For most NFL teams, in most in-season weeks, Tuesday is the player's day off. It's a chance to rest, regroup and – win or lose the previous weekend – turn the page to the next opponent.
It's also a perfect time for us to discuss the hottest topics surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for that reason, the One Buc Mailbag is back! Every Tuesday, I'll be fielding a handful of questions from the fans, but you can send them in all throughout the week. The easiest way is to hit me up on Twitter (@ScottSBucs, using #BucsMailbag), but if 140 characters aren't quite enough to get your point across, you can also send an email to email@example.com.
This week, we look at the difference between the Bucs' numbers before and after the bye week, then consider next year's draft and the potential of a backfield with both Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers. Let's get to it.
VOTE NOW: 2017 Pro Bowl
1. Total Turnaround
Here's a softball for you: The Buccaneers have looked like two different teams this season, with the bye week appearing to be the key turning point. Just how drastically different have the stats been between the first five games and the last six? Usual on-the-surface numbers and some deeper dives, please!- Andy (via email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Full disclosure: This email actually comes from someone I know, and yes, he's obviously tossing me a softball here. Like a five-foot-arc, outside-half-of-the-plate meatball. But, hey, the numbers are nice to look at and I think it's something we would all enjoy. So let's not look a gift-pitcher in the mouth.
The Bucs' resurgence actually began the week before the bye, with a rousing Monday Night Football win at Carolina. Tampa Bay had gotten off to a 1-3 start but is 5-2 since to get to 6-5 and in a playoff-relevant position as the calendar flips to December. But the bye week does make for a nice point of separation, and that's what Andy asked for, so we'll stick to that.
First, let's start with a simple table showing some of the Bucs' key stats before and after the bye, along with where those numbers ranked among the league's 32 teams in each time span. (I struggled with whether or not to include Week Six, when the Bucs had their bye, in either half of these numbers. In a way it seems like whatever happened in that week across the NFL should be part of these before-and-after rankings for the Buccaneers, but it's not clear which side I should put them on, so I left them out.)
Net Passing Yards/Game
Field Goal Pct.
Net Punting Avg.
Net Yards Allowed/Game
Opp. Third Down Pct.
Net Passing Yards Allowed/Game
Opp. Completion Pct.
Opp. Interception Pct.
Opp. Passer Rating
Opp. Sacked/Pass Play
Rushing Yards Allowed/Game
So, what stands out there. Obviously, going from 28th to tied for second in turnover ratio makes an enormous difference. And if you happened to split this one after Week Four, the Bucs would go from dead last to absolute first. One cannot overstate how important – and how unusual – such a complete turnaround in that category is. As I pointed out in a Football Geekery column two weeks ago, the Buccaneers had never before climbed out of a negative-9 turnover ratio hole to get back to even in the midst of a season. Since then, they've even improved that to plus-2.
The passer rating numbers really jump out at me, too. In today's pass-happy NFL, a passer rating of 75.9 is mediocre and the league's best quarterbacks routinely cross over into triple digits. Jameis Winston (and a small dose of Mike Glennon in the Atlanta game) has been one of the league's best quarterbacks since the bye week and, like a good turnover ratio, it's hard to win consistently in the NFL if you don't have that.
The Buccaneers' offense was already doing decently well on third downs before the bye but has been phenomenal since, succeeding nearly half the time. And on defense, the Bucs have put far more pressure on opposing passers as many of their injured defensive linemen have made it back to the field.
It's interesting to note that the team's field goal percentage has improved drastically, from 50.0% to 81.8%, but even that latter number is only good for 19th in the league. That's how good kicking is across the board in the NFL.
A couple things have not improved as drastically since the bye, but there's even hope in those numbers. The Bucs anticipated having one of the league's strongest rushing games this year, but a string of injuries has made that difficult. The Bucs' rushing yards per game average is significantly better since the bye, but most of that was due to a very good three-game stretch by fill-in Jacquizz Rodgers. Lead back Doug Martin has been back for the last three games and is running very well but the overall rushing numbers haven't yet taken off. And on defense the Bucs have actually had quite a bit tougher time stopping the run since the bye.
Also, the Bucs have actually allowed more yards per game since the bye week, but that number is wildly skewed (though justifiably so) by the losses to Oakland and Atlanta during a bad five-day stretch. For the most part, Tampa Bay's defense has been vastly improved over the last seven games.
Most of what's in the table above is what Andy would call "surface" numbers. As requested, we can dive a little deeper to find a few other key areas of improvement in the Bucs' post-bye world. For instance, not only has Tampa Bay been far better in the turnover department on both sides of the ball in the second half, but that has clearly manifested itself in a swing in points scored and allowed (approximately one more touchdown scored and one fewer allowed per outing).
A behind-the-scenes look at the Buccaneers' game against the Seahawks.
During the first five weeks, the Bucs turned six turnovers into just 16 points; over the last seven weeks, 14 takeaways have turned into 48 points. On the other side, the Bucs saw 11 giveaways turn into a whopping 51 points during their first five games. Since the bye, seven turnovers have resulted in just 13 points. That's about as stark of a difference as you can imagine.
Also, despite what it may have felt like while viewing the Atlanta and Oakland games, the Buccaneers' defense has gotten a lot better at getting off the field on the third-down plays you expect to stop. Before the bye, Tampa Bay was allowing a conversion rate of 35.7% on third downs of 7-10 yards and 20.0% on all third downs of seven or more yards. Since returning to action, those rates have dropped to 28.0% and 12.5%, respectively.
I could go on but, frankly, I think the picture is already pretty clear. The Buccaneers have indeed been a far better team since their bye week, and if they can continue playing like they have during their current three-game winning streak, the franchise's playoff drought may soon be over.
2. Looking Ahead to the Draft
— Junior (@gonzito2222) November 28, 2016
I was a little torn about including this one in the mailbag. I feel like draft talk is something you engage in at this part of the season only when your team is out of the playoff hunt. Come on, this is exciting! Let's focus on the here and now.
On the other hand, draft analysis pretty much a year-round thing now. I'm always amused at the mock drafts that come out just days after the NFL finishes the real thing. Those analysts invariably know far more about college football than I do, but they really can't hope to hit on many of their predictions before the college and NFL seasons are actually played.
You want to know what the Bucs' draft needs are, Junior? Number one: They need to be picking somewhere between 21 and 32 in the order. That would mean they made the playoffs. Pick #32 would be especially nice, but I don't want to get greedy.
As for positional needs, the first thing that comes to mind for me is wide receiver. This is probably where I should add that all of this draft analysis is my own opinion and is not intended to reflect the opinions of Jason Licht, Dirk Koetter or any of the other Buccaneers' player personnel decision-makers.
I know the Buccaneers used a first-round pick on a wide receiver just three years ago (and that has worked out pretty well, huh?) but we're not necessarily talking about another first-rounder here. It would be nice to begin grooming a complement to Mike Evans, particularly if Vincent Jackson is not back in 2016. Through the scientific method of "googling it a little bit" I've just determined that this year's receiver class is considered fairly deep for the first three rounds, if not all that top-heavy. That could work in the Bucs' favor if they go after another playmaker for Jameis Winston.
The Bucs' starting safety tandem of Chris Conte and Bradley McDougald have come up with a string of big plays in recent games, so that not immediately jump out at you as an area of need. However, both Conte and McDougald are playing on one-year contracts, so it's reasonable to at least wonder if they will be back in 2017. If they depart, that's another position that can be addressed well without necessarily using a first-round pick.
The Buccaneers are getting great production out of Cameron Brate and he figures to be part of the team's plans for years. Still, the roster is lacking that do-everything tight end who excels at blocking and pass-catching. Of course, that's largely because that type of player is quite difficult to find.
The Bucs made some nice additions at defensive end this past year by signing Robert Ayers and drafting Noah Spence. In addition, they hope to get Jacquies Smith back next year after he lost almost all of this season to a knee injury. However, both William Gholston and Akeem Spence can hit free agency this coming spring if they choose, so by draft weekend the Bucs may be looking for some more depth on the line.
And, finally, I will fall back on one of my most common roster opinions: You can never have enough good cornerbacks. Free agent Brent Grimes has played well and Alterraun Verner has recently proved the value of corner depth, but it wouldn't hurt to pair 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves with another young talent and make that a position of strength for years to come.
3. Bustling BackfieldHey Scott,When is Quizz Rodgers going to be back? I thought the running game was actually doing better when he was in there. I'm glad that Doug's back but I think Quizz could still help a lot. What do you think?Thanks- Keith (via email email@example.com)Well, statistically speaking, you may be right. In the three games that Jacquizz Rodgers started before he hurt his foot – at Carolina and San Francisco and against Oakland – the Buccaneers' rushing attack averaged 154.7 yards per game and 4.34 yards per carry. In the other games this season, the Bucs have averaged 89.3 yards per outing and 3.32 yards per carry. Of course, Doug Martin only played in four of those games, plus a bit of the first quarter of a fifth before getting hurt in Week Two at Arizona.*Martin returned three games ago and, in my opinion, has looked terrific. The Bucs have averaged 104.7 rushing yards per game, albeit with an average of just 3.14 yards per tote. I'll admit that those numbers are not fantastic, but I think they would have been significantly worse if Martin had still been unavailable. As Head Coach Dirk Koetter pointed out the other day, Martin has done an excellent job of gaining yards after contact and turning potential losses into five or six yard gains. That type of value may not be obvious in a quick reading of his game-by-game stat line, but it shows up indirectly in areas such as third-down conversions thanks to a higher number of short-yardage attempts. READ: Bucs-Saints Game Flexed to 4:25pm*
What we haven't yet seen is Rodgers and Martin together in a Dirk Koetter game plan. Rodgers was signed in the week leading up to the aforementioned Arizona game and was not really expected to do much in his first game with the team. After Martin went down early in that contest, however, Rodgers logged a pair of carries later in the game. He got his chance to be the lead back after Charles Sims landed on injured reserve in Week Five. After his three-game hot streak, Rodgers suffered his own foot injury and has since missed four games. When he returns, it will be our first opportunity to see how he and Martin can impact a game together. (And, don't forget, Sims could also return as soon as Week 14.)* *Oh, and it was the "when" you were asking about, wasn't it? I've learned through the years not to speculate too much about players' injuries, largely because I tend to get it wrong too often. So I won't make any specific predictions, but I will point out that Rodgers finally returned to practice last week, albeit in a limited fashion. Let's wait and see how the week's first practice goes on Wednesday; if Rodgers is full-go for that workout, that would be a good sign that he's getting close to returning.