Coaches don't always care for stats…but we love them! Each week, we're going to give you a closer look at three or four pieces of statistical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Buccaneers' current state of affairs.
Let's get started.
1. Getting Downfield Fast
We've mentioned before in Football Geekery that Bucs WR Vincent Jackson, who continues to lead the NFL in yards per reception (19.3), is the league's best at turning catches into first downs. That is, the percentage of his receptions that have produced first downs (84.1%) is the highest in the league among players with at least 20 catches.
We shouldn't be surprised, because Jackson is almost always beyond the sticks when the football reaches his hands. His ability to beat a press and get downfield quickly – and, almost certainly, Mike Sullivan's play-calling – has led to Jackson statistically being the most distant target in the league from his quarterback.
How do we come to this conclusion? As much as football fans are now familiar with (and mostly enjoy) the second-level statistic known as "YAC," or yards after catch, there is an obvious flip side to that number. If a 30-yard reception includes 15 YAC, then there was obviously 15 yards at the catch, too. And that is the stat in which Jackson leads the entire NFL (minimum of 32 receptions). Since YAC is already taken, that one is abbreviated as "Y@C."
Here are the top 10 players in the NFL in terms of how many yards past the line of scrimmage they are, on average, when they catch a pass:
- V. Jackson, TB
- L. Moore, NO
- M. Floyd, SD
- T. Smith, BAL
- S. Smith, CAR
- C. Johnson, DET
- S. Rice, SEA
- B. Hartline, MIA
- D. Hixon, NYG
- R. White, ATL
This should not be read as an indictment of Jackson's ability to pick up extra yardage after the catch. Buc fans have certainly seen him make his way through traffic on numerous occasions this season. His total YAC of 372 yards is 24th in the league, but that's a chart that includes a LOT of running backs, thanks to the common screen pass, which is essentially all YAC. In fact, 10 of the 13 players ahead of Jackson in that category are running backs, and an 11th is a tight end. To offer some examples, Jackson's YAC per catch of 5.4 is better than that of A.J. Green (4.6) and Calvin Johnson (4.5) and is very similar to that of Dez Bryant (5.2) and Antonio Brown (5.6).
2. Third-and-Long Opportunities
This week, both Head Coach Greg Schiano and Defensive Coordinator were asked if they were "frustrated" by some recent third-and-long troubles on defense. That is, with the Bucs' defense generally doing a good job of creating those third-and-long situations, has it been especially troubling when they have then allowed too many of them to be converted.
Both coaches admitted to some mild frustration, and indeed the numbers support that this has been something of an issue for the Bucs' defense in 2012. On one hand, Tampa Bay has been one of the very best in the entire NFL at forcing third downs of 10 or more yards this year. On the other hand, they are not particularly high in the conversion rankings in that situation.
In fact, only Houston's defense, with 81, has forced more third-and-10+ situations this year than the Bucs, with 76. No other team has even reached 70. Unfortunately, opponents have converted exactly a quarter of those third downs against Tampa Bay. That's not the worst percentage in the NFL, but it is in the bottom 10. Here are those 10 teams, listed in descending order of percentage of conversions allowed on third-and-10+ yards:
- Kansas City
- San Diego
- New England
- N.Y. Giants
- Tampa Bay
Obviously, the Buccaneers would like that number to be lower. However, given the teams that show up on the above list, it does not appear as if long third-down conversions have a strong correlation with team struggles overall. Seattle, New England, Atlanta and Indy are all in the playoffs already and the Giants could join them.
3. Three Out of Four is a Good Start
The Buccaneers' offense has shown an impressive big-play ability in 2012, both on the ground and through the air. The defense, unfortunately, has also allowed more long plays than anyone at One Buc Place would like.
In terms of where the team is now compared to where it was a year ago, however, there are obviously some serious improvements on both sides of the ball in that regard. In fact, if there are four categories to ponder here – long runs (10 or more yards) and long completions (20 or more yards), both gained and allowed – than the Buccaneers should be pleased to have improved significantly in three of them.
Here are those four categories, with 2011 final numbers compared to where the 2012 team is after 15 of 16 games have been played:
Big Play Category
Offense – 10+ runs
Offense – 20+ completions
Defense – 10+ runs
Defense – 20+ completions
That final column indicates the percentage of change – improvement or decline –from the 2011 number. That is 15 more runs of 10 or more yards in 2012 is a 46.9% improvement from 32 (going from 32 to 64 would be a 100% improvement). Since one would like to see positive percentage numbers on offense and negative on defense, those are pretty encouraging numbers in three of the four categories. Only in long passing plays allowed did the Buccaneers get worse in 2012.