As Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out on Monday, if you took a certain cross-section of the statistics from Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium, you would probably think the Buccaneers defeated the visiting Eagles.
In fact, the Eagles rallied for a 23-21 win on the final play of the game, despite several parts of what is usually a winning formula being in place for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay didn’t turn the ball over once, for instance, and that feat has a very strong correlation with success. For instance, from December 23, 2001 to October 12, 2008, the Bucs won 20 straight games in which they did not commit a turnover.
The Bucs also ran for 136 yards and allowed only 29, were even in time of possession and third-down conversion rate and were able to rack up six sacks. By the “rules of football,” as Schiano put it – sort of a “laws of nature” concept – those are often numbers you see on a winning team’s side of the ledger. To be clear, however, Schiano was not saying that his team deserved to win simply because it did some things very well.
“You win the turnover battle, you out-rush them, third-down percentage we were about even…but at the end of the day they had two more points than we did. We committed too many penalties, some in crucial situations. At the end of the game we had some opportunities to make the game be over and we didn’t do it. So…”
The point is, the Buccaneers will happily accept a duplication of many facets of their Week 14 performance in Week 15, when they travel to New Orleans. With just a couple problems eliminated, those same outcomes will likely produce a win. Perhaps most notably, the Buccaneers couldn’t ask for much more from their defensive line, and that was without valuable lane-clogging nose tackle Roy Miller available for Sunday’s game.
Five of the six sacks the Buccaneers racked up came from defensive linemen, with DT Gerald McCoy and DE Michael Bennett getting two each. Those two were also marvelous against the run, with three and four tackles for loss on the day, respectively. The Buccaneers came into the game with the league’s top-ranked run defense already, but were convinced that the Eagles would try hard to establish the run early. With a red-hot ballcarrier in Bryce Brown and a rookie quarterback in Nick Foles who could use a way to slow down the pass rush, they were probably right.
“We ran the ball well and we stopped the run [well],” said Schiano. “Their idea was to come into the game and try to have balance. Then that didn’t work and they went to just throwing it every down. We knew they were going to throw it. That’s what we did, we had six sacks. You know everybody wants to talk about you’re not getting [to the quarterback]… well that’s getting to the quarterback.”
The Bucs’ six sacks were a season high, and while they didn’t quite match the incredible opening-day total of just 10 rushing yards allowed to Carolina, it was still an elite performance against the run. That marks three times this year that the Buccaneers have held an opponent below 30 yards.
Accomplishing both of those things in the same outing is very rare. Sunday’s game marked just the 10th time in the Buccaneers’ 37 seasons that they have held an opponent to less than 70 rushing yards and also sacked the quarterback at least five times. Getting six sacks and allowing fewer than 50 rushing yards? That’s only been done two other times. The last time a Buccaneer defense accomplished that double feat was on September 17, 2000 when it held Detroit to 17 rushing yards and racked up seven sacks n a 31-10 win.
Those other two games with at least six sacks and fewer than 50 rushing yards allowed were both easy victories for the Buccaneers. Usually, that’s the rules of football. The Bucs may have broken the rules on Sunday, but they’ll take that kind of defensive-line production any day.