The Buccaneers were much better with Erik Lorig on the field -- so why is that?

USA TODAY Sports

How can we explain the massive difference between having a fullback on the field and having a tight end or third receiver in the lineup?

Football Outsiders has some interesting data. You know, as they usually do. This time, they looked at the difference between one-back and two-back formations within the same offense, on rushing plays only. And the Bucs' results show a surprising split: they were much more efficient in two-back offenses than in a one-back offense. In fact, having Erik Lorig on the field turned the Bucs from a well-below average rushing offense into a solid but unspectacular unit.

The Minnesota Vikings were the only team to show a bigger positive difference between its two-back and one-back formations. So how can we explain this fact? I have a few theories.

  • A two-back offense would almost always consist of Doug Martin and Erik Lorig. The one-back set, however, would have a fairly large proportion of third-down plays with DJ Ware at running back. And given the fact that Doug Martin was the basis of the Bucs' offense and DJ Ware was serviceable but not very good, that could go a long way toward explaining the difference.
  • Perhaps the difference is not due to DJ Ware, but due to the player replacing Erik Lorig in the offense. After all, that was usually one of Luke Stocker, Dallas Clark or Tiquan Underwood. That list of names should do a good job of showing you a potential problem, here.
  • Or perhaps it's Josh Freeman's fault. It's entirely plausible that the Bucs ran the ball more with two backs than they did with one back. Does that explain the difference? A casual perusal of Football Outsiders' data on offenses suggests that can't really be it: both its passing game and running game showed positive results. I misread the article, which talks about rushing offense only. Whoops.
  • To distinguish between these hypotheses, I need more data. Which I don't have. Which sucks.

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