In a new regular column, we'll channel our inner pigskin nerd and dive a little deeper into the statistics generated by the Buccaneers from week to week…This week's studies include a look at several early-season trends for the Buccaneers in terms of pass defense, run-pass play-calling ratio and success on first down//
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. (All statistics are from before the Monday Night Football game between Atlanta and Denver.)
1. Pick Party
Greg Schiano said the Buccaneers would play a more aggressive style of defense in 2012. Tampa Bay's secondary is definitely finding its way to the football more frequently than it did a year ago.
Through two games, the Buccaneers have picked off five passes; extrapolated over a 16-game season, that would lead to 40 picks. In 2011, Tampa Bay's defense registered just 14 interceptions.
Can the Bucs really triple their interception total in one year? Well, it's obvious that a two-game sample is not enough to predict a season-long trend. Interceptions can sometimes be the result of good fortune – a deflection just happens to go in the right direction – but players still must be able to take advantage of those opportunities when they arrive. It's worth noting that the Buccaneers already have 23 passes defensed through two games, or 11.5 per outing. Last year, the team registered 67 pass break-ups over 16 games, or just a little over four per week. If the Bucs continue to get their hands on opposing passes, the interception opportunities are sure to be there.
The ever-increasing emphasis on the passing game in the NFL – the Giants threw 51 times in Sunday's game against the Buccaneers – might be partly responsible for a rise in interception numbers. However, the Bucs' early feast on opposing passers puts them near the top of the NFL heap. The only team with more interceptions overall so far this year is the St. Louis Rams, who have six. In terms of interceptions per pass play on defense, the Bucs have the fourth-best mark in the NFL. Last year, they ranked 16th.
If the Buccaneers did manage to pick off 40 passes this year, or something close to it, that would easily be a new franchise record. Tampa Bay's team standard in that category is 32, set all the way back in 1981 by the Cedric Brown/Mike Washington-led secondary. The Super Bowl team of 2002, with its legendarily havoc-causing defense, picked off 31 passes in the regular season (and, oh, a few more in the playoffs).
2. Grounded in Reality
Schiano also said that his Buccaneers offense would be built around a commitment to the running game. He and the team's play-caller, Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan, have been true to that word.
Through two weeks, there are only six teams in the NFL who have run more running plays than passing plays, and the Bucs are among them. Tampa Bay is tied with the New York Jets for fifth on that list, having elected to run the ball on just under 51% of its snaps so far. Here are the top six in that category.
5t. Tampa Bay
5t. N.Y. Jets
The Carolina Panthers have the next spot on that list, having run the ball on 48.6% of their plays. The Panthers and the Redskins might be considered anomalies on this list because their quarterbacks are heavily involved in the running game. The Redskins' Robert Griffin III is second on his team with 20 carries; similarly, the Panthers' Cam Newton is second on his squad with 18 totes.
The other teams on the list, such as the "Ground and Pound" Jets, are clearly teams that are determined to run the ball and have one lead back on which they are relying. You can clearly put the Buccaneers in that category, just as predicted.
3. First Strike
If the Bucs do indeed hope to run the ball frequently, sustain drives by keeping third downs short and easier to convert and control the clock as much as possible, they've already made an extremely important step in the right direction.
Through two games – and, again, we acknowledge the small-sample-size caveat – the Buccaneers are doing a very good job of picking up positive yardage on first down. In fact, only two offenses in the NFL have done better.
The Panthers, whom the Buccaneers beat in Week One, have been the NFL's most effective team on first down so far this season, averaging a whopping 8.73 yards per play in that situation. That's 480 yards on 55 first downs, and that's the best mark in the league by a wide margin. It is, in fact, 20% better than the team that holds down the second spot on the list, the Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore is averaging 7.28 yards per first down snap.
Next behind Baltimore, and by a smaller margin than the gap between first and second, is the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has averaged 6.73 yards per first down so far this season, an enormous improvement over its mark of 5.40 yards per first down last year. Rounding out the top five are the Washington Redskins (6.53) and the New York Giants (6.44).