Koetter's right: Run it 40 times, you usually win in NFL
If you're not asking him about injuries or maybe who might in theory might step up in case of a widely expected injury, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter can engage in some insightful conversations about NFL playcalling and all the ways a coach might measure success on a play.
There's been a lot of talk about run-pass balance, what with Jameis Winston topping 50 passes in each of the last two Bucs games -- again, that's predicated by the Bucs falling behind and needing to throw a lot to try to catch up later in games.
But Koetter pointed out that as a general rule, if you get to 40 carries running the ball in an NFL game, there's a good chance you're going to win. It's a correlation deal more than causation: If you can run the ball that much, it means you're having success, dictating the line of scrimmage and likely have been staked to an early lead where you want to salt away the clock with a slow, steady diet of running plays.
"There's like an unwritten rule in the NFL, if you can run it 40 times in a game, you're probably going to win," Koetter said. "But just go out there and try to run it 40 straight times and see what happens. It probably won't work. The way we look at it is it's not that if the run game is working; it's if it's efficient. You've got to be able to move the chains, so for us, if it's first-and-10, four yards or more is an efficient run. If it's second-and-long, half of it is an efficient run. If it's third down, converting is an efficient run. ... Whether it's a run or a pass, you've got to be efficient to keep the chains moving."
Not even doubting Koetter, we found our inner PolitiFact to conjure up the stats to back up what the coach is saying. Sure enough, the last 100 NFL teams to run the ball 40 times in games have won 87 percent of the time. In the Bucs' 41-year history, they're 53-9 when they run the ball 40 times, good for an 85 percent win rate (there aren't many of those in Bucs history).
What's more, the Bucs haven't lost when running the ball 40 or more times since 1991 -- a full 25 years and 28 straight wins. The Bucs had 40-plus runs twice last season (with Koetter as OC) in easy wins against the Eagles and Jaguars. Before that, however, they had just two total 40-carry games from 2009-14, with struggling teams that would more often than not be trailing and needing to pass a lot. From 2005-08, the Bucs had eight 40-carry games, pounding the rock much more often.
As Koetter said, you can't just go out and run the ball 40 times by design, but when you're able to, it's a good indicator of controlling a game, both at the line of scrimmage and on the scoreboard. Is that likely to happen with Doug Martin on the sidelines and the defending Super Bowl champs in town this weekend? Probably not, but next time it does, we'll check to see if it's in a Bucs win.