Seven-Win Bump Still Promising, to a Certain Extent

During the summer of 2011, after the Buccaneers had surprised many in the NFL with a 10-6 campaign the previous fall, the “Answer Man” on Buccaneers.com did some research on teams that improved by at least seven wins from one year to the next.  He found 23 such teams, beginning with the 1962-63 San Diego Chargers of the AFL and ending with the 2009-10 Buccaneers, who had rebounded impressively from a 3-13 campaign in 2009.  Each team was tracked over a five-year period, with the low-win season being termed “Year -1,” the improved season “Year 0,” the next season after that improvement “Year 1,” and so on. (Rumor has it that the Answer Man is returning soon, by the way, if you happen to enjoy his work.)

The initial study was in response to a fan’s question regarding whether teams that made such a rapid improvement could make it stick in the years that followed.  In his first-ever video segment, the Answer Man discussed his findings, which indicated that teams tended to regress to about .500 in Year +1 but then once again rebound to stay above .500 the next two years.  The numbers in the chart could certainly be read either optimistically or not, and indeed ESPN.com’s NFC South blogger, Pat Yasinskas, picked up on the study and accurately noted that Year +1 had not been especially kind to many of those teams. Continue reading

Jackson Moving the Chains

One can express how fantastic Vincent Jackson’s first season as a Buccaneer has been in a variety of ways.  For instance, he leads the entire NFL in yards per catch at 20.4, a category no Tampa Bay player has ever paced the league in before.

Or this: Only two receivers in the entire NFC have more yards than Jackson’s 1,145 at this point – Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall.

Or this: There are only six players in the entire NFL with at least 1,000 receiving yards and at least eight touchdowns, and Jackson is one of them.

Or this: He’s on pace for 1,409 receiving yards, and with games left against the 16th and 30th-ranked pass defenses in the next three weeks, he could be putting Mark Carrier’s 23-year franchise record of 1,422 yards in jeopardy.

But here’s one that might not be so obviously but is clearly very important: Vincent Jackson moves the chains, and he does it as reliably as any player in the NFL.  Continue reading

Reversing the Third-Down Trend

Tampa Bay’s 24-23 loss to the Falcons on Sunday wasn’t final until Josh Freeman’s Hail Mary pass hit the end zone turf after careening through a thicket of red and white jerseys.  The Bucs were forced into a very low-percentage situation by that point, however, with the real final blow coming about a minute and a half earlier on the fourth-quarter game clock.

Immediately after the two-minute warning, the Falcons ran Jacquizz Rodgers to the left and he was stopped after a gain of one yard by Adam Hayward.  The Bucs used their first timeout with 1:55 left on the clock, with the Falcons facing a third-and-five at Tampa Bay’s 37.  At this point, a pass had a much better chance of converting the third down and allowing the visitors to drain most of the rest of the clock, but it also could be a big gift to the Buccaneers if it proved to be a clock-stopping incompletion. Continue reading

Yahoo! Sports: Bucs Injured Reserve List is NFL’s Priciest

On Tuesday, seventh-year G Davin Joseph will once again serve as the point man, along with long-time pal Jeremy Trueblood, for the “Turkey Time with the O-Line” charitable event conducted annually by the Buccaneers’ offensive line.  All of Joseph’s fellow blockers, including Buc newcomer Carl Nicks, are involved in the event in some way, from contributing funds to buy the meals that will be passed out to personally greeting those families coming to share in the bounty.

The Buccaneers are thrilled that player such as Joseph and Nicks are committed to helping out in the Bay area community.  They would be even more pleased if those two Pro Bowl linemen could be on the field for the final six weeks of the season as the Buccaneers chase a playoff berth.

Alas, fate has intervened, and the team’s all-star blockers are unavailable, having both gone to injured reserve before the season was half over.  Joseph was lost to a knee injury in the third game of the preseason while Nicks, after fighting through an extremely painful toe ailment, was shelved after the win over Minnesota in Week Eight.

Those two are currently joined on the Bucs’ injured reserve list by five other Bucs including two defensive starters, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker Quincy Black.  Clayborn was the Buccaneers’ first-round draft pick in 2011, the same offseason that the team re-signed Black to a significant long-term deal.

The Buccaneers’ answer to each of these painful injuries has been to rely on their ‘next man up’ mentality, plugging in a former reserve and simply moving forward.  It is, of course, all a team can really do, and the Bucs are certainly to be commended for posting a 6-4 record in spite of those losses.  The offensive line, in particular, has somehow managed to stay quite effective, particularly during a six-game stretch in which Tampa Bay has won five times and put up the best offensive numbers in franchise history.

So there is no woe-is-me at One Buccaneer Place (and events like “Turkey Time” also help keep things in perspective).  Still, even if there is no woe, it’s hard to look at the numbers and not at least say, “Whoa.”  According to numbers compiled by Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports, Tampa Bay has by far the highest amount of its player payroll unavailable on the injured reserve list.

McIntyre points out that, thanks largely to the Joseph and Nicks injuries, the Bucs have $30.1 million of their 2012 payroll on I.R.  No other team in the NFL has more than $18 million tied up in the same manner.  McIntyre, whose column on Yahoo! is called “Shutdown Corner,” , lists the next four teams on the list as the New York Jets ($17.3 million), the Atlanta Falcons ($14.8 million), the Cincinnati Bengals ($14.5 million) and the Baltimore Ravens ($13.7 million).

The five teams with the last amount of 2012 payroll on injured reserve: Seattle, San Francisco, Minnesota, Chicago and San Diego.  Obviously, relatively good health has helped the Seahawks, 49ers and Bears, in particular, get off to strong starts.  However, the first list notably includes the 9-1 Falcons and the 8-2 Ravens.  Just like the Buccaneers, who have weathered some serious adversity to get on a roll entering the season’s stretch drive, these teams know they have to find a way to keep going even without some of their most valued players in the mix.

PFF: Te’o-Nesheim and David Shine in Week 10

Looking for a good weekly read to help you recap the previous weekend of NFL action?  We recommend the “PFF Team of Week [_]” feature over at ProFootballFocus.com.  Think of it as a position-by-position All-Pro Team, but chosen fresh each week based only on the players’ most recent performances.

Yes, we are drawing your attention to it specifically this week because a couple of Buccaneers are prominently featured.  Still, it’s an entertaining read in any given week, and it has included at least one Tampa Bay player in four of the last five weeks. Continue reading

Third Downs Become Freeman’s Time to Shine

Late in the first quarter of Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium, the visiting Chargers had a 14-7 lead and looked to be on the verge of forcing a punt from deep inside Buccaneer territory.  A three-yard Doug Martin run on the last play of the opening period left the Bucs facing a very difficult third-and-12 when the second quarter began.

Third-and-12 is not a value proposition for an offense.  The league average on all third downs of 10 or more yards is just a 21.0% conversion rate.  Putting the numbers aside, it’s fairly obvious that long third downs are tough to convert because opposing defenses can specifically guard against longer passes and still be able to come up and stop runs or short throws in time.

On this particular play, however, Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers bucked the odds in a big way.  Freeman took the snap and stood in the pocket for a very long time, enjoying remarkable protection.  Eventually, Mike Williams completed a long-developing route with a double move past the back end of the Charger defense and Freeman threw over the top for a 54-yard gain.  The Bucs used that big gain to tack on a field goal and avoid falling into a deep hole. Continue reading

Bucs Know How to Strike Fast

Doug Martin’s second-half explosion at Oakland last Sunday, which included touchdown runs of 45, 67 and 70 yards in rapid-fire succession, was almost too unbelievable to process at the time.  Perhaps that disbelief was responsible for an unusual role reversal on the O.co Stadium turf: the Buccaneers running back was getting praise from Oakland defensive linemen and indignation from Tampa Bay defensive linemen.

Well, mock indignation, at least.

Earlier this week, DT Gerald McCoy explained what it was like to be among the only Buccaneers who saw any downside to Martin’s repeated breakaways.  That would be Tampa Bay’s defenders, who often barely had time to catch their collective breath before Martin scored again and forced them back onto the field. Continue reading

Chargers Backs Will Challenge Bucs in the Passing Game

The Buccaneers have the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense in 2012, and the Chargers’ ground game is tied for just 19th in the league so far.  From that standpoint, it would seem as if the home team will have a significant edge on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium when it comes to the San Diego running backs against the Tampa Bay defensive front.

However, San Diego has something of an equalizer in that battle, and it’s Philip Rivers’ right arm.  When it comes to stopping Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown this Sunday, the Buccaneers’ defense is going to have to do it on the perimeter and in the flat as much as between the tackles.

“I don’t know if we’re still first in the league but we complete more balls to the running back to anybody in the league,” said Rivers.  “So we really ask a lot of them in the passing game as receivers and as pass protectors.” Continue reading

One Fine Month!

 

On Tuesday, the NFL revealed its list of nominees for this week’s Ground Player and Rookie of the Week awards and, not surprisingly, the Bucs’ Doug Martin was on both.  Martin led all players in Week Eight with 135 rushing yards and 214 yards from scrimmage and was one of just seven players in the league to score two touchdowns.

That marked the second straight week that Martin was among the Rookie of the Week nominees, and indeed he has been hot throughout the month of October.  The same can be said for QB Josh Freeman, perhaps even more emphatically, and for the Buccaneer attack as a whole.  In fact, there weren’t too many players or entire units that were more productive in October than Freeman, Martin and Tampa Bay’s offense.

In addition to its round of weekly awards, the NFL will soon be announcing its Players of the Month for October.  Despite playing just three games in the month due to a Week Five bye, Martin and Freeman have some compelling numbers for the award-givers to consider.

For instance, Freeman led the entire league in the month of October with 336.7 passing yards per game.  He also tossed three touchdown passes in all three of the Bucs’ games in the month while leading his team to a 2-1 record.

Freeman also led the NFL with an average of 9.71 yards per pass attempt in October.  Overall, he completed 58 of 104 passes for 1,010 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception.  His passer rating in October of 113.9 ranked was third in the NFL and second in the NFC behind Denver’s Peyton Manning (126.7) and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (121.5).

Continue reading