Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Football Geekery (Week of Sept. 8)

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: takeaway impact, two-week win-loss records and more

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • With each takeaway the Bucs' defense produces in a game, the team's winning percentage goes up a significant amount
  • The Bucs have made it to the playoffs in three of the seven seasons they've started with a loss and then a win
  • New players accounted for nearly 60% of the Bucs' offensive snaps in the opener

    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.

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.  And sometimes we can simply point out something 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 it's the rather significant impact of defensive takeaways throughout Buccaneer history; the predictive nature of the team's record through two weeks; and the percentage of work the team is getting from players who are new to the roster this season. Let's get started.

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1. The Biggest Takeaway

For Lovie Smith, the greatest lesson from his first game as the Buccaneers head coach is something that he already knew well and considers a core tenet of his coaching philosophy: Takeaways win games.

Smith preaches to his team the goal of finishing games with a plus-three ratio in turnovers.  In last Sunday's opener, it was the Carolina Panthers who finished plus-three…and won by six points, with all of their scoring coming off those three takeaways.  Reverse that turnover ratio and it's almost certain that it's the Bucs who start the season with a W.

Obviously, ball security on the offensive side is half of the equation when it comes to turnover margin.  Realistically, however, simply fixing the defensive side of the equation will be enough to greatly increase the Buccaneers' chances for victory in Week Two.  Tampa Bay has played just under 600 regular-season games in its four-decade history, and if you arrange those games into tiers based on how many takeaways the Bucs' defense created, you see that every additional turnover bumps up the winning percentage significantly.

Below is a chart listing the Bucs' record in games in which they produced takeaways at every total from zero up to the team record of eight, which has been achieved just once.  Offensive giveaways are not factored into the chart at all; this very simply demonstrates the power of takeaways, no matter the other game circumstances.

Takeaway Total

W-L-T

Win %

0

9-74

.108

1

43-126

.254

2

50-85-1

.371

3

62-49

.559

4

44-23

.657

5

13-3

.813

6

10-2

.833

7

1-1

.500

8

1-0

1.000


Except for the difference between six and seven turnovers, the Bucs' winning percentage goes up noticeably every time a new takeaway is added.  Those totals at the top of the chart are obviously based on very low sample sizes (though it is somewhat surprising to see a team lose a seven-takeaway game!), and it might be more informative to lump the last four lines together as 5+ turnovers.  If that were the case, the final winning percentage entry would be .806.

Simply getting a single turnover more than doubles the Buccaneers' winning percentage.  There was a rather graphic illustration of that possibility in the opener against Carolina.  After Tampa Bay's fourth-quarter comeback had closed the Panthers' lead to 17-14, the defense brought a blitz on third-and-nine from the Carolina 21 with just under two minutes to play.  The pressure forced QB Derek Anderson into an errant throw that went right in the direction of safety Dashon Goldson.  Goldson got his hands on the football but couldn't hold on; had he made the interception, it looked very likely that he would have scored on the play, and at the very least he would have put the Bucs into position for a game-tying field goal.  Instead, Carolina was able to punt the ball away and then force the clinching turnover two plays later.

Once you get to three takeaways – again, no matter how often the other team is taking it way, too – you're solidly in expected-win territory.  Get to four and you're coming out on top two-thirds of the time.

Some turnovers are the result of fluky deflections or fortuitous bounces of the football.  Smith, however, believes taking the ball away as a whole is a concept his defense can control.  Assuming the Bucs' defense proves him right in the weeks to come, the team's winning percentage should rise steadily, as well.

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2. "No Need to Panic"

That's the way the NFL titled a note in its weekly "What to Look For" release regarding teams that lost in the opening week of the 2014 season.  The note points out that there will be a maximum of 13 teams at 2-0 after this weekend of play, with at least 19 teams at 1-1 or 0-2 (disregarding ties).  Since realignment in 2002, it continues, 59.7% of the teams that started the season with at least one loss in the first two weeks went on to make the playoffs, including five of last year's division champions.

Of the 24 playoff teams from the past two seasons, eight started out 2-0, 15 went 1-1 and one (2013 Carolina) began 0-2.  Of course, lumping the 1-1 and 0-2 teams together does perhaps lend a little more optimism to the 0-2 teams than is warranted, but the point remains valid that the 16 teams that lost on opening weekend should not be overly concerned about the evaporation of their playoff hopes.

So how have the results of the first two games informed the rest of the season in Buccaneer history, specifically?  Surprisingly less than one might think.  Perhaps the most interesting part is that, in terms of playoff likelihood and overall winning percentage, the Bucs have been better off if they get to a 1-1 record by winning the second game instead of the first.

There are four ways the Bucs can open a season in the first two weeks: win-win, win-lose, lose-win, lose-lose.  Again, that disregards ties, but we might as well do so because the only tie in team history did not occur in the first two weeks of the season.

First 2

of Seasons

Comb. Rec.

Win %

Playoffs

W-W

7

61-50-1

.549

4

W-L

8

54-73-0

.425

2

L-W

7

56-56

.500

3

L-L

16

62-183

.253

1


The last line in that chart holds little in the way of surprise; perhaps we might have expected more than one playoff rebound from an 0-2 start.  Surprisingly, that one came in the strike-shortened 1982 season, when there were only nine games and thus a shorter window to come back.  The Bucs won five of seven to finish 5-4 and make it into the hastily reworked "Super Bowl Tournament."

It's also no surprise that the seven 2-0 Buccaneers teams combined for the most success. More than half made the playoffs and only two failed to finish with a winning record.  The 2010 team is the most recent one to start 2-0, and it went 10-6 but missed the playoffs on a third-level tiebreaker.

Again, the most interesting part comes from the two middle lines.  Whether you win your first game or your second, and lose the other, you're 1-1 either way, but apparently it's better to start slow and then improve.  The Bucs made the playoffs in 1999, 2002 and 2007 after 1-1 starts; in 1999 they set a team record with 11 wins, and then in 2002 they broke it with 12.  Obviously, that '02 team also took home the Lombardi Trophy, winning 15 of their last 18 games, including playoffs.  On the other hand, there has been one more W-L season than L-W seasons but one fewer playoff berth in that group.

The 2014 Buccaneers will fall into either the third or fourth group in that chart.  If the Buccaneers do not defeat the Rams this weekend, they certainly won't fold up their tents and give up on the playoff chase.  However, the above chart would suggest that their final win total could double if they get the victory on Sunday.

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McDonald09_12_14_1_a.jpg

DT Clinton McDonald was one of many new players who made their regular-season debuts as Bucs on Sunday against Carolina

3. Something New

The Buccaneers made their regular-season debut in their new uniforms last Sunday, and quite a few of the men who were wearing those uniforms were making their Buccaneer debuts, period.

Lovie Smith and Jason Licht engineered a rather dramatic roster restructuring during the offseason, but for every key addition like Clinton McDonald there was a piece already in place like Gerald McCoy.  So just how much of the 2014 team is new?  The answer is in the playtime percentage chart from Sunday's game.

Officially, the Bucs had 56 offensive snaps, 68 plays on defense and 25 special teams reps against the Panthers (plays that are erased by penalties are NOT counted).  That's 149 snaps overall, with 11 players on the field for each one, which leads to a total of 1,639 player snaps.  Of those, 674 were handled by players who were not on the roster at any point last year.

The turnover is much greater on offense.  Of the 616 player-snaps in that phase of the game, 349 belonged to new Bucs, or 56.6% of the total.  New players accounted for just 30.7% of the defensive snaps and 34.5% of the special teams snaps.

That new look on offense becomes even greater if one includes Patrick Omameh, who was on the roster last year but never got into a game; tight end Luke Stocker, who spent all but the first two games on injured reserve; and running back Doug Martin, who was lost before midseason.  Those three accounted for another 99 snaps; if you add them to the list of actual newcomers, that pushes the snap total to 448 of 616, or 72.7%.

With that in mind, perhaps it was not surprising that it was the offense that looked like it still needed the most work to be a cohesive, effective unit.

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