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What should we expect from Todd Bowles’ defense in Year Two? Pt. III

Putting it all together for a small projection of 2020.

Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thanks to me, stock in Aleve and Excedrin has probably gone through the roof over the past few days. All I’ve done is create headaches with all these numbers that I’ve put out concerning Todd Bowles’ defenses in Year Two.

But it doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you get there, right?

If you haven’t checked out the other two headache-inducing pieces that take a look at Bowles’ time in Arizona and in New York, go ahead and check them out in order to get a firm grasp on the data below.

So sit back and enjoy your post-Easter coma while reading the following “projections” toward the Bucs’ defense in Year Two under Bowles.

(keep in mind this is nowhere near official, we are just taking a look at trends)

Year One with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s no secret that Tampa Bay was dreadful on defense in 2018. The Bucs gave up the 27th-most yards per game (383.4 ypg) and the 31st-most points (29 ppg) before Bowles’ first season as defensive coordinator. The secondary gave up 259.4 yards per game through the air (26th) and the Bucs were nearly as bad on the ground, giving up 123.9 yards per game (24th).

Turnovers were low, too. The defense forced just 17 on the season, which was good for the 26th-fewest amount in the league.

The Bucs weren’t good in the DVOA department, either. They finished dead last with a 14.8% overall metric that included the 29th-worst weighted metric (10.9%). The pass defense ranked 30th (24.3%) and the run defense measured out as the 31st-worst run defense (3.0%).

After a rough start to the 2019 season, the defense cleaned up over the final eight games of the year. Bowles’ squad finished as the 15th-overall defense in the league, giving up 343.9 yards per game. The Bucs gave up the 29th-most points (28.1) and forced 28 turnovers, which put them in the top-5 (5th). The pass defense gave up 270.1 yards per game (30th), but the defense was dominant in the run game, allowing just 73.8 yards per game (1st).

DVOA-wise, the defense finished as the league’s fifth-best unit (-11.5%) and the good performances during the back half of the season gave the Bucs the third-best weighted defense (-17.2%). The pass defense jumped all the way to 12th (-0.3%), while the run defense dominated, finishing first overall with a (-30.5%) mark.

What are the end results from Year One?

  • The Bucs jumped 12 spots (27th to 15th) in total defense, which marked a 10% decrease in total yards allowed. The pass defense gave up 4% more yards through the air (259.4 to 270.1), which dropped the secondary from 26th in 2018 to 30th in 2019. The run defense went from one of the worst in the NFL to the best, marking a 40% decrease in rushing yards allowed. The Bucs jumped all the way from 24th to 1st rankings-wise in 2019.
  • Total points allowed dropped 3% (29 to 28.1) and the Bucs jumped two spots in the rankings (31st to 29th) because of that. Turnovers increased 39% (17 to 28), causing the Bucs to rise from 26th in 2018 to 5th in 2019.
  • The Bucs went from dead-last to fifth in terms of overall DVOA (14.8% to -11.5), which marked a 178% increase. The unit finished as the third-best weighted defense (-17.2%), marking a 26 spot rise (29th to 3rd) rankings-wise. Remember, the weighted ranking can reflect sustainability throughout the year and/or improvement over the back end of the season, and the latter is what we saw in 2019. The pass defense jumped 18 spots (30th to 12th), which represented a 101% increase the overall metric (24.3% to -0.3%). The run defense went all the way from 31st to 1st, marking a 1,117% increase in efficiency (3.0% to -30.5%).

“Good God, Evan. Enough with the numbers. Just tell us what it means for the Bucs in 2020!”

Well, first, let’s start off by saying that this is nowhere near a guarantee nor an indictment of what Tampa Bay’s defense will look numbers-wise in 2020. But, the whole purpose of this exercise is to get some idea of what could happen, so let’s take a look at the average increase/decrease in numbers and rankings in Year Two of Todd Bowles’ defenses:

  • Total Defense (total yards allowed) - Bowles’ defenses averaged a 13 spot drop in Year Two and an 11% increase in total yards allowed. DVOA-wise, the defense averages an 11 spot drop and a 99% decrease in overall efficiency. The weighted defense tends to drop 13 spots and features a 90% average decrease in overall efficiency.
  • Pass Defense (passing yards allowed) - The secondary averages a 10 spot drop rankings-wise and a 7% increase in yards allowed. It gets worse in terms of DVOA. The secondary averages a 16 spot drop and a 1,431% decrease in the overall metric.
  • Run Defense (rushing yards allowed) - Bowles’ defenses allow a 19% increase in yards gained on the ground in Year Two, which accompanies an 11 spot drop rankings-wise. DVOA-wise, the run defense tends to drop about three spots, but features a 24% decrease in the overall metric.

So, based off this data, this is what the Bucs’ defense will look like numbers-wise in 2020:

Tampa Bay will finish with the 28th-ranked total defense, which allows 381.7 yards per game. The pass defense will finish dead-last in the NFL, allowing 289 yards per game. The run defense will fall from 1st to 12th and the Bucs will give up 87.9 yards per game on the ground in 2020.

The Bucs will force 18 turnovers, which will be good enough for the 22nd-most in the league, but the defense will finish last in points allowed, giving up 30.3 points per game.

In terms of overall DVOA, the defense will finish out as the 16th-best defense (-.02%), which will include the 16th-highest weighted defense (-1.7%). The secondary will finish as the league’s 28th-worst pass defense and will field the fourth-best run defense (23.2%).

Just for fun, I cross-referenced the projected numbers with 2019 stats. Based off these numbers this is where the Bucs’ defense would have finished in 2019:

  • Total defense - 27th overall (381.7 ypg)
  • Pass defense - 32nd overall (289 ypg)
  • Run defense - 3rd overall (87.9 ypg)
  • Points allowed - 31st overall (30.3 ppg)
  • Turnovers - t-24th overall (18)

Now don’t fret...

These are just numbers. They won’t tell the whole story. There are so many factors that will decide what happens numbers-wise and on the field in 2020.

There are also factors to consider when trying to figure out the drop-off between Year One and Year Two with Bowles’ defenses. The slew of injuries in Arizona during the 2014 season severely limited the overall impact of the defense. An inept offense combined with extra responsibilities as head coach contributed to the defensive decline in 2016.

So far, the Bucs are healthy and they will have a very good offense in 2020. The defense also returns every single starter from the 2019 season. The only subtractions from the roster would be rotational players Carl Nassib and Beau Allen. While Nassib will likely be missed to some extent, Allen only played 16% of defensive snaps in 2019. So, Bowles will have all of his guys back for another run during his second year as defensive coordinator.

But the Bucs play in a very tough division that features two top-10 quarterbacks, as well as a litany of top skill position players. The Panthers and Saints have offensive-minded head coaches, which could obviously hurt the Bucs’ numbers at the end of the day. And games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and the Los Angeles Rams could hurt the final defensive numbers, as well.

The overall feeling is that as long as the defense stays healthy, the young players improve, and the offense puts up points, then everything should be fine at the end of the day. I wouldn’t ignore this trend with Bowles, however, for whatever reason it exists.

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