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. A Solid Line
When we introduced this weekly Football Geekery column in August, we took advantage of some sophisticated stat work done by Football Outsiders during using numbers from 2011. If you enjoy "Innovated Statistics, Intelligent Analysis" as their web site motto accurately describes their work, you may want to visit Football Outsiders often. On Friday, for instance, you could enjoy their breakdown of the teams with the best odds to make the playoffs and the best odds to have the first overall pick in the draft next spring.
Now that we're a quarter of the way into 2012 season, there's a bunch more statistical fodder for the Football Outsiders folks to break down, so it's time to check in again with some of their work. One of the best pages for Buccaneer fans to visit on the Football Outsiders is this one, which analyzes how the 32 defensive lines in the NFL are performing so far. According to their statistical breakdown, the Buccaneers' defensive line has been the best in the NFL at stopping the run.
That's based on a statistic the site calls "Adjusted Line Yards." The formula is quite complicated and an explanation here would likely not do it justice, but know that it takes into account such things as "power success" (runs on third or fourth down that need to pick up two yards or less), stuffs (tackles for loss on runs, essentially), second-level yards and open-field yards. The formula for this stat is then normalized so that the league average is the same as the league average for running backs' yards per carry. The Buccaneers' league best Adjusted Line Yards is 2.66. Seattle is second at 2.94 and Philadelphia is the only other team under 3.0 at 2.95. Miami (3.07) and Chicago (3.17) round out the top five.
Remember, this statistical exercise is intended to show specifically how the defensive line performs against the run, not the defense as a whole. Miami's defense actually leads the NFL in yards per carry allowed to running backs (2.42) and Seattle is second (2.64). The Buccaneers are allowing 3.54 yards per carry to opposing backs, which is quite good but not the absolute best in the league. In terms of just getting past the first line of defense, though, running backs have found that tougher against Tampa Bay than any other team in the league.
Fantasy football players are always looking for that key resource that has been dwindling around the NFL for the last decade: The workhorse running back. The Bucs may be grooming one.
The "backfield-by-committee" approach is more prevalent in the NFL than it was 10 or 20 years ago, which means there are fewer backs like Adrian Peterson or Steven Jackson that do almost all of the work in their team's rushing attack. Tampa Bay's current ground game is closer to that sort of situation than it has been in some time.
After four weeks, rookie Doug Martin has run the ball 71 times, or 17.8 times per game. That is the 10th highest total in the NFL; Houston's Arian Foster is on top of the list (25.8), with Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (23.0) second. The last time the Buccaneers had a player rank in the top 10 in the league in rushes per game was 2005, during Cadillac Williams' rookie season.
Will Martin stay in the top 10? There is conflicting evidence. In favor of that conclusion is the fact that the Buccaneers still intend to focus on the running game, despite the fact that they are not yet satisfied with how it is producing. Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out earlier this week that the Bucs' problems on third down (passing or running) are a big contributor to the lower-than-anticipated running totals. More third-down conversions will lead to more offensive plays of all kind.
On the other hand, Schiano also said that he plans to get RB LeGarrette Blount more involved in the offense as the season progresses, and indeed Blount has 10 carries over the past two games after getting just three in the first two games. If Blount runs well during his increased opportunities, he may end up taking a larger share of the carries, and the Bucs could edge closer to that "backfield-by-committee" situation.
3. Double C-Note Equals L
On Sunday against Washington, both Mike Williams (115) and Vincent Jackson (100) reached the century mark in receiving yards. It was Williams second career 100-yard game and Jackson's second in his four outings as a Buccaneer.
This is obviously a good thing. The Buccaneers envisioned Jackson and Williams being their most explosive 1-2 punch in the passing game in years, perhaps since the Keyshawn Johnson-Keenan McCardell duo. In terms of predicting victory, however, two receivers both going over 100 yards in the same game has not returned good results.
As Buccaneers.com pointed out after the game on Sunday, Jackson and Williams were the first Bucs to pull off the feat in 20 years, since Mark Carrier and Lawrence Dawsey did it against Green Bay on Sept. 13, 1992. What we didn't say at the time was that it was just the eighth such occurrence in team history. And here's the rub: The Bucs are just 2-6 in those games.
A pair of 100-yard receivers would seem to be indicative of an offense that is clicking, though in the case of this past Sunday that wasn't really true until the second half. In fact, the 22 points the Bucs ended up with (against 24 for Washington, sadly, after a last-second field goal won it for the Redskins) was the second lowest score for Tampa Bay in any of the eight games on the list. Two 100-yard receivers has generally meant a lot of points for the Buccaneers – an average of 29.5 per game.
It's not a stretch to imagine that prolific passing numbers indicate the likelihood of a shootout. If the Bucs are scoring points in bunches and still throwing a lot in the second half, it's likely the other team is racking up the points as well. That's the case, in fact. The Bucs have allowed an average of 29.3 points per game in those eight outings.
Why is the Bucs' scoring average in those eight games slightly better than their opponents. That's because the only blowout on the entire list went in the Bucs favor. Remember that 1992 game we mentioned in which Carrier and Dawsey both had huge days? Tampa Bay won it, 31-3.