Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mike Evans Dominates on Third Down

Football Geekery: Buccaneers WR Mike Evans leads the league in third-down receptions and percentage of third-down catches that produce first downs.

See which one of the Bucs are in the NFL's Top 10 after Week 14.

Last November, thanks to a response regarding his approach to game-planning, Dirk Koetter was briefly labeled as an "anti-analytics" coach. When it comes to drawing up his play sheet for a specific opponent, Koetter values breaking down tape of that opponent over studying a page of team statistics.

In reality – and has gradually become clear over his two seasons with the Buccaneers, first as offensive coordinator and now as head coach – Koetter uses statistical analysis as much as any coach. Perhaps more than some. In particular, he has studied and distilled the factors that are most correlated with winning and regularly presents his team with a list of statistical goals before a game.

The distinction, as is always the case with statistics, is how they are wielded. Numbers can be illuminating, even predictive. For Koetter, they will never take the place of the scouting he can do with his own eyes, but they can assist in that process.

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, we start by breaking down Mike Evans' amazing prowess on third down. We follow with a look at the Bucs' chances of beating more 10-win teams than ever before, plus an obscure full-team scoring record the franchise could break.

**

1. Third Down and Mike

By any measure, the Buccaneers' Mike Evans has been one of the NFL's most productive wide receivers in 2016. He ranks third in the league in receptions (80), fifth in receiving yards (1,100) and third in touchdown catches (10). There's another more specific way in which Evans has been critical to the success of his offense: catching the ball on third down.

Evans' 25 receptions on third-down passes is tied for the most in the NFL with Jarvis Landry and his 361 yards in that situation are the most in the league. With three touchdowns on third-down passes, Evans is also just one of the league lead in that category. Here are the NFL's top 10 third-down receivers in 2016, as ranked by receptions:

Player

Team

Rec.

Yards

Avg.

TDs

1t. Mike Evans

TB

25

361

14.4

3

1t. Jarvis Landry

MIA

25

332

13.3

0

3t. Kenny Britt

LA

24

239

10.0

1

3t. David Johnson

AZ

24

243

10.1

2

  1. Willie Snead

NO

23

260

11.3

0

6t. Randall Cobb

GB

22

280

12.7

1

6t. DeAndre Hopkins

HOU

22

244

11.1

0

8t. Tyler Boyd

CIN

21

212

10.1

1

8t. Dennis Pitta

BAL

21

200

9.5

1

8t. Jordan Reed

WAS

21

279

13.3

1

Note that Evans has the highest yards-per-catch figure on that top-10 list. That has made him particularly useful in third-and-long situations. Eight of Evans's 25 third-down receptions have been when the team needed to convert a third-and-eight or longer, and he's averaged 19.8 yards on those receptions. Of all the players with as many third-and-eight catches as Evans in the NFL, only Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham has a higher-per-catch average in that situation.

Highest Receiving Average on Third-and-8+, NFL (Min. 8 catches)

Player

Team

Rec.

Yards

Avg.

Jimmy Graham

SEA

8

160

20.0

Mike Evans

TB

8

158

19.8

Demaryius Thomas

DEN

8

156

19.5

Jamison Crowder

WAS

11

210

19.1

Golden Tate

DET

13

239

18.4

Kelvin Benjamin

CAR

9

151

16.8

What is most notable about Evans's third-down receiving totals, in fact, is that his catches have never failed to move the sticks. Each of his 25 catches on third down has resulted in a first down for the Buccaneers this season. There are 21 players in the NFL with at least 15 catches on third down (including Tampa Bay teammate Cameron Brate), and Evans is the only one who can still claim a 100% first-down conversion rate on those grabs. Those 21 players are listed below, ordered by most first downs produced.
Third-Down Receptions that Produce First Downs, NFL

Player

Team

Rec.

FDs

FD%

  1. Mike Evans

TB

25

25

100.0

  1. DeAndre Hopkins

HOU

22

20

90.9

  1. Randall Cobb

GB

22

18

81.8

4t. Cole Beasley

DAL

20

17

85.0

4t. Anquan Boldin

DET

20

17

85.0

4t. Michael Crabtree

OAK

20

17

85.0

4t. Willie Snead

NO

23

17

73.9

4t. Demaryius Thomas

DEN

19

17

89.5

9t. Doug Baldwin

SEA

18

16

88.9

9t. Amari Cooper

OAK

20

16

80.0

9t. T.Y. Hilton

IND

19

16

84.2

9t. Greg Olsen

CAR

18

16

88.9

13t. Tyler Boyd

CIN

21

15

71.4

13t. Cameron Brate

TB

18

15

83.3

13t. Kenny Britt

LA

24

15

62.5

13t. Antonio Brown

PIT

17

15

88.2

13t. Julian Edelman

NE

18

15

83.3

13t. David Johnson

AZ

24

15

62.5

13t. Jarvis Landry

MIA

25

15

60.0

13t. Jordan Matthews

PHI

18

15

83.3

13t. Jordy Nelson

GB

16

15

93.8

If Evans can maintain his 100% rate of turning third-down catches into first downs through the Buccaneers' remaining three games, he would have the best mark in that category in more than two decades. Statspass has third-down reception data through the 1995 season, which happens to be the last time any NFL receiver caught at least 25 passes on third down and had all of them result in first downs. In the chart below, the first column of players represents the pass-catcher who had the most third-down grabs while converting 100% of them into first downs. The second column of players is each season's best first-down percentage among pass-catchers with at least 20 third-down catches.

chart1.jpg

Brett Perriman's 32-for-32 season in 1995 is a significant outlier; no other player in the last two-plus decades recorded more than 26 third-down catches with all of them going for first downs. The only player in the past six years who even cracked 20 catches at 100% was another Buccaneer, Vincent Jackson.

2. Beating the Best

On Thursday night, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Los Angeles Rams to improve their record to 9-4-1. If Seattle defeats either Arizona or San Francisco in the next two weeks they will join the ranks of 2016 teams with double digit wins, a group that so far includes New England, Oakland, Kansas City and Dallas.

The Buccaneers gave Seattle one of its four losses, a 14-5 decision in Tampa in Week 12. The Sunday prior to that, Tampa Bay left Kansas City with a win, the only game the 10-3 Chiefs have lost since Week Four. Tampa Bay will play the Cowboys this coming Sunday in Dallas, continuing a promising season that began with a 31-24 win in Atlanta.

That combination of opponents past and future gives the 2016 Buccaneers a chance to do something no other squad in franchise history has accomplished: Defeat four opponents who finished the season with 10 or more wins.

The Bucs have one such win so far (Kansas City) and will likely have another one on their record with Seattle. Tampa Bay would obviously prefer that the division-rival Falcons would falter over the next three weeks, since those two teams are currently tied for first in the NFC South, but if Atlanta does prevail twice in its last three games they will also become a 10-win team. The Falcons final three opponents are 1-12 San Francisco, 5-8 Carolina and 5-8 New Orleans.

The least certain part of the equation, of course, is a win over the 11-2 Cowboys on Sunday. Even without that win, the Bucs could tie their own record for most victories over 10+-plus win teams in a single season.

Season

No.

Defeated 10+-Win Opponents

2008

3

10-6 Vikings, 12-4 Panthers, 11-5 Falcons

2001

3

10-6 Ravens, 14-2 Rams, 12-4 Packers

2000

3

10-6 Rams, 11-5 Dolphins, 11-5 Vikings

1997

3

10-5-1 Giants, 10-6 Patriots, 13-3 49ers

2005

2

11-5 Panthers, 10-6 Redskins

Atlanta, Kansas City and Seattle are all currently leading or tied for the lead in their respective divisions and are obviously strong postseason contenders. The Bucs' next opponent, Dallas, has already clinched a playoff spot. Tampa Bay has a chance to finish this season with four wins over playoff teams (and hopefully in the playoffs themselves).

That would the team's most since 2008, when they defeated playoff-bound Minnesota, Chicago, Carolina and Atlanta in the regular season. The Buccaneers also defeated four eventual playoff teams in 2005 and 2002, and they picked off five of them in 2000. The best Buc season in this regard, however, was 1997, when Tampa Bay not only ended a 15-year playoff drought and won its first postseason contest since 1979 but also defeated seven eventual playoff squads during the regular season.

3. Party in the End Zone, Everyone's Invited!

Two weeks ago, when the Buccaneers beat the Chargers, 28-21, Cameron Brate scored the team's go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was the sixth TD catch of the season for Brate, who is tied for the league lead among tight ends in that category.

The touchdown that put the Buccaneers ahead for the first time in the third quarter was scored by linebacker Lavonte David on a 15-yard pick-six. That was David's first touchdown of the season, making him the 16th different Tampa Bay player to find the end zone this season.

The Bucs have needed all hands on deck when it comes to scoring in 2016. Those 16 different touchdown-makers are already close to the franchise's single-season record, and it's the highest number of scorers the team has had since 2008.

Most Touchdown Scorers, Single-Season, Buccaneers

Season

No.

Leaders

2003

18

Keenan McCardell (9), Keyshawn Johnson/Thomas Jones (3)

2008

17

Antonio Bryant (7), E. Graham/I. Hilliard/C. Williams (4)

2016

16

Mike Evans (10), Cam Brate (6), Doug Martin (3)

1992

15

Reggie Cobb (9), Mark Carrier/Ron Hall (4)

Could the Buccaneers' break the record, down by two with three games to play? Obviously, a defensive touchdown from anybody other than David, Kwon Alexander or Chris Conte would help. More likely, it will come from a skill-position player on offense getting on the board. Candidates include wide receiver Josh Huff, wide receiver Donteea Dye and tight end Luke Stocker.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Advertising