Throughout the 2020 season, we will be dipping into the NFL's Next Gen Stats database to provide you with more insight into the performances of Tampa Bay Buccaneers players and the team as a whole. This week, as an appetizer, we're using some of last season's Next Gen Stats to preview the 16 opponents the Buccaneers will face during the regular season.
We covered Games 1-3 on Monday, came back with a look Games 4-6 on Tuesday and followed up with Games 7-9 on Wednesday. The next stretch of opponents includes a rematch with the Panthers and their do-everything running back plus a shot at the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
Week 10: at Carolina
What You Need to Know: While Christian McCaffrey will split out wide more than most of the backs the Bucs will face in 2020, he is actually most dangerous between the tackles
Of all the remarkable things that Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey does statistically, one of the most amazing is a simple snap count. McCaffrey simply doesn't come off the field for more than the occasional offensive snap or two. In 2019, the third-year back played 1,056 snaps, or 93.4% of the possible total on the Panthers' offense. No other running back in the NFL played more than 83.3% of their team's offensive snaps and only two played more than 71.1%. In eight of Carolina's 16 games, McCaffrey was on the field for either 99% or 100% of his team's plays.
Carolina involves McCaffrey in everything they do because he can do a bit of everything. In 2019, he joined Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig as the only players in NFL history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. According to Next Gen Stats, McCaffrey was one of only three running backs in the NFL last year who played 50 or more snaps either lined up wide or in the slot, which led to 116 receptions.
But opposing defenses can't afford to think of McCaffrey as a third-down type who lacks the power to run inside. In fact, Next Gen tells us that McCaffrey averaged 5.0 yards per carry on inside runs last year, which was actually the second-highest average among all players with at least 75 runs in that category. After recording "only" nine rushing touchdowns over his first two years combined, he scored on the ground 15 times in 2019, and 10 of those were on inside runs. That tied for the most touchdown on inside runs in the NFL.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster as it currently stands.
Week 11: vs. L.A. Rams
What You Need to Know: Aaron Donald is as good as ever
So, you probably don't need Next Gen stats to make the point above, but they do help support the argument. For the first time since 2017, Aaron Donald was not the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, though perhaps he should have been. That honor went to New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who definitely deserved it, but few would have argued if Donald had been the choice for the third year in a row.
No, he didn't quite match his 2018 league-leading totals of 20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss, but he did have 12.5 and 20, respectively, and that latter total once again paced the NFL. And, according to Next Gen Stats, he was once again the most disruptive interior pass-rusher in football. His 14% pressure rate on pass-rush opportunities was the best among all interior linemen who got at least 300 rush opportunities. He also finished with 69 QB pressures, second only to Green Bay edge rusher Za'Darius Smith in the league rankings.
Donald is a powerful presence on the inside but he really terrorizes opposing blockers with his speed. Next Gen clocked him with an average of just 0.88 seconds to cross the line of scrimmage after the snap last year. That tied for the quickest "get off" on pass rushes among all interior linemen.
View photos of tight end Rob Gronkowski in the new Buccaneers uniforms.
Week 12: vs. Kansas City
What You Need to Know: Patrick Mahomes is particularly dangerous when he has Tyreek Hill in the slot
The entire NFL world is looking forward to November 29, when the Chiefs come to Raymond James Stadium and the G.O.A.T squares off against the most exciting young player in the game. Mahomes has famously already won a league MVP and Super Bowl MVP award in just three seasons (and just two as a starter) and he's surrounded by a dangerous group of offensive weapons at every position.
One of those weapons is the speedy and shifty Tyreek Hill, who had 58 catches for 860 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. Hill is a nightmare for opposing defenses with the ball in his hands and a little room to run, and the Chiefs try to create some of those opportunities by putting him in the slot on a high number of snaps.
Of Hill's 58 catches, 42% of them came when he was lined up in the slot, and he averaged 14.26 yards per reception on those plays. And Mahomes is sure to make use of whoever is lined up in the slot for his team; last year, he averaged 10.5 yards per pass attempt (as opposed to reception) when targeting receivers aligned in the slot, according to Next Gen Stats. That's an eye-opening number given that Mahomes' overall yards per pass attempt in 2019 was a (still superb) 8.6.
Though Mahomes is capable of just about any possible throw, Hill and his fellow Chiefs pass-catchers help him out quite a bit too with their route-running. Kansas City receivers averaged 3.2 yards of separation on their targets in 2019, the second highest in the NFL behind the Rams' pass-catchers.
Chiefs receivers averaged 3.2 yards of separation on targets in 2019 (2nd in the NFL, Rams)