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. Buccaneer DEs Lead NFL in Run Defense
Tampa Bay leads the NFL in run defense, in terms of both yards allowed per game (77.3) and yards allowed per rush (3.4). There is evidence on the gold-mine Football Outsiders web site that the Buccaneers' defensive ends have been particularly hard to run against.
We've referred to this chart on the FO site before, but it's worth looking at again because Tampa Bay's numbers just keep getting better. Here, FO breaks down each team's run defense in terms of which direction the opposing ballcarriers began their runs. All of the league's carries are broken down into five directions: Left End, Left Tackle, Mid/Guard, Right Tackle and Right End. The two "End" runs would be the type of plays that send the back sweeping wide outside the line on either side; the rest of the carries are broken down between, essentially, straight up the middle, to the left or to the right. FO says that research has shown no statistical difference between plays marked as going over left guard, center or right guard, so all those are combined into the Mid/Guard category.
Note that these directions are listed by the offensive positions, so a run going over Left Tackle would be at the Right End on defense, and Right Tackle runs would be aimed at the Left End. In this case, it wouldn't matter if you happened to get them flipped, because Tampa Bay's defense ranks first in runs going towards both defensive ends.
Michael Bennett has rightfully received praise from sites such as Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus for his underrated work against the run. It appears as if all of the Buccaneer defensive ends – Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Da'Quan Bowers chief among them – are holding their own pretty well, however. Opponents trying to run the ball towards their own left tackle are averaging 0.80 in a statistic FO calls ALY, or Adjusted Line Yards. You can read an explanation here, but just know that the league average is 3.94 over left tackle. Going the other direction, the Bucs' defense has an ALY figure of 1.21 on runs towards right tackle, and the league average is 4.05.
By the way, this is no slight on Tampa Bay's defensive tackles, who not only are likely helping out on those runs towards the tackles but are also doing quite well on runs up the gut. Tampa Bay ranks third in the NFL in ALY on Mid/Guard runs, with a mark of 3.32 compared to the league average of 4.15.
2. Per-Play Numbers Portend Playoff Spots
At the midway point of their 2012 season, the Buccaneers' offense finds itself in some uncharted territory, leading the entire NFL with an average of 6.2 yards per play. Tampa Bay's many playoff teams of the late '90s and early '00s were known more for their stout defenses, but the 2012 version may get back to the postseason on the shoulders of Josh Freeman and company.
That seems quite likely if the Buccaneers can continue to lead the NFL in that category and a recent trend holds up. In six of the last eight NFL seasons, the team that led the league in yards per play qualified for the playoffs. In fact, in four of the last six campaigns, all three of the teams that finished in the top three in that category were postseason participants.
Actually, the news is even better. Not only did six of those eight yards-per-play season leaders make the playoffs, but they all won their divisions and were seeded no lower than third overall. Three of those teams – New Orleans in 2009, New England in 2007 and Seattle in 2005 – went into their conference playoffs as the #1 seed.
3. Closer to the Playoffs
Speaking of Football Outsiders and the Bucs chances of making it to the postseason, the site has a Playoff Odds Report chart that is updated each week to show what they believe are the chances of each team in the NFL grabbing a postseason spot this year. Tampa Bay's win in Oakland proved to be a big boost to the Bucs' chances, according to the FO calculations.
Here is the explanation on the FO site of how the odds are determined each week:
"The playoff odds report plays out the season 25,000 times. A random draw assigns each team a win or loss for each game. The probability that a team will be given a win is based on an equation which considers the current Weighted DVOA ratings of the two teams as well as home-field advantage."
(DVOA is the main statistic Football Outsiders uses in their various pieces of analysis. If you want to read about how it is calculated, click here.)
Prior to the Oakland game, the Buccaneers were 3-4 and FO's chart gave them a 7.6% chance of making the playoffs. After the win in Oakland pushed the Bucs back to 4-4 and improved their overall offensive numbers, the Bucs' playoff odds on FO shot up to 14.8%. That increase of 7.2% from the end of Week Eight to the end of Week Nine was the second-highest jump among all NFC teams. Seattle, which downed Minnesota to send both teams to a 5-4 record, improved 15.6% to a 75.7% chance.
Of course, it's hard to miss that, even with that increase, the FO chart doesn't have Tampa Bay's playoff odds set very high. That's a little bit misleading, though, and there's a good chance the Bucs' numbers could rise significantly this week. If the season ended today, the six NFC playoff teams would be Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, the N.Y. Giants, Green Bay and Seattle. All six of those teams currently have playoff odds of 75.7% or better on the FO chart; it falls off dramatically after that. The next highest team (strangely, the 3-5 Cowboys) is at 17.5%. It's hard to imagine any analyst claiming right now that there is a 75% chance of those exact six teams comprising the NFC playoff field.