Buccaneers should pass less: correlating runs and wins

J. Meric

“Should I run or should I throw? If I run there will be trouble. If I throw it will be double. So you gotta let me know… Should I run or should I throw?”

The Buccaneers have had QB Josh Freeman run their offense for the past three and half years. He’s had two offensive coordinators during that time. From 2009 – 2011, Greg Olson was his QB coach and OC. In 2012, Mike Sullivan became the OC after being Eli Manning’s QB coach for a couple of seasons. New head coach Greg Schiano had a game plan to be a run heavy offense coming into the 2012 season.

Josh Freeman Stats


Pass


Att


Comp.


%


TD


INT


W


L


2010


474

61.4

25

6

10

6

2011


551

62.8

16

22

4

12

2012


558

54.8

27

17

7

9

Play Calling Ratio


Total Plays


Pass Plays


Rush Plays


Pass Play %


Rush Play %


2010


925

494

431

53.4

46.6

2011


934

588

346

63.0

37.0

2012


982

566

416

57.6

42.3

Schiano’s original game plan was not implemented as shown in the aforementioned charts. It is difficult to not want to throw the ball when you acquire Vincent Jackson as your top receiver and Mike Williams as your next best receiver. Those receivers bring serious height to the passing offense, Jackson at 6’5" and Williams at 6’2". Then the team drafts a pass catching running back in Doug Martin, who is affectionately known to fans as the Muscle Hamster. Add to that Freeman’s high completion rate of 62.8% for 2011 while throwing for an attempted high of 551 passes, then one may have a recipe for a prolific scoring offense through the air.

Freeman set personal record highs in passing yards (4,065) and TDs (27) thrown. Vincent Jackson gained the most yards of his eight year career to become a Pro Bowler with 1,384 yards. Williams caught 996 yards, his career best. The Muscle Hamster’s rookie had him catching for 472 yards and ran Buc-Wild for 1,454 yards while scoring 11 TDs. Even old man TE Dallas Clark posted his best numbers in three years with 435 yards caught for 4 TDs. So where did the offense go awry?

Even though Freeman had a high interception rate, what is more glaring is his tumultuous drop in completions thrown. He went from 62.8% in 2011 to 54.8% in 2012. If Freeman had thrown 62.8% in 2012, then he would have completed 350 passes. That would have been 44 extra completed passes. Could those extra completions add up to a couple more wins? Remember, each non-completed pass automatically stops the clock from game play. The team is no longer ‘eating up’ the clock. This means the team is giving the opposition more time of possession as it is taking away from itself.

Comparing all three full seasons of Freeman, anyone can easily say that if Freeman threw less, then we would probably win more. It is easy for me to say passing too much looks as though it may be bad thing for Freeman and our team, but I really could not come to that conclusion without this year’s performance.

Rather than simply stating that 2010 was the best year for our offense, which we were not as pass happy, I have decided to show this season’s results to prove empirically that we should refrain from being pass happy. Once again, I fragmented the season into three parts. Stats collected from ESPN site.

2012 – 13 Pass vs Rush


Wins and Losses


Team


Comp. %


Pass Att


Pass <30 Att


Pass >30 Att


Rush <100 yds


Rush >100 yds


1

Car

66.7

24

W

W

2

NYG

53.6

28

L

L

3

Dal

35.7

28

L

L

4

Was

61.5

39

L

L

Avg.


54.4


29.8


Record: 4 – 1


5

KC

57.7

26

W

W

6

NO

57.1

42

L

L

7

Min

52.8

36

W

W

8

Oak

60.0

30

W

W

9

SD

70.0

20

W

W

10

Car

54.3

46

W

W

Avg.


58.7


33.3


Record: 5 – 1


11

Atl

64.5

31

L

L

12

Den

46.2

39

L

L

13

Phi

41.2

34

L

L

14

NO

55.6

54

L

L

15

StL

55.6

54

L

L

16

Atl

54.3

35

W

W

Avg.


52.9


41.2


Record: 1 – 5


Total Avg.

54.9

35.4

Total Record:

7 – 9

Record


4 – 2

3 – 7

1 – 7

6 – 2

Winning PCT


67 %

30 %

14 %

75 %

First, let’s look at the obvious. In the six games the offense threw 30 or less attempts, they won four games. While in the other 10 games where Josh and the offense threw more than 30 times, he only won 3 games. (Note: In the second Atlanta game, Freeman threw 30 attempts and Mike Williams threw 1 attempt. In the second Saints game, Game 14, Freeman threw 47 attempts and Orlovsky threw seven pass attempts.) The winning percentages show that the Bucs have a higher rate of winning if we throw 30 times or less. We won more games in fewer opportunities by throwing less. But then when we review the impact rushing has towards winning games, a lot of the wins depend on gaining 100 yards or more of rushing. And when the running game is caged down to run less than 100 yards, team wins are quite scarce.

Next, let’s compare Freeman’s wins. When throwing less than 30 or less attempts, the lowest completion percentage was 57.7%. In fact, his completion percentage was amazing in three of his four wins when attempting 30 or less passes: 66.7%, 57.7%, 60%, and 70%. The highest winning passing completion rate when throwing over 30 passing attempts is 54.3%, twice. The other game won when throwing over 30 passes was 52.8%. Exactly how did the Bucs win those three games where Freeman was not so accurate? If you slide your finger over on the chart, then you will notice all three wins occurred when Martin made his presence known with over 100 yards rushing. (Martin rushing stats for those three games: Game #7 vs Minn = 135 yds; Game #10 vs Car = 138 yds; Game #16 vs Atl = 142 yds)

Then, focus on the last six game set for Freeman and the passing offense; the offense threw over 30 times for all six games. Also notice the average rate of passing increased by 8 more attempts per game. Of those six, the Bucs came away with one win. Not surprisingly, it fell on the same day that the offense was allowed to run Buc-Wild. Are we beginning to find a trend here?

Out of the seven wins in the season, there was only one game where offense did not run for over 100 yards and the team still won. In that San Diego game, Freeman also had less than 30 passing attempts. With limited opportunities on offense and a time of possession (TOP) of only 23 minutes, how exactly did the Bucs beat the Chargers, 34 – 24? A blocked punt returned for a TD and an interception returned for a TD. Phew, that oddity really bugged me until I had done more research. Now, I can point out that the rest of the six wins depended on our offense breaking over 100 yards of rushing. This conclusion is so very tidy, clean, and surprisingly simple.

If Doug and company rush for over 100 yards, then it doesn’t necessarily matter how terribly Freeman throws because the team will have a greater chance of winning games. And in the four wins where Freeman threw less than 30 passes, Josh was more accurate as I denoted in the previous paragraphs. Also, in those four games, Freeman only threw one interception. This performance flashes back to his 2010 season. Should the Tampa Bay staff be able to discover this pattern I have found, then every Bucs fan on this site will be appeased if they implement a run heavy offense. This will make Freeman a more accurate passer as well as become less prone to throwing interceptions. Essentially, it will make Freeman a hot commodity to be retained after this season.

A playoff berth is at hand provided we run and run often. Doug rushed for 1,454 yards this past year and caught for an additional 472 yards. The quality depth behind Martin is quite transparent as the rest of the running backs, LeGarrette Blount and DJ Ware, only gained 202 yards rushing. Freeman, himself, also rushed for 139 yards. Yet that pales in comparison to his 2010 rushing stat of 364 yards, but instead could imply the pattern that Freeman would rather try to force a throw now than tucking the ball and scrambling for a few more yards. In essence, I am trying to lead us to the fact we need to upgrade our depth at running back for this coming season in order to preserve a heavy run offense. Do not be surprised if the Bucs draft a RB with one of their four round picks. But that’s for another article.

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