Halfway through 2009, offense still looking for an identity

With Sunday's win over Green Bay, the Bucs completed the first half of the 2009 season.  The Bucs went 1-7 in that span, though we are on a season long one game win streak.  Now that we've hit the halfway mark, it may be a good time to look at how the team has fared compared to the rest of the NFL.  We'll take a look at a few numbers that will give us an idea of where the Bucs stand in comparison to the rest of the NFL.

Following the 38 point explosion against Green Bay, I've heard a lot of talk that the Bucs offense has finally taken off and will be a powerhouse the rest of the year.  While I can't predict the future, I do think we need to temper the expectations.  Yes, the Bucs scored 38 points.  However, 7 points came from the punt block return, 7 from T-Jack's interception return and 14 points were set up by good field position off the kickoff return and interception return.  That leaves 10 points that the offense had to "work" for.  Sure, they punched the ball in the end zone and settled for two field goal attempts, but it will be hard to duplicate those other scores week to week.

Lets first look at some numbers from NFL.com in regards to the Bucs offense.  I'll be using averages per game where I can as some teams still do not have the same number of games due to bye weeks. 

The first set of numbers will be in relation to total offense and their rankings compared to the other 31 teams.

PPG Rank Yds/Game Rank T.O.P. Rank
16.8 25 273.1 28 28:08 26

Nothing too magical here.  Just under 17 points a game on offense, which really doesn't tell the true story.  I'd like to think we could count on short fields every week, but we can't.  We are in the bottom third of the league across the board here.  Yards per game is pretty low.  In fact, there are at least 4 quarterbacks in the NFL who average more yards a game than our entire offense does.  Do with that what you will.  As I've mentioned before, our T.O.P. is skewed due to the number of passes we put up (more incompletions = less time off the clock) and how often our defense allow long drives. 

To look at the passing numbers will give us an incomplete picture.  We've had three starting quarterbacks this year, all with different styles.  Nonetheless, lets see where the Bucs rank in the passing game against their peers.

Att/Game Rank Yards/Game Rank TD Rank Int Rank QBR Rank
33.5 12 177.2 22 11 19 12 28 63 28

The most obvious thing that jumps out to me is the number of pass attempts per game.  I believe, though I can find nothing to back it up, that NFL.com only tracks actual pass attempts, not plays that result in the QB scrambling, which would push our total higher.  But even with the higher amount of attempts, we still rank in the bottom half of the league in passing yards.  The big play doesn't seem to exist in our supposed "vertical" offense. 

One of the more troubling numbers is the interceptions.  We're ranked 28th in the NFL with 12 picks.  The teams worse than the Bucs include Chicago thanks to Cutler's 5 pick night, Lions thanks to Stafford's 5 pick day, Panthers thanks to Delhomme having playoff flashbacks every week, the Browns and the Cardinals

But the most troubling stat in my eyes is the quarterback rating of 63.0.  I can handle the check downs, low yards per game and the relative "ball control" scheme, if that's what we ran.  But it isn't.  We run a short passing offense, we throw for very few years though we throw often and we turn it over.  Not a good combination.  With Freeman entering the lineup, I expect that both the TD and INT number will climb north, but I'm hoping to see the yards per game and yards per attempt (5.29) take a big jump.

Lastly, we have what has been my personal pet peeve this year; the running game.  I won't harp on the philosophy, the lack of commitment, the inexplicable decision to turn a blind eye to what was supposed to be our strong point.  Instead, I'll allow the numbers to talk.

Att/Game Rank Yards/Game Rank YPC Rank TD Rank
23.5 27 95.9 25 4.1 17 3 26

Ranked towards the bottom in attempts and yards per game but we fall right smack int he middle on yards per carry.  I'm not advocating an offense where we run the ball 40+ times a game and throw it 15-20 times, but I still think the Bucsshould attempt to shorten the game, get our defense off the field, protect the quarterback and pound the ball.  We have 3 healthy running backs that can rotate as they get tired.  Look at what our next opponent, Miami does.  Young QB withstrong running game.  They shorten the game, pound the ball, and eventually, the long runs appear.  It doesn't allows work, shortening the game (see Miami vs Indy this year), but with a bad defense, a young quarterback, and a stable of running backs, logic would seem to point to a more run-centric offense. 

Now lets see what our friends over at FootballOutsiders have for us in terms of offensive production. 

    DVOA PASS RANK RUSH RANK
24 TB -12.70% -7.10% 22 -6.40% 22

An offense ranked in the bottom third.  At least both the basic and advanced numbers tell the same story.  The Bucstotal offensive DVOA  isn't impressive.  Anytime you see that negative number on an offensive stat, it's not a good sign.  We have equal success (or failure, depending on how you look at it) in both the run and pass game.  All numbers are of course adjusted for defense and situation to make it easier to compare to the entire NFL landscape. 

The Bucshave entered the future, so to speak withFreeman starting at quarterback.  He has one game under his belt and Olsen has eight under his.  If I'm Morris, I'm asking the ground game to be featured more.  I want the vertical part of the passing game to be installed witha bigger armed QB at the helm.  There are clear improvements both at a player level, a scheme level and a play callinglevel that can be made.  The second half of the season starts on Sunday at Miami.  We'll get a first hand look at how they play call around a young QB with a big arm and two strong, versatile running backs.  The Wildcat isn't an option I want to consider, but the commitment to the running game is one the Bucs should look to mimic as the year progresses.

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