The NFL's Next Gen Stats add an appealing level of insight to the performances of NFL players and teams, often lending more credence to the idea that a certain player is doing well.
For instance, one can surmise that Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean had a promising rookie season based on the fact that he tied for fourth in the NFL with 17 passes defensed despite playing roughly half of the team's games on defense. Next Gen Stats help us put that performance into perspective. Through Week 16 of the season, Dean had defended the pass on 43% of the targets on which he was the nearest defender. That was the highest rate in the NFL among defenders with at least 15 targets.
This week, we're using those Next Gen Stats to look at not the Buccaneers but their upcoming opponents in 2020. You can check out Monday's intro for more information on the series plus our look at the first three teams on the schedule. On Tuesday, we shared some Next Gen insights on Games 4-6. Now we move on to the next stretch on the Bucs' 2020 slate.
View pictures of QB Tom Brady in the new Buccaneers uniforms.
Week Seven: at Las Vegas
What You Need to Know: Derek Carr doesn't get pressured a lot, but he handles it well when it happens
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had the best season of his six-year NFL career in 2019, one that was slightly better than any of his three Pro Bowl campaigns (2014, 2016, 2017) in most statistical categories. Carr set career highs in completion percentage (70.4%), passing yards (4,054) and passer rating (100.8) and also averaged more yards per completion and per attempt than ever before.
What Next Gen adds to those surface stats is the insight that Carr was just as good, if not a little better, when he was operating under pressure. Carr, Drew Brees and Ryan Tannehill were the only three quarterbacks in the NFL in 2019 who had a passer rating over 100 both when under pressure and when not under pressure. In Carr's case, his rating was a little higher with pressure (103.7) than without (100.3).
The things is, Oakland's offensive line did a very nice job of making sure Carr didn't have to operate under pressure last year. He felt the heat on just 19% of his dropbacks, which was the fourth-lowest among NFL quarterbacks in 2019. Carr repaid his line's good work by shining on the few occasions where he did have to hurry. His aforementioned passer rating under pressure of 103.7 was the third-best in the NFL. And while his completion percentage did come down just a bit under pressure, his rate of 66.7% was still the best in the entire league.
Week Eight: at N.Y. Giants
What You Need to Know: Beware Saquon Barkley lined up with Daniel Jones in the shotgun, in part due to Barkley's sudden burst
The Buccaneers had the best run defense in the NFL in 2019, and allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (73.8) in a season in franchise history. Along the way, they did a better job than most defenses at shutting down such elite backs as the Panthers' Christian McCaffrey, the Saints' Alvin Kamara and the Giants' Saquon Barkley.
That last one comes with a bit of an asterisk, though, because Barkley suffered a high ankle sprain before halftime and missed the rest of that Week Three contest plus several more. He finished with just 10 rushing yards on eight carries.
The Buccaneers have almost all of their 2019 defensive personnel back for 2020 and thus have reason to believe they will be very good against the run again. But this time they'll have to face Barkley on his home field and he will likely be motivated to win his second battle with the Buccaneers' defense. What the Bucs have to look out for in particular is when quarterback Daniel Jones lines up in the shotgun and Barkley joins him in the backfield.
According to Next Gen Stats, Barkley averaged a robust 5.6 yards per carry on handoffs out of the shotgun. That was the highest average in that situation for any back in the NFL. Barkley also excelled at running up the middle, averaging an NFL-best 5.1 yards on such carries, the best in the league (minimum of 75 opportunities).
Barkley's ability to get from deep in the backfield to well beyond the line of scrimmage probably has much to do with his incredible burst and top-end speed. According to Next Gen, the Giants back got up to 20 miles per hour or more on five different carries during the 2019 season. Only one running back did it more often.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 53-man roster.
Week Nine: vs. New Orleans
What You Need to Know: It will take a lot of game tape study for the Bucs to be ready for everything the Saints' offense may throw at them
When we first looked at the Saints for the Week One game in New Orleans, we focused on tight end Jared Cook, who became one of the team's biggest threats around the end zone in his first year with Drew Brees. The Saints liked to use Cook in the way they used to utilize Jimmy Graham to great effect, frequently detaching him from the line and putting him in the slot. Well, that's just one thing the Buccaneers have to get ready for when facing the Saints this season.
There's a lot more. According to Next Gen Stats, the Saints used 27 unique offensive groupings in 2019, which was by far the most in the NFL. No other team even used 20 unique groupings, with Miami and New England coming the closest at 19. Interestingly, in a league that is increasingly turning to "11" personnel as its base – that's one back, one tight end and three receivers – the Saints went in the other direction in 2019. They only used 11 personnel on 44% of their snaps, which was the fifth-lowest in the league. By contrast, the league average is 58%.
One of the things that allows the Saints to have more variety in their offensive packages is that they're one of the few teams that will use two different players labeled as "quarterbacks," sometimes on the same play. That's the Taysom Hill effect. While Hill is listed as quarterback, he's a threat on any play to throw, run or catch the ball, or simply serve as a decoy. Despite his designated position he operated as a slot receiver, a slot tight end, an outside receiver, a running back and a quarterback.
Hill was the only player in the NFL to take at least 30 snaps at slot receiver (66), tight end (75), outside receiver (37) and quarterback (36). He had 19 snaps at running back.