 54 of 56 non-losing teams and 46 of 56 playoff teams. The Buccaneers and Seahawks may very well make it 56 of 58 and 48 of 58.

The 1983 season is a great example of what that sort of two-way run dominance can mean for a team. That year, there were two clubs that met the above criteria of 140+-rushing yards per game and fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed per game: the Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins. At the end of that campaign, the Raiders beat the Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII, 38-9…coincidentally in the first Super Bowl played in Tampa. More recently, the 2012 San Francisco 49ers and last year's Seahawks used that formula to get to the championship game before falling. Overall, 11 Super Bowl teams have fit the above criteria, including six champions.

Here's the entire list of those teams:

Team

Season

YPG

Opp. YPG

W

L

T

Pct.

Detroit Lions

1970

151.9

82.3

10

4

0

.714

Baltimore Colts

1971

153.5

79.5

10

4

0

.714

Dallas Cowboys

1971

160.6

81.7

11

3

0

.786

Los Angeles Rams

1973

208.9

90.7

12

2

0

.857

Dallas Cowboys

1974

175.3

96.0

8

6

0

.571

Los Angeles Rams

1974

151.8

93.0

10

4

0

.714

Detroit Lions

1980

162.4

99.9

9

7

0

.563

Los Angeles Raiders

1983

140.0

99.1

12

4

0

.750

Washington Redskins

1983

164.1

80.6

14

2

0

.875

Chicago Bears

1984

185.9

86.1

10

6

0

.625

Washington Redskins

1984

142.1

99.3

11

5

0

.688

Chicago Bears

1985

172.6

82.4

15

1

0

.938

New York Giants

1985

153.2

92.6

10

6

0

.625

New York Jets

1985

144.5

94.8

11

5

0

.688

Chicago Bears

1986

168.8

91.4

14

2

0

.875

New York Giants

1986

140.3

80.3

14

2

0

.875

Chicago Bears

1988

144.9

82.9

12

4

0

.750

Houston Oilers

1988

140.6

99.5

10

6

0

.625

San Francisco 49ers

1988

157.7

99.3

10

6

0

.625

Chicago Bears

1990

152.3

98.3

11

5

0

.688

Philadelphia Eagles

1990

159.8

73.1

10

6

0

.625

San Diego Chargers

1990

141.1

94.7

6

10

0

.375

Buffalo Bills

1992

152.3

87.2

11

5

0

.688

Philadelphia Eagles

1992

149.3

92.6

11

5

0

.688

San Francisco 49ers

1992

144.7

88.6

14

2

0

.875

Denver Broncos

1996

147.6

83.2

13

3

0

.813

Pittsburgh Steelers

1996

143.7

88.4

10

6

0

.625

Pittsburgh Steelers

1997

154.9

82.4

11

5

0

.688

Tennessee Oilers

1997

150.9

98.3

8

8

0

.500

Denver Broncos

1998

154.3

80.4

14

2

0

.875

Denver Broncos

2000

144.4

99.9

11

5

0

.688

Oakland Raiders

2000

154.4

96.9

12

4

0

.750

Pittsburgh Steelers

2001

173.4

74.7

13

3

0

.813

San Francisco 49ers

2001

140.3

98.2

12

4

0

.750

Denver Broncos

2002

141.6

93.1

9

7

0

.563

Miami Dolphins

2002

156.4

97.1

9

7

0

.563

Baltimore Ravens

2003

167.1

96.0

10

6

0

.625

Denver Broncos

2004

145.8

94.5

10

6

0

.625

New York Jets

2004

149.3

97.9

10

6

0

.625

Pittsburgh Steelers

2004

154.0

81.2

15

1

0

.938

Denver Broncos

2005

158.7

85.2

13

3

0

.813

Kansas City Chiefs

2005

148.9

98.1

10

6

0

.625

Seattle Seahawks

2005

153.6

94.4

13

3

0

.813

Jacksonville Jaguars

2006

158.8

91.3

8

8

0

.500

Minnesota Vikings

2007

164.6

74.1

8

8

0

.500

Baltimore Ravens

2008

148.5

81.4

11

5

0

.688

Minnesota Vikings

2008

146.1

76.9

10

6

0

.625

New York Giants

2008

157.4

95.8

12

4

0

.750

New York Jets

2009

172.3

98.6

9

7

0

.563

New York Jets

2010

148.4

90.9

11

5

0

.688

Houston Texans

2011

153.0

96.0

10

6

0

.625

San Francisco 49ers

2012

155.7

94.2

11

4

1

.719

Washington Redskins

2012

169.3

95.8

10

6

0

.625

New York Jets

2014

142.5

93.1

4

12

0

.250

Seattle Seahawks

2014

172.6

81.5

12

4

0

.750

Carolina Panthers

2015

141.9

87.2

12

0

0

1.000

Seattle Seahawks

2015

146.6

87.8

7

5

0

.583

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2015

143.3

94.7

6

6

0

.500

Totals

620

283

1

.686

The bottom row shows the win-loss totals for all of those teams combined. They produce an overall winning percentage of .686. Apply that to a 16-game season and you get almost exactly 11 wins. The Buccaneers won't get to 11 wins this year, but they might just make the playoffs for the first time in eight years, and if they do so they'll have their dominance in the ground game to thank for it.

2. Warning: Explosives.
We ran through that entire note on rushing dominance without mentioning the name of the player most responsible for the Buccaneers' big numbers on offense: running back Doug Martin. Heading into Week 14, Martin ranked second in the NFL with 1,133 rushing yards, putting him on pace for 1,511 by season's end. After Minnesota's Adrian Peterson rushed for 69 yards in Arizona on Thursday night to push his league-leading total to 1,251, Martin goes into his Sunday game against the Saints needing 119 to take over the top spot.

The good news for Martin: He'll be facing in the NFL's 32nd-ranked rushing defense. The Saints are allowing 137.8 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry, both the worst figures in the league. More specifically, the Saints have vulnerable to what Buccaneers Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter calls "explosives." Koetter defines those as runs of 15 or more yards and completions of 25 or more yards. As we discussed in last week's Football Geekery, explosive plays (on both sides of the ball) are half of the formula that make up a very telling statistic called "Toxic Differential." The other half of that formula is turnover differential; put those two together and the Bucs rank in the top 10 in Toxic Differential this year.

The Buccaneers may need to create a handful of turnovers on defense to come away with a critical win on Sunday, but they would also be greatly aided by big plays out of Doug Martin and the rushing attack. Fortunately for him, this is a good week to build on his high number of explosives.

As noted above, Koetter and the Bucs use 15 yards as the cutoff for their explosive runs, but others choose to calculate it with 10 or 20-yard runs. Martin has been among the league leaders in both categories this year.

Most Rushes of 10+ Yards, NFL, 2015

Player

Team

No.

  1. Adrian Peterson*

Minnesota

39

  1. Doug Martin

Tampa Bay

27

  1. LeSean McCoy

Buffalo

26

  1. Devonta Freeman

Atlanta

25

  1. Chris Ivory

N.Y. Jets

24

Most Rushes of 20+ Yards, NFL, 2015

Player

Team

No.

  1. Doug Martin

Tampa Bay

11

  1. Adrian Peterson*

Minnesota

9

3t. Le'Veon Bell

Pittsburgh

8

3t. Todd Gurley

St. Louis

8

4t. Chris Ivory

N.Y. Jets

7

4t. Latavius Murray

Oakland

7

4t. Thomas Rawls

Seattle

7

** Peterson has already played a 13th game; the rest have played 12.

Martin is about to face the team that has given up the most runs of 10 or more yards this year, and in the next two weeks he'll face two of the top five teams in terms of allowing runs of 20 or more yards.

*Most Rushes of 10+ Yards Allowed, Team, 2015

  1. New Orleans

53

  1. Miami

49

  1. Cleveland

45

4t. Green Bay

42

4t. Washington

42

Most Rushes of 20+ Yards Allowed, Team, 2015

  1. San Diego

15

2t. Cleveland

12

2t. New Orleans

12

2t. St. Louis

12

  1. Indianapolis

11

Martin is also chasing the Buccaneers' single-season rushing record of 1,544, set by James Wilder more than three decades ago, in 1985. He needs 412 more yards to surpass that mark, or 103 per game. The numbers above suggest that Martin could bite into that total with some big chunks in Sunday's game against the Saints.

3. Evans, Jackson Moving the Chains
As we also noted on Monday in our weekly Stat Shots roundup from the previous game, Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans are currently running first and second in the NFL in first-down percentage. That refers to the percentage of a player's receptions that result in first downs, and the player must have an average of at least two receptions per his team's game to qualify for the league lead.

If that Buccaneer duo can hold on to the top two spots for one more month, they would pull off a relatively uncommon feat. First down data has been tracked since 1991, and in that span, according to Statspass, only three other pairs of teammates have finished a season ranked first and second in first-down percentage. Here are the four groups, including the current Buccaneer tandem:

Team

Season

Player #1

Pct.

FD-REC

Player #2

Pct.

FD-REC

WAS

1997

Henry Ellard

90.6

29-32

Michael Westbrook

88.2

30-34

TEN

2003

Justin McCareins

85.1

40-47

Drew Bennett

84.4

27-32

SD

2011

Malcom Floyd

95.3

41-43

Vincent Jackson

90.0

54-60

TB

2015

Vincent Jackson

87.5

28-32

Mike Evans

83.3

45-54

One notable takeaway from the chart above is that this isn't the first time that Jackson has been in this position. He has a career mark of 81.1%, which is second among all qualifiers to Henry Ellard since 1991.

Another takeaway is that Evans and Jackson currently have a combined 86 catches. Of the groups above, Jackson and Floyd had the most combined catches, 103 for San Diego in 2011. So far this year, Evans has averaged just a hair under five catches per game when he's been on the field, while Jackson has averaged roughly 3.5 receptions for game he's played. At that rate, Evans and Jackson would finish the season with a combined 120 receptions. Obviously, if you're getting first downs nearly every time you catch the ball, the more catches you get the more valuable you are.

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