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Football Geekery (Week of Nov. 26)

Posted Nov 30, 2012

This week's studies include a look at how yards per pass attempt has correlated with playoff berths, third-down breakdowns and some impressive opening-drive numbers


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.

 

**

 

1. Passing to the Playoffs

 

One of the most exciting developments of the Buccaneers' 2012 season has been the emergence of a big-play passing game unlike any before it in team history.  With Josh Freeman frequently hooking up on downfield completions with Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood, the Buccaneers have an average of 7.97 yards per pass attempt.  If they can maintain anything close to that level through the end of the year, it will be a new team record, and by a long shot.  The previous mark was 7.54 way back in 1981, and the team  hasn't been over 7.25 in a season since 2004.

 

That level of passing proficiency might also carry the Buccaneers to the playoffs.  The team's yards per pass attempt number through 11 weeks ranks fourth in the NFL, just a hair ahead of their upcoming opponent, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (7.95).  Over the last decade, that has been a very good harbinger for postseason play in the NFL.

 

In fact, in each of the last 10 years, at least three of the top five teams in yards per pass attempt at the end of the season made it to the playoffs.  Overall, 39 of the 50 teams to be in the top five over the last 10 years (2002-11) were invited to the dance.  Last year, all five teams were playoff bound, including the two Super Bowl opponents, New England and the New York Giants.  Both of the 2010 Super Bowl teams – Green Bay and Pittsburgh – were top five in yards per pass attempt that season, too.  In seven of those 10 years, at least four of the five teams made the playoffs, and eight of the last 14 teams that have played in the Super Bowl finished that season in the top five.

 

Here's how it breaks down from year to year:

 

Top five yards-per-pass-attempt teams that made it to the…

 

Season

…Playoffs

…Super Bowl

2011

5

2

2010

3

2

2009

4

1

2008

3

0

2007

5

1

2006

4

1

2005

4

1

2004

4

0

2003

4

0

2002

3

1

 

 

**

 

2. Third Down Trends

 

On Monday, the Captain's Blog touched on Tampa Bay's recent struggles in third-down defense, and Head Coach Greg Schiano's thoughts on the matter.  Specifically, the Bucs allowed San Diego, Carolina and Atlanta to convert a combined 60% of their third downs (27 of 45), although two of those games were still Buccaneer victories.

 

There are some other interesting trends within those numbers, however, and some others regarding the Bucs' third-down offense.  Let's take a look.

 

First, the defense has been having its most significant troubles in the first halves of their games, which falls in line with the Bucs' overall trend in 2012 of quick improvements after halftime.  The Chargers, Panthers and Falcons converted a combined 66.7% of their third-down tries before halftime (16 of 24).

 

The biggest change for the Buccaneers' defense in recent weeks has been its defense against the run.  Through the first eight games of the season, Tampa Bay allowed only 29.4% of third downs (five of 17) to be converted on plays where the opposing team ran the ball.  That is actually a rather impressive figure, given that the majority of third-down running plays are called when the offense only needs a couple yards.  For comparison's sake, opponents converted third downs on running plays 36.2% of the time last year and 47.7% of the time in 2010.  However, over the last three weeks, Tampa Bay's opponents have converted 66.7% of their run-play third downs (six of nine).  Given how strong the Buccaneers' run defense has been throughout 2012, even during most of the last three weeks, that trend is not likely to continue.

 

On offense, one can again see evidence of the Bucs' "halftime adjustments" lately.  Over the last five weeks, Tampa Bay has converted 47.2% of its third downs after halftime; that contrasts with a 25.0% rate over the season's first six games.  There has been no real change in the team's third-down work before halftime in those two time periods – it was 33.3% for the first six games and 34.4% for the last five.

 

**

 

3. Good Starts

 

After being outscored 126-34 in the first quarters of their games and 86-65 in the third quarters during the 2011 season, the 2012 Buccaneers knew they had to find a way to get quicker starts in each half.  Yes, the 2011 season was a struggle in many ways, but even during a 10-6 campaign in 2010 the Buccaneers were outscored 73-43 in the first quarter.

 

Not only has Tampa Bay improved dramatically in that regard in 2012, it has actually become of the fastest-starting teams in the entire NFL.  The proof lies in each team's scoring totals on their first drives of the game and of the second half.

 

Here are the top 10 teams in the NFL in terms of scoring on their first drive of the game in 2012 (through the first 11 weeks; not counting the Thursday night New Orleans-Atlanta game):

 

Team

TDs

FGs

Points

1. Tampa Bay

5

1

38

2t. Atlanta

5

1

37

2t. St. Louis

4

3

37

4. Indianapolis

4

1

31

5. Pittsburgh

3

3

30

6. Seattle

2

5

29

7t. Cincinnati

4

0

28

7t. San Diego

4

0

28

9. Minnesota

3

2

27

10. Arizona

2

4

26

 

And here are the top 10 teams (12 actually, thanks to a tie) in the NFL in terms of scoring on their first drive of the second half:

 

Team

TDs

FGs

Points

1. San Francisco

6

2

48

2. Philadelphia

4

5

43

3t. Baltimore

4

2

34

3t. New England

4

2

34

3t. N.Y. Giants

4

2

34

6. Pittsburgh

3

3

30

7t. Denver

4

0

28

7t. Tennessee

4

0

28

9. Tampa Bay

3

2

27

10t. Atlanta

3

1

24

10t. Carolina

3

1

24

10t. Washington

3

1

24

 

As you can see, only Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Pittsburgh appear on both lists.  If you average the team ranks between the two charts, the Bucs' come in at 5.0 while Pittsburgh is 5.5 and Atlanta is 6.0.