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ESPN: Buccaneers are ready to make the playoffs

Five long years with no playoffs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to end, if one man's statistical analysis can be believed. Josh Freeman and Darrelle Revis are at the core of that turnaround.

Al Messerschmidt

ESPN thinks the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make the playoffs. Or rather, K.C. Joyner and his statistical analysis does. Joyner's analysis is always interesting to me: the statistics he uses are different from most, and he relies on his own game charting. I don't know if it's overly accurate, but it does offer a different viewpoint.

And that viewpoint says the Buccaneers are in excellent position to make the playoffs in 2012. His analysis starts with, what else, Josh Freeman.

Bad decisions weren't Josh Freeman's problem

Have you heard of Joyner's Bad Decision Rate statistic? If you have, can you explain to me how it works? No? Well, that's the downside of proprietary statistics. Still, good fun:

Freeman's 2.0 percent mark in the bad decision rate metric (BDR) was only two-tenths of a percentage point behind Aaron Rodgers in this category and was equal to Matt Ryan's total. (Note: BDR measures how often a passer makes a mental error that leads to a turnover opportunity for the opposing team).

That's interesting. Decision-making is one of Freeman's criticisms, although that's always hard to judge. What may look like a bad decision could be a good one where the receiver ran a wrong route, or the opposite may be the case. Still, those numbers look good -- but they may simply suggest that the real problem is consistent accuracy. That's something he may be able to improve on but, as always, we have to go "wait and see" on Freeman. Oh good.

More intriguing perhaps is Joyner's comparison of Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman's yards per attempt on various route depth. It shouldn't be a huge surprise that Freeman looks good when looking at yards per attempt as it may very well be the only statistic (advanced or not) that makes him look good.

Route depth Matt Ryan Josh Freeman
Short (<12 yards) 6.2 6.3
Medium (11-19 yards) 10.9 10.1
Deep (20-29 yards) 11.6 14.9
Bomb (30+ yards) 16 12.2
Overall total 7.5 7.3

Intriguing numbers here, and some real surprises. Like Josh Freeman being slightly better than Ryan on short passes, something generally perceived as Freeman's weakness, while he's doing significantly worse on bombs -- supposedly the strong point of his offense. We may need to re-think some of our assumptions

Then again, if we look at efficiency at various depths, the conventional image of Freeman is still confirmed. Even within statistics, Freeman's inconsistent. It's impossible to say anything definitive on the man.

Secondary woes

The main reason for these terrible figures was the simply unacceptable coverage level of the Tampa Bay cornerbacks. This was an issue almost across the board, as evidenced by the YPA totals against Aqib Talib (14.0 in the four games he was in the lineup), Leonard Johnson (9.5), Eric Wright (9.2) and E.J. Biggers (8.0).

Yeah, about those numbers? They're bad. Really, really bad. However, and this is important to remember: the reason those numbers were bad wasn't just the quality of cornerbacks. It was also what they were asked to do. That is, way too much. Asking cornerbacks to go play press man with little safety help will make them look bad.

The addition of Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks will certainly help, there. I hope. Unless Revis' shredded ACL turns him into Sabby Piscitelli. A rookie and a cornerback coming off a torn ACL are certainly no guarantees of improvement, although it would be pretty hard to do worse than signing cornerbacks off the street at the end of the season.

Playoffs, finally?

Playoffs or bust. That's basically what is going to happen this year. Which is what we've been saying for years, with the exception of 2009 (and maybe 2010). I mean, I'd really like to see the Bucs just, like, appear in a playoff game. I almost don't even care if they get blown out. It has been five years since the Bucs even had a playoff game. That is ridiculous.

Apparently, we have some reason to believe it will be fixed. Color me skeptical.

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