You’ve heard the saying before:
“Take what the defense gives you.”
It’s so overused in football, that it’s lost its meaning. It’s a phrase that has been used to describe Mike Glennon, who misses open receivers on a consistent basis. How can a defense give you anything more than an open receiver?
So setting aside the cliché meaning of “take what the defense gives you,” let’s take a look at the numbers behind the tired, old phrase and see how it explains why the Tampa Bay offense is so bad.
The Buccaneers have faced seven top-16 rushing defenses this season, and seven top-16 passing defenses this season. The Panthers are among the teams in both groups, meaning the Bucs have played eight games against top run defenes, and eight against top pass defenses.
(The ranking for each defense is gathered by averaging the team’s rank by yardage and their Football Outsiders DVOA ranking in that area of defense. Usually, these rankings are fairly close, the only outlier is the Cardinals, who rank fourth in DVOA pass defense, but 17th in overall pass defense. As a result, they’re still considered top-16.)
So far this season, in six games against bottom-16 pass defenses, the Buccaneers have two wins and four losses. In those games, they’ve averaged 21 points, thrown for 221 yards per game, and turned the ball over fewer than one time per game.
These are decent numbers, especially considering that the Tampa Bay offense as a whole is ranked dead last in the league.
The Bucs have never thrown for fewer than 200 yards against a lesser pass defense with Mike Glennon under center, and they’ve turned the ball over only twice in Glennon’s four games against these weaker pass defending teams.
On the other hand, when the Buccaneers play top pass defenses, they score only 16 points per game, throw for an average of 146 yards per game, and turn the ball over 1.6 times per contest.
All of their statistics fall off the charts into historically bad territory when they face a good defense, and those numbers only include one game with Josh Freeman at the helm.
Against top pass defenses, the Buccaneers have only eclipsed 175 yards once, and only have one turnover-free game against these top-flight teams.
So there’s a clear distinction between even a slightly good pass defense, like the Dolphins, and a slightly below average defense, like the Lions. Miami ranks just inside the top-16, and the Buccaneers threw for only 124 yards against them, whereas Detroit ranks just outside the top-20, and the Buccaneers threw for 207 yards with no turnovers against Detroit.
Here’s where it gets really ugly.
Against bottom-half-of-the-league rushing defenses, the Buccaneers rack up 143 yards per game on the ground, and actually have a positive point differential in those games. They’re 3-3 in the six contests against these teams, and score just under 22 points per game.
The lowest rushing total the Buccaneers secured all season against a bottom-half rush defense was 97 yards against the Patriots, which was the official unraveling of Josh Freeman, and every other game against these defenses has resulted in at least 110 yards on the ground.
But against top-16 rushing defenses, the buccaneers score only 16 points per game while averaging 77 rushing yards per contest. The average rushing total cuts in half, and that’s including an incredible 205 yard rushing performance against Seattle!
The average would drop below 60 were it not for that fantastic performance against the Seahawks, which remains as a beacon of hope that the Buccaneers are capable of moving the football against an above average rushing defense.
Because apart from the Seattle game, the Buccaneers best rushing performance against a top-16 team was against Philadelphia, who sneak into the top-16 in this ranking, and the Buccaneers gained only 94 total yards on the ground.
I’m sure there are two things you’re thinking here, if you’re having doubts about these numbers.
- Well, sure, they do poorly against good defenses. What’s the point?
- Aren’t many of these top-ranked run defenses also top-ranked pass defenses. Aren’t these statistics somewhat irrelevant?
To answer the second question first, no, these teams don’t overlap all that much. Only the Cardinals, Panthers, Seahawks and 49ers have top-16 defenses in both rushing and passing. And unsurprisingly, the Buccaneers lost to all of those teams.
So to answer the first question, I believe that the level to which the team struggles against even slightly above average defenses, especially against the run, is extremely troubling. Even early in the season, when the offense wasn’t missing as many key players, there just wasn’t production from the defense.
The conclusion is that the Tampa Bay offense literally takes what the defense gives it, and has no ability to transcend a strong defense to post points and yards needed to help a very good defense on the sideline for the Buccaneers. Only the rushing performance against Seattle stands out as a glimmer of hope that the Bucs might just be able to play well against good defensive teams, and that only happened for about a half.
So whether you blame Mike Sullivan, Mike Glennon, Josh Freeman, the offensive line, or Mark Dominik, just know that your outrage with the Tampa Bay offense is justified. Because all the do is take what the defense gives them, and that’s why even the Raiders, Jets and Jaguars have better offenses than the Buccaneers.