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Why the Bucs should go Defensive Tackle with the #3 pick

Over the last few months, we've all been discussing who the Bucs should take with the third overall pick.  We've seen analysis from Craig T on the non-quarterback players expected to go in the top 5, we've discussed wide receivers, tackles (both offensive and defensive), and even looked at a safety who looks like he was born to play in the Tampa 2.  We've all shared our thoughts and it seems that we've settled on two players, Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.  Sure, we might debate the merits of one over the other, but it seems that as a whole, Buc 'Em readers, if not all Bucs fans agree that we have to shore up the defensive line. 

The reason we all seem to settle on the defensive line is pretty simple.  Our line was terrible in 2009.  In fact, I'm not sure that terrible even begins to describe just how bad they were.  I don't want to hate for the sake of it, but we spent much of the year complaining about getting run over, with no better example than the 4th quarter for the home game against Carolina.

And while remembering that game may be punishment enough, I want to lay out some numbers for you to show just how bad the line was in all regards.  My hope is that while we will see the 2009 numbers, with the potential addition of a solid defensive tackle, we should be able to improve on these numbers.

For those of you that hate advanced statistics, I'll start with the regular, commonly accepted stats.  This will provide an easy starting point and allow us to compare the line to other teams.  First up we'll start with rushing yards against, as this would be where the defensive line would make the most impact.  Not a perfect measure, but a starting point. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished dead last in rushing yards against, allowing a whopping 158.2 yards per game on the ground.  Think about that number. 158.2.  We were all but guaranteeing every starting running back a 100 yard day, and allowing the backup to have a pretty nice day also. 

We were 4th in terms of average running plays against, coming in at 33.1 rushing attempts per game.  If you figure approximately 65 plays per game, teams were pretty balanced against us.  The Bucs also came in dead last in yards per attempt at 4.8 YPC.  If a team ran it on first and second down, on average they would be less than a half yard short of a first down.  It begs the question "Why would any team throw against us?"  I don't have the answer to that, but it's obvious we suffered pretty badly against the run.  Lastly, in terms of sacks, the Bucs totaled 28 sacks, which was good for 26th in the league, tied with Seattle and Atlanta. 

No doubt you've probably attempted to put your head through a wall at this point.  But save that anger for just a few minutes.  It's on to the advanced stats portion.  And as we jump in, remember that all of these stats don't tell the whole story, but rather give us a better look and quantifiable responses to the questions we have about the team.  For those who may be just joining us, I'll provide the definition of each stat directly from FootballOutsiders, which is where these numbers are housed. 

The first two stats up are Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) andRunning Backs Yards.  The running back yards is standard yards per carry that we all grew up on.  If you aren't familiar with how that is calculated, we'll run through a quick example.  If a running back has 20 carries for 80 yards, you would divide 80 (yards) by 20 (carries), and this gives you the yards per carry (YPC) of 4.0. 

Adjusted Line Yards (ALY) is a bit more complex, but not out of our grasp.  To help explain it, we'll turn to FootballOutsiders.

Teams are ranked according to Adjusted Line Yards. Based on regression analysis, the Adjusted Line Yards formula takes all running back carries and assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on the following percentages:

  • Losses: 120% value
  • 0-4 Yards: 100% value
  • 5-10 Yards: 50% value
  • 11+ Yards: 0% value

These numbers are then adjusted based on down, distance, situation, opponent, and the difference in rushing average between shotgun compared to standard formations. Finally, we normalize the numbers so that the league average for Adjusted Line Yards per carry is the same as the league average for RB yards per carry. Defensive line stats (more accurately, defensive front seven stats) represent the performance of offensive lines against each defense, adjusted for the quality of offensive opponents

In essence, this takes each running play, looks at the down, distance and situation as well as opponent and determines what portion of each run should be credited to the respective line.  If a running back gains 4 yards, 100% of that value is credited to the line.  The most obvious logic I can present is that the thinking is a run of 0-4 yards is due to the offensive line's ability to win or at least remain neutral in the trenches.  As you get further from the line of scrimmage, it stands to reason that the running back has more say in the length of the run based on broken tackles or other moves. 

We've seen where the Bucs ranked in YPC (last at 4.8), now lets see how our ALY numbers compare.For reference, the bottom figures will be the NFL average. 

Rank Team ALY RB Yds
28 TB 4.44 4.86
x NFL x 4.29

28th is better than 32nd, but doesn't exactly have me running around celebrating.  In YPC we allow more than a half yard more than the league average, with the league's best run defense allowing only 3.40 YPC.  That's a yard and a half of difference.  Looking at ALY, we rank near the bottom of the league and a full yard worse than the best team against the run (Jets, 3.42 ALY). 

Next, we turn to the short yardage situations.  These are called Power Success and Stuffed percentage.  We'll again turn to FO to lay our the logic and explanation of these terms.

Power Success: Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer. This is the only statistic on this page that includes quarterbacks. Teams are ranked from lowest power success percentage allowed (#1) to highest power success percentage allowed (#32).

Basically, in short yardage situations, which they define, how successful are you, or in this case, how successful are teams against you.  I think this is pretty easy to understand the concept.  On 3rd and 2 or less, does our defensive line stop them and "defeat" the opposing offensive line.

Stuffed: Percentage of runs where the running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Ranked from most stuffs (#1) to fewest stuffs (#32).

Again, this is that should seem somewhat transparent to all of us.  If a team as a defense hits a running back and tackles him in the backfield (or at the line of scrimmage), this is termed being "stuffed". 

Definitions are done, lets get to the numbers.  Bucs ranking is on top, with the NFL average below.

Power Rank Stuffed Rank
80% 31 14% 30
64% x 19% x

Oh boy.  Teams are successful 4 out of 5 times against our defensive line.  This should take any guesswork out of what most teams want to do against us in those short yardage situations.  Couple this stat (power success) with the ALY stat from earlier andteams can just poundus on the ground on every play.  You also see we fall way below average here.  The NFL average comes in at 64%, which isn;t even visible from our standpoint at 80%.  Washington led the league at 42%, pretty amazing.

Stuffed percentage isn't much better, though we are ranked one spot higher at 30th.  14% of running plays end at or behind the line of scrimmage.  Again, well below the league average and nowhere near the 25% league leading Green Bay Packers.

Up next are the sack numbers, which will be the last set we analyze.  The number of sacks is the same number all know and love.  The adjusted sack rate can be explained as follows.

Teams are ranked according to adjusted sack rate, which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent.

Sacks Rank Sack Rate
24 28 5.80%
x x 6.40%

Bottom of the league, here we are (again).  Nothing to say other than we don't get to the quarterback enough in either quantity or frequency.  This not only hurts our team, it kills the secondary as they are now asked to cover receivers for longer durations of time.

Now you can feel free to hit yourself with a heavy object.  I know the numbers aren't pretty and there wasn't any reason for optimism in this post, but I think this outlines what we already know; we desperately need help on the defensive line.  Without a solid front four, our linebackers and safeties will suffer.  We have to upgrade the line, and we are in a perfect position to do so in the draft.  Now, if I can only get this article forwarded to Dominik and company in time for Thursday's pick.