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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Point-Counterpoint: Top Statistical Goal for 2024

Which statistical benchmark would likely lead to even more success in 2024 if the Bucs reached it? Scott Smith and Brianna Dix make a pair of suggestions regarding third down defense and first down rushing


You've heard it many times before: There is only one statistic in football that really matters, and it's the number in the column headed by a 'W.' The more the better.

There are of course, many different things that contribute to a team piling up wins, and most (if not necessarily all) of them can be measured in some sort of statistical form. Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers collected enough wins to capture the NFC South crown and advance to the second round of the playoffs. Some of the reasons for that success were Baker Mayfield's 4,000 passing yards and 28 touchdowns, a plus-8 turnover ratio and the league's third-best red zone defense.

The Buccaneers didn't go as far as they wanted, however, as the ultimate goal is to log the very last mark of the NFL season in that aforementioned 'W' column. Some of the reasons for that was an inadequate rushing attack, a 29th-ranked pass defense and a red zone offense that was at the opposite end of the rankings from the defense.

The Buccaneers have the same ultimate goal for 2024, hoping to get the final win of the season and a third championship. To get there, they will need to hang onto their strengths from 2023 and turn some of their negatives into positives. That's the crux of our discussion today as Team Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix and I continue our annual Point-Counterpoint tradition during the week of the Fourth of July holiday. This one is simple: When the regular season has ended, what statistical goal would you like to see achieved by the team, in the service of wining more games?

Here is the full schedule for this week's Point-Counterpoint series:

Thursday, July 4: What specific statistical goal would you like to see the Bucs achieve in 2024?

Friday, July 5: Which Buccaneer will have the most surprising statistical accomplishment in 2024?

And no, neither of us can answer "20 wins." That would be too easy. We're going just a little deeper into the stats, though neither of us is going to be dropping EPA or ADOT on you today. These are straightforward areas of improvement that we think would go a long way towards making the Bucs even better in 2024. Since we will not be allowed to duplicate answers, the order in which we choose is important, and today the ball is in my court.

Scott Smith: 35.7% Third Down Conversion Rate Allowed on Defense

The Buccaneers ranked 23rd in yards allowed in 2023, but that's not always the most useful of statistics. Tampa Bay allowed the seventh fewest points in the league, which is obviously far more important, and some of that had to do with the aforementioned stingy red zone defense, as well as a good number of takeaways and a remarkable ability to limit the damage after the offense turned the ball over.

That defense would have been even better had it been able to get off the field on third downs at a rate at which to had become accustomed under Todd Bowles. From 2019, when Bowles first arrived as the Bucs' defensive coordinator (he was promoted to head coach in 2022), through 2022, the defense allowed a third down conversion rate of 37.4%, the fifth best in the NFL over that span. The top 10 on that list is riddled with perennial playoff contenders, including the Ravens, Bills, 49ers, Steelers, Cowboys and Eagles. It seems evident that this is an important statistic.

Last year, Tampa Bay allowed a third down conversion rate of 40.9%, which ranked 23rd in the league. That's the worst third down rate the Bucs have allowed since 2017, and it was a precipitous drop from the 36.9% figure the team managed in 2022, which ranked sixth in the league. There's a reason several Buccaneer defenders specifically mentioned during offseason interviews that getting off the field on third down more frequently was a primary goal this year.

I specifically chose 35.7% as the target because that would have made the Bucs a top-five defense in that category in 2023. That's what Houston recorded last season to rank fifth, which helped the Texans improve from the 27th best scoring defense the year before to 11th in its first season under defensive guru DeMeco Ryans.

The frustrating part for the Bucs on third down last season was that they were actually pretty good at the most difficult ones, where only a few yards were needed. Tampa Bay ranked 13th in third down defense when the offense needed one to three yards, and were actually tied for second on third-and-one. However, they fell to a tie for 30th from four to six yards and 25th from seven or more yards, including tied for 29th from 10-plus.

Of course, some of that can simply be chalked up to the fact that Tampa Bay's run defense was a lot better than its pass defense. If we go one more level down on the statistics, a more robust pass rush would likely lead to better results in obvious passing situations on third-and-long. I suppose I could have made that my statistical goal – say, an increase from last year's 33.8% pressure rate to something in the 40% range – but I'll stick with 35.7% on third down as my specific statistical target.

Brianna Dix: 53% Run Success Rate on First Down

Since you focused on the defensive side of the ball, I am going to prioritize the offense. In 2023, the Buccaneers finished last in rushing with an average of 88.8 yards per game and ranked last with an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Additionally, the unit finished last in percentage of runs that were four-yards-or-more (38.5%), 29th in carries of 10-or-more yards (36) and last in the NFL in success rate on first down (37.7%).

While trying to build the run game last season with duo and inside zone concepts, the Bucs were able to get Rachaad White in space through screens and sweeps to supplement the ground attack. No. 1 concluded his 2023 campaign with 1,539 scrimmage yards and was 10 yards shy of surpassing the 1,000-yard rushing marker. He compiled 272 totes for 990 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and 3.6 yards per attempt. In 2024, a new offensive direction takes shape under Offensive Coordinator Liam Coen. Coen, a product of the Sean McVay coaching tree, will implement a system in Tampa Bay with similarities to the structure in L.A. that benefited Todd Gurley. The Rams created a system based out of 11 personnel (90% in 2018) with a heavy-dose of motion and pre-snap movement to disorient defenses.

In 2024, I look for the Bucs' run game to take significant strides with White and rookie Bucky Irving at the forefront. I could have made the yards-per-carry number increase, which would be another goal for the team to achieve, but being able to get positive yardage on first down runs would open up the playbook for Coen to unleash the full bag of tricks in the upcoming slate. Achieving balance would ignite the play-action game, along with bootlegs to keep defenses at bay.

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