During the past season I've been charting games for Football Outsiders. This basically means that I was looking at game footage and writing down what happened on each play: what kind of personnel was on the field, what was the formation, did anyone blow a block, did anyone pressure the quarterback, who was the ball thrown to, who missed a tackle? Those sorts of things. Doing that taught me a lot about both the game of football, and what the Bucs were trying to do and how successful they were at it. Certain things stand out sooner - like Davin Joseph blowing blocks at a disturbingly high rate and Quincy Black being a terrible blitzer. It also allows me to do a bunch of interesting research after the season, like I'm doing now. So in this article I'll quickly go through a number of myths about the Buccaneers, and see to what extent they make sense. I'll re-visit each of these myths at a later point to go more in-depth. Keep in mind that I'm looking at the stats here, and that stats never tell the whole story about a player. Also note that these stats may not correspond perfectly with Football Outsiders' stats, as I only charted about half the Bucs' games for them. The rest I did to be able to write this post.
Myth #1: The 3-man rush was a terrible idea, instead the Bucs should have blitzed more.
The Bucs had a disturbing habit of rushing three men and dropping eight into coverage on third down. During the season it seemed like first down after first down was given up on these plays. When Matt Ryan and Roddy White converted a crucial 3rd-and-20 late in the game at Raymond James Stadium, it sure looked like a stupid playcall, and that single play may have been crucial to the Bucs missing the playoffs. So, was it really stupid?
The stats seem to say no. When rushing three linemen on third down the Bucs gave up a first down or touchdown 12 out of 31 plays, or 38.7% of the time. When they rushed 4 players or more, they allowed a first down or touchdown 62 out of 153 plays, or 40.5% of the time. That's a very small difference that basically tells us that the Bucs did equally well whether they were rushing three or four men. On average, the Bucs faced 3rd-and-8 when rushing three players, while they faced 3rd-and-7 when rushing four or more, so the play selection doesn't seem to be influencing the results greatly here.
But when we split out these results further, we do see a bigger difference. When rushing five or more players on third down the Bucs' success rate drops dramatically. The Buccaneers gave up a first down or touchdown on 31 of 55 such plays, or 56.4% of the time, while facing 3rd-and-6 on average. So the lesson here? Instead of blitzing more, the Bucs should have blitzed less. That leaves the situations where the Bucs rushed four players. On average, the Bucs were facing 3rd-and-8 in these situations, and they allowed 31 touchdowns and first downs on 97 attempts. That makes for a 32% conversion rate for opposing offenses, better than the 38.7% we saw when rushing just three players. So on further examination: blitzing is a bad idea, but rushing three players isn't the best idea either. Rush four for maximum effect! Incidentally, that's also what the Bucs did most often.
Of course, there are other factors influencing these statistics and the sample size is fairly small. Going more in-depth on this would go beyond the scope of this article, but I'll examine this more closely in a future article.
Myth #2: Davin Joseph is a stud
Davin Joseph was drafted 23rd overall in 2006, made the Pro Bowl as an alternate after the 2008 season and by all accounts has been the best player on the Bucs O-line in the past 5 years. He's also a free agent who will likely command a high price on the free agent market. No one would blame you for thinking he had a great 2010 Season when on the field (he missed 5 games with an injury), but that's pretty far from the truth. Well, game charting tells me differently. To evaluate offensive linemen I'll use the 'blown blocks' metric, which simply measures the amount of times a lineman blew a one-on-one block that led to a QB pressure, a sack, a QB hit or a tackle for loss. This means stunts and blown assignments aren't counted, as it's hard to assign blame without knowing the assignments in those cases.
Davin Joseph was the worst Bucs guard by my count, blowing 14 blocks in 11 games started, or 1.3 blown blocks per game. Keydrick Vincent (who was cut midseason) blew blocks at a rate of 1.2 per game, rookie Derek Hardman blew 1.3 blocks per game, and surprisingly rookie Ted Larsen performed best, with just 0.9 blown blocks per game. Based on last year, Davin Joseph did not stand out among Bucs guards at all and doesn't warrant a big contract. However, Joseph played with an injured knee throughout the season and has been a consistent performer in the past. The question is whether he can return to his pre-2010 form.
Another interesting fact: Jeremy Trueblood was easily the worst offensive lineman, blowing 21 blocks in 7 games. That's a whopping 3 blocks per game, and no one else came remotely close to that number. Looking at those numbers, I fail to see why anyone would want Jeremy Trueblood re-signed.
Myth #3: Gerald McCoy had a poor rookie season
Gerald McCoy came in with a lot of pressure as the third overall pick, and being drafted just one spot after Defensive Rookie Of The Year Ndamukong Suh certainly didn't help ease any expectations. He was compared to Suh throughout the season, and couldn't live up to that standard. Few rookies can. McCoy also caught a lot flak throughout the season for not being strong enough and being confused. In fact, at some point he came out and said that he was a little lost on the field, but a good talk with his coaches had set him straight. He started to play better and better from that point on, before he went on IR with a torn biceps after week 13.
However, Gerald McCoy was more than just a confused rookie who managed to get going toward the end of his rookie season. He was the Bucs' best pass rusher. While McCoy had just 3 sacks, I had him down for 25 QB pressures and a further 4 sacks (2 solo and 2 half sacks) in 13 games played, or 2.2 total pressures per game. This was the best mark among all Buccaneers. Of course, you can say that it isn't particularly challenging to be the best pass rusher on a team where Stylez G. White led the team with 4.5 sacks. But it does mean that Gerald McCoy outperformed a lot of players who were significantly more experienced than him. And any rookie that outperforms all his teammates can't be called a disappointment.
There's a catch, though: Gerald McCoy doesn't do that well if we look at pressures per Game Started as a metric instead of pressures per Game Played. According to that metric he's still near the top with his 2.2 pressures per game, but Stylez only started 13 games and rises above McCoy with 2.4 pressures per game. Tim Crowder does the same, with 21 pressures in 9 games for 2.3 pressures per game. And finally, Michael Bennett destroys everyone with 8 pressures in 2 games started. Games Started may be a better approximation of the amount of pass rush opportunities each player got, although Michael Bennett and Tim Crowder are probably overrated by this metric. Note that all of these players outside McCoy are defensive ends, and not defensive tackles.
Of course, sample size is an obvious issue here, as one or two pressures more or less makes a big difference in ranking these players. Suffice to say that Gerald McCoy was at least close to being the team's most effective pass rushers, and easily their best defensive tackle. I don't think you can ask for much more from a rookie, even if he's the third overall pick.