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Football Geekery (Week of Dec. 17)

Posted Dec 21, 2012

This week's studies include a new way to determine how good this year's run defense is, the Bucs' ranking in "quick-strike" points, and more


Coaches don't always care for stats…but we love them!  Each week, we're going to give you a closer look at three or four pieces of statistical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Buccaneers' current state of affairs.

 

Let's get started.

 

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1. Still Nowhere to Run

 

It's not going terribly deep into the stats to point out that the Buccaneers' run defense remains in the top spot of the league's rankings.  Still, while midseason projections are unreliable, the 2012 campaign is now just two weeks from its conclusion and the Bucs have a very good chance to hold on to that number-one ranking.

 

Through 14 games, Tampa Bay has allowed 83.3 rushing yards per game.  Next on the list is San Francisco, the defending NFL champion in this category, at 91.1.  Rounding out the top five are Pittsburgh (92.7), Houston (93.2) and Washington (95.9).  If the Buccaneers can stay at number one, it will mark the first time in team history they have led the league in that particular statistical category.  Tampa Bay had the NFL's top-ranked defense overall in 1979, 2002 and 2005, but in all those cases they were particularly strong against the pass.  The best the Bucs have ever finished on the league's run defense chart was second, in 1988, strangely enough.

 

That 1988 defense allowed 96.9 rushing yards per game.  The fewest yards per game the Buccaneers have ever allowed on the ground in a season is 87.9, in 1999, but that ranked only fifth that season.  Part of the reason for that lower ranking despite a better raw number is probably obvious to most NFL fans – the game has become more pass-heavy over the decades.

 

Thus, the best way to gauge the effectiveness of various Buccaneer defenses is to compare them to other teams in the same year, or, more accurately, the league as a whole in each season.  In other words, how does the Buccaneers' mark of 83.3 rushing yards allowed per game this season, compared to the league average of 115.9, stack up against the relative-to-the-league marks of such vaunted Tampa Bay defenses as the '79, '99 and '02 crews?

 

As it turns out, compared to the rest of the league, the Bucs' 2012 rush defense is the best in team history, and by a wide margin.  It's unlikely that the Rams and/or Falcons will rush for enough yards to push the current defense even one spot down.

 

In the chart below, the Bucs' average rushing yards allowed per game is listed next to the NFL per-game average in that same season.  The "difference" measures the number of yards per game better that the Bucs' defense is than the NFL average, and the "percentage" displays what percentage of improvement that is compared to the NFL average.  The teams are ranked based on those percentages.  The 2012 and 1988 teams are the only ones in team history to do at least 20% better than the league average.

 

Year

Bucs

NFL

Diff.

Pct.

2012

83.3

116.1

32.8

28.3%

1988

96.9

121.4

24.5

20.2%

1999

87.9

106.5

18.6

17.4%

2002

97.1

116.2

19.1

16.4%

2005

94.7

112.5

17.8

15.8%

1979

117.1

135.6

18.5

13.7%

1998

98.9

112.7

13.8

12.2%

1997

101.1

113.1

12.0

10.6%

1978

128.1

141.9

13.8

9.8%

2000

103.0

112.6

9.6

8.5%

 

In case you were wondering, last year's 32nd-ranked rush defense was not the worst in team history, though it was close.  The 2011 squad was 33.2% worse than the league average, but the 2009 defense was 35.6% worse and the 1986 team was 39.4% worse.

 

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2. Not Hurting Themselves

 

We have pointed out several times this season that the Buccaneers' offensive line was in the midst of an impressive streak, not allowing more than two sacks of QB Josh Freeman in any game this season.  That streak is still alive and is already the longest such run in a single season in franchise history.  The Bucs did have a run of 17 games allowing two or fewer sacks that stretched from 1980 into 1981, but even that mark is not out of reach.

 

In addition to reducing the possibilities for turnovers (Freeman has lost just two fumbles all season, and only one was on a sack-fumble), that sack avoidance has helped Bucs' offense face a fewer number of long down-and-distance situations.  Overall this season, Tampa Bay's offense has lost just 138 yards on sacks, all of them on Freeman takedowns.  Of all the quarterbacks who have thrown at least 300 passes this season (in other words, mostly full-season starters), Freeman has lost the fourth fewest yards on sacks, and he's only four yards from the second spot.  If one ups the minimum number of throws to 400, thus eliminating Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, who has missed three games, Freeman moves up to third.

 

Here are the top five quarterbacks in the league in that category:

 

Player, Team

Games

Atts.

Sack Yards Lost

1. Eli Manning, NYG

14

487

94

2. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT

11

398

134

3. Peyton Manning, DEN

14

511

137

4. Josh Freeman, TB

14

469

138

5. Ryan Fitzpatrick, BUF

14

444

148

 

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3. Quick-Strike Potential

 

Though the Buccaneers' offense has been less productive in recent weeks, it will still finish the season as one of the most explosive – if not the most explosive – in team history.  The 2012 Bucs remain one of the best teams in the NFL in scoring quickly on offense, even with the recent downturn.

 

Obviously, that has a lot to do with big passing plays, a category in which the Buccaneers have excelled all season.  That has led to some drives that were long in terms of yards but short in terms of the plays needed to score.  In fact, only two teams in the NFL have had more "quick-strike" drives than the Buccaneers this year.

 

Statspass defines quick-strike drives as offensive possessions in which the team needs fewer than four plays to score.  This does not include defensive or special teams touchdowns.  Here are the top 11 teams (there's a four-way tie for eighth) in the NFL in producing points on drives of fewer than four plays:

 

Team

Poss.

QS TDs

QS Scores

QS Pts.

1. San Francisco

157

10

10

70

2. Washington

162

9

11

69

3t. Cincinnati

170

8

9

59

3t. Tampa Bay

168

8

9

59

5. Seattle

150

8

8

55

6. Houston

180

7

8

51

7. Tennessee

164

7

7

50

8t. Arizona

182

7

7

49

8t. Atlanta

153

7

7

49

8t. Cleveland

170

7

7

49

8t. New England

164

7

7

49

 

("Poss." refers to total offensive possessions; "QS TDs" to touchdowns on quick-strike drives; "QS Scores" to all scores on quick-strike drives; and "QS Pts." to total points scored on such drives.)

 

Obviously, there are a couple field goals on the list, which highlights another aspect of game play that can produce scoring drives with a small number of plays: Turnovers.  You're not going to see many teams produce a field goal on a long drive of fewer than four plays, for obvious reasons.

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