Naughty Nurse: Tampa Bay Buccaneers flatlined in 2012

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Apr 23, 2012



(Our Russian mail-order Naughty Nurse checks the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. She breaks out her pigskin probe and uses her soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. See her statistical analysis of other NFL teams here.)

By Erik Sabol
Cold, Hard Football Facts Waver of the White Flag

Six weeks into 2011, the Buccaneers were kings of the mountain in the NFC South.  They were a sloppy – but relatively convincing – 4-2, and boasted physical victories over the playoff-bound Saints and Falcons. 

Raheem Morris was polishing his roster of young, hungry (youngry?), violent men, and the formula was paying off. But the ship hit choppy waters halfway through the season, and the crew mutinied. The Buccaneers lost their last 10 games – the longest losing streak to end a season since the Detroit Lions bumbled their way to 0-16.

The unemployment rate in Tampa took a sharp upturn after Week 17. The Glazers – team owners for nearly two decades – purged the staff soon after the season, and no one was spared.  Morris, his coordinators, assistants, conditioning coaches, and – we’re assuming – the janitorial crew were all caught in the firestorm. 

Tampa Bay is starting from scratch with rookie coach Greg Schiano: new coaches, new players, and new systems.

But don’t fret, Bucs fans.  General Manager Mark Dominik doesn’t plan on “rebuilding” in 2012.

The 2011 storyline: After some early success, the going got tough for the young Buccaneers. The team quit on the coaches, let down the fans, and showed the world how much they hated Raheem Morris. Morris made a career out of coining quips and phrases. Here’s one he’ll do well to remember in the future: With great youth comes great immaturity.  And it burned him in 2011.
 
The Vital Signs
Coach (record): Greg Schiano (0-0 with Tampa Bay; 0-0 overall)
2011 record: 4-12 (17.9 PPG – 30.9 PPG)
Record against the spread: 4-12
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 2-7 (17.4 – 30.5)
Record last five seasons: 35-45 (.438)
Best Quality Stat in 2011: Offensive Hog Index (T-16th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011: Defensive Hog Index (32nd)

ALL QUALITY STATS RANKINGS in 2011
Overall QS SCOR BEND RPYPA DRPYPA QBR DQBR OPR DPR PRD OHI DHI REL
30 17 26 31 22 31 22 30 25 29 30 16 32 31
Overall = Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS= Quality Standings; SCOR = Scoreability; BEND= Bendability; RPYPA= Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; DRPYPA= Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; QBR = Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR = Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR= Offensive Passer Rating; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; PRD= Passer Rating Differential; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; REL= Relativity Index.

Statistical curiosity of 2011: How bad were the Buccaneers by the end of the season? Tampa Bay was outscored 349-174 over their last 10 games; the -175 point differential from Weeks 7 to 17 is the lowest and most lopsided of any team since the turn of the century (and a full 16 points worse than the aforementioned 0-16 Detroit Lions).  The 349 points the Buccaneers allowed over that span is the worst in league history, and no team in 30 years has come within two touchdowns of that mark.
 
Best game of 2011: 26-20 win vs. New Orleans (Week 6). The Buccaneers won only four games last season. They saved the best for last. The 4-1 Saints rolled into town to face the Buccaneers for early-season NFC South supremacy, and – in a game that wasn’t as shocking then as it is now – Tampa Bay turned their foes away and got to warm the division throne for one glorious week.
 
The defense held the super-powered Saints to 20 points and forced Drew Brees into his season-low mark for touchdown tosses (1) and his season-high in interceptions (3). On the inverse, Josh Freeman passed for 303 yards (one of his two 300-yard performances in 2011), and ancient fullback Earnest Graham ripped Gregg Williams and the New Orleans bounty hunters for 109 yards on 17 carries.
 
The victory was a watershed moment in Raheem Morris’s career. It was supposed to mark the moment the Buccaneers went from “rebuilding” to “rebuilt,” but it adopted a more sinister connotation by season’s end: it was the peak of the Morris regime, and the last game he’d win on the Tampa Bay sideline.
 
Worst game of 2011: 45-24 loss at Atlanta (Week 17). In the final game of the year the Bucs found themselves trailing the Falcons by 42 points with seven minutes remaining in the first half. Twenty-three minutes into a 60-minute game, and the Buccaneers had surrendered six touchdowns to a division rival.  Matt Ryan finished with 2 touchdowns and a 146.3 passer rating.Michael Turner ran for a season-high 172 yards. Neither of them saw the field after halftime.

The loss capped a very ugly end to the season. Just two weeks earlier against the Cowboys, the Buccaneers found themselves in familiar territory: trailing by four touchdowns at halftime. From his booth on the sidelines, analyst Deion Sanders accused the team of quitting, and after the game, offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood took exception to the accusation.
 
“I don’t really find any merit to that comment at all,” Trueblood said.

The scoreboard said it all, though: Tampa lost its final five games by 19, 27, 16, 32 and 21 points, respectively. Good call, Trueblood.
 
Strength: Offensive Hog Index. Calling it a “strength” is like calling obesity a food allergy, but the OHI is about the only thing the Buccaneers didn’t do awfully last season.  And, ironically, it had very little to do with their offensive line.
 
The Offensive Hog Index is made up of three components: yards gained per rush, success on third down, and the percentage of plays in which a passer was sacked or intercepted.

Tampa Bay was a respectable – if mediocre – 16th in yards per rush, deploying the undrafted trio of LeGarrette Blount, Kregg Lumpkin, and Earnest Graham.  Blount got the brunt of the work and averaged 4.24 YPA for the season, which was right on par with the team’s average.  But Blount’s yards after contact tell a dark tale about his blockers.  Sixty-eight percent of his season total in rushing came after contact, and 2.9 yards of his 4.2 average were gained after the defense closed in on him. 

His successes were illustrated in his highlight surge versus the Packers midway through the season.  Pro Bowl lineman Davin Joseph whiffed on his initial block, and Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop capitalized on Joseph’s mistake by colliding with Blount at the line of scrimmage – a common occurrence for Tampa Bay’s running backs.  But Blount powered through Bishop – and six other Packers – and galloped 54 yards into the SportsCenter Top 10.
 
The Buccaneers were equally as …  not terrible… in the Negative Pass Plays column. Josh Freeman threw an NFC-leading 22 interceptions; despite that – because of Freeman’s elite elusiveness in the pocket – Tampa Bay finished 16th in NPP percentage. Tampa Bay’s gargantuan passer was pressured 204 times, third most in the league, or about once every three drop backs. But Freeman was sacked only 29 times, a mark magnified under the scope of context: the Buccaneers trailed more than any team in 2011, and opposing pass rushers routinely feasted on Freeman’s offensive line.
 
Weakness: Everything else. It is damn difficult to set records for futility in Tampa Bay, because the franchise practically defined gridiron ineptitude in the 70s and 80s. The fan base was privileged to some of the worst offensive and defensive displays of all time during the Hugh Culverhouse era of ownership, and no team stirred up that gut wrenching 1980s nostalgia like the 2011 Buccaneers.
 
They did almost nothing well last season. It took them 13 games to score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter. They finished last in quarterback sacks. They turned the ball over 40 times. They shattered the franchise record for points allowed (494; the previous record was 473 by the 2-14 Bucs of 1986). They graded in the bottom third league-wide in 11 of 12 Quality Stats.
 
But it wasn’t for lack of talent.  As sloppily as they played to start the season, the Buccaneers were 4-3 going into their midseason bye week, with victories over the Saints and Falcons, and narrow fourth-quarter losses to Detroit and a full-powered Bears team. Tampa Bay’s downfall was a product of youth, immaturity, and liquid backbones – and there aren’t any numbers to quantify those traits.
 
Except 4-12.

General off-season strategy/overview: When an entire team underachieves – when every player on the field looks lost, tired, and disinterested – it’s time for an administrative change. So the Buccaneers acquired Belichickian disciplinarian Greg Schiano, out of Rutgers, to help right the ship.
 
When a quarterback can’t throw deep because his line crumbles and his receivers get caught in coverage, it’s time to invest in a blocker and a deep threat. Enter Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson.
 
When a defense gets historically humiliated by every opposing offense over the last 10 games of a season, it’s time to bring in… the No. 2 cornerback on a mediocre passing defense (Eric Wright from Detroit)? For $37 million over five seasons? What?
 
Coach Schiano’s inaugural draft will go a long way toward defining his professional philosophy.  He developed that stereotypical hard-nosed, rough-and-tumble mentality while coaching at Rutgers, and he’d maintain that image with a pick like Trent Richardson – the freak running back from Alabama.
 
Richardson would start immediately and provide a blocking, receiving, and short yardage threat in complement to LeGarrette Blount. But it’d leave a gaping hole in a faulty secondary that might be without its best player in September. LSU corner Morris Claiborne won’t be winning any spelling bees anytime soon, but he’d be an instant contributor and long term solution to the Newton-Ryan-Brees conundrum in the NFC South and he'd provide some insurance against the inevitable Aqib Talib letdown.

The other big need is on the defensive front. Tampa was dead last on the Defensive Hog Index last year. They couldn't stop the run, opponents gashed them for an awful 5.0 YPA, and they couldn't pressure the passer.
 
Flip a coin. Whichever the choice, look for Tampa Bay to leave the draft day war room with some combination of runner-corner-linebacker – vicious, physical men who fit Schiano’s tough New Jersey mentality.

Totally premature 2012 diagnosis: There’s a type of universal balance in the NFC South. It’s had four different first place teams in five seasons, and no team stays up or down for long. Carolina is on the rise, but still a ways from playoff contention; hubris felled the New Orleans Saints, Goodell’s latest victims; and the Falcons are poised for a run, but their window is closing faster than a bank on Saturday. 

The division is, literally, unpredictable, and the Buccaneers weren't as bad as they looked in 2011. If Schiano and company can harness and channel the team’s raw talent and keep them motivated through 16 games, then the Tampa Bay has a shot in the league’s most competitive division.

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