Sufficiently Efficient: Why The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Offense Was As Average As Can Be in 2012
By Leo Howell
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
At least a couple of people have mentioned over Twitter or in person that the Buccaneers offense was better than it seemed, and that they could have done more if they had the same opportunities as other offenses, particularly in the NFC South. I won’t call them out by name, because frankly, the whole premise is off-base. The Buccaneers’ had one of the most average offenses in the NFL, and the numbers prove that. In particular, it’s the efficiency numbers that show the whole story.
In basketball, teams can play at such drastically different paces that it can be very difficult to compare scoring numbers on a per game basis. For instance, Virginia Military Institute will often have one of the highest scorers in all of college basketball every season because they run an insanely fast-paced tempo and shoot the ball on sight every time down the floor. On the other hand, it’s a challenge for any player from Wisconsin to crack the scoring charts, because they play a grind-it-out style of ball that doesn’t lend itself to high scoring games.
The same can be true of football. Certain offenses are given more or fewer opportunities, and this can alter the perception of how a team actually performed. So how did the Buccaneers do relative to other offenses in the NFL when “per possession” stats are taken into consideration?
As average as can be.
Let’s lay the foundation for this discussion by pointing out that the Buccaneers had the 7th best average starting field position in the NFL, according to the folks at Football Outsiders. That means that the Buccaneers started an average drive closer to the end zone than almost every team in the NFL, and certainly started more favorably than the Saints and Panthers, who were near the bottom of the league in drive starting field position. So with that small yet still important fact out of the way, let’s take a look at what the Bucs did on offense in 2012 on a per-drive basis.
November 25, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) before he calls a play at the line of scrimmage during the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Only four teams had more offensive possessions than the Buccaneers, and those are the Cardinals, Lions, Texans, and Jaguars. So of the teams in the NFC South, no team had the ball more often than the Buccaneers and their offense. And as such, because every NFC South QB played the year out (for the most part), no quarterback had more drives than Josh Freeman.
The Buccaneers were unable to stand out in their ability to convert these drives into points. The team averaged 1.92 points per drive, which was 16th in the NFL. And it wasn’t just bad luck, because it’s on part with the yardage per drive that the Bucs gained. Josh Freeman and his offense generated 30.51 yards per drive, which is good for 17th in the NFL last season. The team was slightly better at converting drives into touchdowns, finishing with the 14th best mark with .211 touchdowns per drive last year, which comes in neck-and-neck with the Ravens’ numbers in that same area.
So how do these numbers compare to the rest of the NFC South? The Saints dominate both major offensive categories, registering 2.35 points per drive, good for fourth in the league. They also had 35.80 yards per drive, which was third in the NFL. The Falcons were similarly strong, finishing fifth and seventh respectively in the same two categories. And not far behind are the Carolina Panthers, who finished just shy of two points per drive, which was good for 12th in the league, and their yardage numbers represented the 9th best in the league at gaining yards per possession.
So where do the Buccaners stand out? Turnovers. The Bucs were second in the NFL in fumbles per drive, finishing behind only the Giants in this area. They also finished in the top 10 in turnovers per drive, giving the ball away in just over one out of every ten drives. So the Buccaneers were able to hold onto the football, they just wound up having to punt the ball more often than most every other team, or settle for field goals on drives that other teams turned into touchdowns.
Interested in these stats and more? Head over to Football Outsiders and check out their vast array of in-depth NFL stats and analysis.