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Football Outsiders: Bucs' dominant big plays and run defense can get them a playoff spot

J. Meric

Football Outsiders published an interesting article on ESPN (Insider only), arguing that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could make the playoffs because of two factors: their big plays and their run defense, both of which have been the best in the league.

Both of those factors represent major turnarounds from last year, when the Bucs had a plodding, dink-and-dunk offense coupled with probably the worst run defense (and certainly the worst tackling) in the entire NFL. This year, though, they've been dominant in both of those aspects. Their run defense has been powered by the front seven, as they rank first in adjusted line yards, stuffing opposing running backs a league-leading 30% of the time.

Football Outsiders also points out that Lavonte David, Mason Foster and Mark Barron have been fairly dominant in run defense. The two linebackers are both in the top 10 for rushing Defeats (stuffs, turnovers and third or fourth-down stops), while Mark Barron is tied for the lead among defensive backs in that same statistic.

The big play is perhaps more interesting, though. The Bucs lead the league in yards off passes travelling at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, and they have a league-leading 17.3 yards per play off those passes. At 21.4 yards per reception, Vincent Jackson is first in the NFL in that statistics among receivers catching at least 20 passes, while Mike Williams is in third place.

More impressively, Doug Martin has produced many big plays, and has more Open Field Yards than all but Adrian Peterson. Open Field Yards are yards gained at least 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.

In other words: the team's dominant run defense and explosive offense are a potent combination, and despite a tough schedule, they could be good enough to make it into the playoffs - and possibly go a little further.