Gruden Claus isn’t coming to town.
Dirk Koetter is staying.
Surprised? Disheartened? Outraged?
Yes, the Bucs are 4-11. They will miss the playoffs. Again.
For the 25th time in 42 seasons, they have racked up losses in the double digits.
That’s infuriating. No team should lose that much.
Even so, the Bucs are better off with Koetter as their head coach than Jon Gruden, unless Chucky had plans to bring back the 2002 versions of Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber and John Lynch.
Now that would have been something. Imagine Gruden walking the practice fields at One Buc Place next summer. “I’ll tell ya what, the past is so bright here I have to wear shades. We’re going back to the future, man. Grab some popcorn.”
Since we’re having some trouble letting go of the past, let’s revisit the glory days.
While Gruden brought a Super Bowl championship to Tampa Bay, consider what he didn’t bring: a consistently above-average offense.
He had seven seasons to do it. And it didn’t happen.
Not with Brian Griese. Not with Chris Simms. Not with Bruce Gradkowski.
We analyzed the regular-season performance of every Bucs offense during the Tony Dungy era (1996-2001) and the Gruden era (2002-2008). In our evaluation, we consulted several measures of offensive efficiency.
None of them supports the argument that Gruden’s offenses were markedly better than his predecessor’s.
We looked at yards per drive. Seasons Dungy’s offenses gained above the league average: Zero. Gruden’s offenses: One.
We looked at points per drive. Seasons Dungy’s offenses scored above the league average: Three. Gruden’s offenses: Zero.
We looked at Football Outsiders’ ratings. Seasons Dungy’s offenses rated above the league average: Three. Gruden’s offenses: One.
When we plot the data on line graphs, we don’t see an upward trend after Gruden was hired. Instead, the graphs look more like seismograms. Offensive inconsistency during the Dungy era continued through the Gruden era.
So what about Koetter? How do his offenses compare?
Let’s start with yards per drive. The Bucs have gone from above average in 2015 to below average in 2016 to back above average this season.
As for points per drive, the Bucs’ scoring has declined two straight seasons. While that’s certainly a red flag, scoring is down across the league this season.
How could Tampa Bay be moving the ball well and struggling to score points? Part of the answer is giveaways. The Bucs have turned the ball over 24 times this season, and 14 of those turnovers have occurred in opponent territory. Only the Browns have turned the ball over more often in opponent territory.
By Football Outsiders’ ratings, this season’s offense is shaping up to be the best of Koetter’s tenure. Considering Tampa Bay’s troubles scoring — particularly in the first half of games — that might seem incongruent. Unlike yards per drive and points per drive, however, Football Outsiders’ ratings include adjustments for situation and strength of opponent, and the Bucs have played one of the NFL’s tougher schedules.
Any evaluation of Koetter would not be complete without an evaluation of quarterback Jameis Winston. His development, after all, is the reason why Bucs ownership promoted Koetter from offensive coordinator to head coach after the 2015 season.
Winston wasn’t a much more efficient quarterback in 2016 than he was in 2015, but he is showing signs of progress this season. He is third in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (8.03), trailing only Drew Brees (8.08) and Tom Brady (8.06). While yards per attempt averages sometimes can be higher for quarterbacks who throw a lot of deep passes, Winston’s average this season is a career high. He averaged 7.6 yards in 2015 and 7.2 in 2016.
Winston also is throwing interceptions at a career-low rate. The better quarterbacks tend to throw at least twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, and for the first time, he is on pace to do that. Fumbles, however, remain a concern. He lost an NFL-high six fumbles last season and has lost an NFL-high seven this season.
Are Winston’s gains the beginning of a trend? Koetter has at least another season to prove the future is brighter than the past.
Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.