In 2015, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were tied at 14th in sacks, tied for 21st in interceptions, and ranked 26th overall in points per game allowed (PPGA) with 26.1 points. Of course there are many ways to address improving the defense, but improving the defensive line by increasing sacks is what most fans believe to be the magic elixir to fix an ailing defense. It is not.
I wrote a previous article refuting that notion in a defensive line five year review of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here is the chart:
|Tampa Bay Bucs|
|2012 - 2015 Sacks and TFL's with Football Outsider Def Rankings|
|Year||Dline Sacks||Total Sacks||DL% of total sacks||FO Def Rush Rank||Dline TFL's||Total TFL's||DL% of TFL's||FO Def Pass Rank|
The Bucs have increased the sack total every year in the chart above, but it appears the sacks did not help with the pass defense. Now, if we look at the Tackles for Loss (TFLs) or stuffs metric, we see a possible relationship with the defensive line percentage of TFLs with pass defense rankings. A tackle for loss means a run is stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. Thus, inducing a higher probability for a passing situation in the ensuing down or downs.
There needs to be more emphasis on the defensive line to produce so that it does not need much help, to allow more personnel to drop back into coverage, thereby possibly improving pass defense.
Another stat to take into account that could help improve the pass defensive ranking is hurries. Hurries is a statistic that records when a quarterback is hurried into throwing the ball before he is ready. The possible result is an incomplete pass or an interception. According to sportingcharts.com, "A hurry is considered to be an important statistic for defensive linemen, almost as important as a sack, stuff, or forced fumble."
|Top 200 in 2015 (Cinci, Bucs, NYG)|
|43||Robert Ayers Jr||NYG||DE||12||18|
|Average defensive hurries in 2015 is 12.7|
Cincinnati's defense had a rush rank of 8th overall and pass rank of 10th overall in 2015. We notice that there are four Bengals in the top 58 players in the hurries stat, all defensive linemen. Why is this significant? The Bengals defensive line coach, Jay Hayes, is now the Bucs defensive line coach. Here is a quote from CincyJungle.com, an SB Nation sister site, written by Rebecca Toback:
This year, the Bengals featured the only defensive line with two players with more than 10 sacks during the season. Dunlap ranked 4th in sacks with 13.5 and Atkins ranked 8th in the league this season with 11. Both will be playing in this year's Pro Bowl. The Bengals had 42 sacks this season, 15th most in the league, the large majority of which came from the line. Hayes has coached one of the best defensive tackles in the league, Atkins and has helped to groom Dunlap into one of the NFL's best defensive ends.
A few points here: the majority of the sacks came from the defensive line. The difference in total sacks between Cincy and Tampa last year is only four sacks, as Tampa notched 38 sacks. Then I looked up Cincy's TFL stat and they managed a measly 42 TFLs compared to Tampa's 59 TFLs the previous season. So what gives? I mean there is not enough pressure here in the stats to suggest this would produce a strong pass defense, but Cincy was ranked 10th overall last year. Four sacks cannot be the huge determinant for what is to be considered a great pass rush, thus improving the secondary. There has to be something else - hurries.
Hurries: Tampa v Cincy
|Team Defensive Hurries|
From the chart above that compares team hurries reveals that Cincy had 27 more hurries than the Bucs. That means there were 27 more plays where the passing game was disrupted. That is 1.6 times per game.
|2015 QB Pressures|
|Tampa vs Cincy, Defenses|
|Team||Hurries (from Top 200)||Sacks||QB Pressure|
Next, let us add in the sack stat to give us a general QB pressure metric. Again, Cincy does better than the Bucs, by 36 to be exact. That is 2.25 extra occurrences per game to where the QB is affected.
Last season, the Bucs' opponents averaged 65.25 plays per game, according to sportingcharts.com. Presume that a 3-and-out only accounts for three plays, obviously. For the sake of simplicity, passing downs would occur on third downs. If utilizing 65.25 plays per game, then in a game there are 21.75 third down opportunities. Would having 2.25 third downs stopped in their tracks help? Of course it would help because it means two opposing offensive drives have been thwarted from possibly scoring.
In 2014, Michael Johnson became a Buc. His production of 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 hurries, though, made one wonder, "What the..."
In 2015, Michael went back to Cincinnati. He produced 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 16 hurries. As a Bucs fan, his improvement made me feel shhh.... Crappy.
Yet all is not lost. Why? Because Michael's defensive line coach last year is now our defensive line coach this year.
Robert Ayers Jr
This past offseason, the Bucs went out and grabbed Robert Ayers from the NY Giants. Ayers ranked higher in QB hurries than any Buc last season.
|QB Pressure, 2014-2015|
Talk about making an impact in QB pressures, Ayers brings more than just his sacks! With the ability to slide inside on the defensive line, Ayers' versatility allows other speed rushers that Tampa has in Jacquies Smith, Howard Jones, and newly drafted Noah Spence onto the field for added QB pressure on passing downs.
In a recent interview from the Bucs' official website with head coach Dirk Koetter, the head coach had glowing comments about Jay Hayes
"Jay's experience, 13 years in Cincinnati, and the defensive lines they've had, that's always been a defensive line I've admired from afar and I know Mike Smith has as well. When you play against Cincinnati's D-line and a Jay Hayes coached D-line you know you're gonna have to bring your lunch pail and go to work all day."
With the acquisition of defensive line coach Jay Hayes with DE Robert Ayers, they will hopefully boost the team's hurries stat. The drafting of DE Noah Spence, who was rated a first round talent, is another added player to help increase sacks as well as hurries. When inspecting our own players, Jacquies Smith and Akeem Spence both did not play full seasons, but the production can be seen on the hurries stats under fewer games.
Injuries are a part of a long NFL season. The acquisition of FA Ayers and the drafting of DE Noah Spence shored up a line that was banged up. Lost in all this hype of DE's and pass pressure is former practice squadder Howard Jones. We all have read that rookie DEs struggle in their first year and that could be the case with Noah Spence, but it could be a spring board for Jones, who technically will be entering into his third season from college, but only his second season statistically in the NFL.
How highly sought after was this practice squad DE, who is from a small school, Division II Sheperd College? Rick Brown from Pigskin answers this in his article:
In 2015, Jones went through camp with the Steelers but again couldn't crack the 53-man roster. The Steelers had plans to re-sign Jones to the practice squad, but the Buccaneers had other plans. Tampa Bay didn't have a roster spot but offered Jones the rookie minimum salary for the year ($435,000) instead of the standard practice squad salary ($6,600 per week) to come to the Buccaneers' practice squad, learn the system and wait for an opportunity.
|Team Defensive Hurries|
Out of the top five teams in the hurries stat, four of them where playoff bound. Of those four playoff teams, three were divisional champions. I am not proclaiming that Hurries is an end all, be all stat, but that it is a bigger contributing factor to helping a team succeed. Factor in that in Cincy, all of its top hurries stat players were all defensive linemen, it melds into putting more onus on the defensive line to produce and leaving more players to cover the pass as denoted for the Bucs' 2013 defensive season.
In a previous written article, Koetter is all about stats and increasing the chances to win games. It seems as though the stats have struck again with the acquisition of defensive line coach Jay Hayes. That means the Bucs have done things this offseason to possibly help them increase chances of becoming a winning and, hopefully, a playoff team.