Pictures from the Bucs' practice on Wednesday, September 16th at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa.
Statistics can help illuminate the game of football…or they can take us down a misleading path. As Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith said: "I believe in stats, but it's [which] stats."
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Smith, for instance, doesn't pay much attention to the NFL's defensive rankings, since they are based on yards, which he considers a meaningless measure. When he shares defensive stats with his team, he focuses on points allowed, takeaways, scoring on defense and red zone proficiency.
Here on Buccaneers.com, we unabashedly love stats, but we also understand the need to wield them wisely. Sometimes, we can get a better feel for why the team is performing as it is by going a little deeper into the numbers. Other times, we simply want to point out a few numbers we consider interesting, and hope you will find it interesting as well.
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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 look at what Austin Seferian-Jenkins' big performance in Week One might portend for the rest of the future. We also look into the Bucs' history of bouncing back from lopsided losses, and lately it's actually pretty encouraging. Let's get started.
1. ASJ Headed for Big Things?
Buccaneer coaches believed that tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was on the verge of a sophomore-season breakout after his injury-plagued rookie campaign. Seferian-Jenkins seemed to validate that belief in last Sunday's opener when he caught five passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course, unless he turns into Calvin Johnson overnight, Seferian-Jenkins is not going to record 110 receiving yards every game. A 100-yard game on opening day doesn't guarantee a 1,000-yard season or even a 500-yard season. Still, the Buccaneers expect big things from their 2014 second-round pick and would thus like to believe that his game against Tennessee was an accurate harbinger of things to come.
So that's the question: How predictive is a 100-yard receiving game in Week One of a big season to come? In terms of Buccaneer history, we unfortunately don't have a very big sample size, as ASJ was just the fifth player in team history to open a season that way. Here are the other four, presented in chronological order, earliest to most recent:
TE Jimmie Giles
WR Bruce Hill
WR Horace Copeland
WR Vincent Jackson
That last column is "games played," which I included because it can help point out aberrations such as missed time due to injuries or, in Giles's case above, a players' strike that nearly cut the season in half. Those four players combined to average 842 yards in their seasons that they opened with a 100-yard game, and that would certainly be an encouraging total for Seferian-Jenkins. Keep in mind that the Buccaneers' single-season record for yards by a tight end is 884, set by Kellen Winslow in 2009. Those players averaged a little over 61 receiving yards per game, however, which comes to about 980 when extrapolated to a 16-game season.
Again, however, we don't have a lot to work with here. If we expand this out to include all the teams in the NFL we can add a lot more data. In fact, 100-yard receiving games on opening weekend are common enough that we have to narrow down our search a little bit in order not to spend all week crunching numbers. So let's just do the 10 seasons, from 2005-14. Across that decade, there were 110 instances of a player gaining 100 or more receiving yards on opening day, including our own Vincent Jackson in 2013.
A 110-line chart would be a bit unwieldy here, so let's just present the averages those lines create:
Game 1 Yards
YPG After Week 1
So, those 110 players averaged 123.5 yards in their first game and then just missed hitting the 1,000-yard mark as a collective. Again, looking at the number of games played by each player can help us understand when injuries played a factor, though on average these players made it through almost the whole season. That total also allows us to take into account that not all 100-yard games are created equal. After all, if you get 208 yards on opening day, like Anquan Boldin did in 2013, you're already a good deal closer to that 1,000-yard mark than Devery Henderson was when he got exactly 100 on opening day in 2011.
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If we take the players' average marks in season yards and subtract their average from game one, we have the average amount that they got the rest of the way. We can then divide that by the average number of games they played to get a per-game total. As you can see above, that number is 58.2.
So, if Austin Seferian-Jenkins were to match that average for the next 15 games, he would finish the season with 983 yards, within striking distance of becoming the first 1,000-yard tight end in franchise history.
In case you were wondering, yes, there are some other tight ends on this list of 110. There are nine in fact: Jared Cook, Chris Baker, Jason Witten, Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron, Fred Davis, Bo Scaife, Aaron Hernandez and Heath Miller. Witten and Thomas are on the list twice each, so that's 11 examples to work with. Those 11 seasons produced these averages:
Game 1 Yards
YPG After Week 1
So the tight ends have been quite as productive as the rest of the list, which is mostly receivers with a couple of running backs sprinkled in. If Seferian-Jenkins were to match that per-game average for 15 more games, he'd finish the 2015 campaign with 754 yards. That would certainly be a nice season, but the Buccaneers will hope that ASJ ends up more like Witten's 942-yard campaign in 2011 and less like Miller and his 393 yards in 16 games played in 2006.
One other note: Seferian-Jenkins was 16 days shy of his 23rd birthday when he recorded his first 100-yard game on Sunday. That's younger than all but seven men on the above list of 110 players. If you take the 10 youngest players on the list and put them into the same chart as the ones above, you get this:
Game 1 Yards
YPG After Week 1
Those younger players were surprisingly a little more likely to miss games (due mostly to Kenny Britt missing 13 games in 2011 and Randall Cobb 10 in 2013, and the more significant damage those outliers due to a shorter list). If Seferian-Jenkins can match the per-game output of that group for the remaining 15 games, he would finish with 952 receiving yards.
The Buccaneers lost their 2015 season opener by a surprising 28-point margin, falling 42-14 to the visiting Tennessee Titans. In the days that followed, Lovie Smith and his players admitted their disappointment and acknowledged their poor performance but also insisted that the game would not define their season.
The Bucs also understand that they must prove that this is true on the football field. Still, as painful as a blowout loss is at the time, and for a few days after, it does not in the end count as any more than one defeat. Smith's team has good reason to believe that a lopsided loss is not even a harbinger of what's to come the very next week, as it followed a 56-14 loss at Atlanta last year with a 27-14 win in Pittsburgh.
In fact, winning the very next week after losing by a large margin is not at all uncommon for the Buccaneers. They've done it eight times in the last decade alone. It's arbitrary, but if one defines a blowout loss as a game in which the margin of defeat is three touchdowns (21 points), then the Buccaneers have had 18 rebound opportunities since 2005 (not counting this week). One of those was the last game of the season and thus is not relevant to this discussion. In the other 17, the Bucs are 8-9. Only one of those 17 chances was followed by another loss of three touchdowns or more. Three of the losses were by six points or less.
In the Bucs' entire 39-season history prior to 2015, the team has been on the receiving end of 76 such defeats. Two were the last game of the season. After the other 74, the Buccaneers won 25 times, lost 48 and tied once. That .344 winning percentage is certainly not attractive, but it is not that far off the team's overall winning percentage of .384.
Both of those numbers are hurt considerably by the tough times for the franchise in its first few expansion years, and a lengthy lull from the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s. The 1976 expansion team, for instance, had seven opportunities to rebound from a blow loss and lost them all. During a stretch in the '80s that began with a terrible 1985 campaign, the Bucs were 2-15 in such opportunities.
Again, things have been better in recent decades. If one begins with the 1995 season, which was the first campaign after Malcolm Glazer purchased the franchise, the team is actually 14-13 in games played after blowout losses. A winning record! (There were two other games in that stretch that were the last of the season, and they were not included.)
The Buccaneers will have to prove that they're right on the field Sunday in New Orleans, but history suggests that there is no reason to believe that another blowout loss is on the horizon…or even a loss at all.