Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Third-down defense isn’t as important as we think. Here’s why.

RECOMMENDED READING


Coaches and players preach it.

We’ve got to get off the field on third down.

The Bucs? They’ve been spending so much time on the field they could tell you all you ever wanted to know about the grass at Raymond James Stadium.

Tifway 419 Bermuda. Dense. Tough. Weed-resistant.

Last season, the defense allowed opponents to convert only one out of every three third downs. This season, it’s allowing opponents to convert half of them. What has changed in a year?

Not much.

The third-down defense you saw last season was an illusion.

We know what the numbers say. We’ve double- and triple-checked them. They’re accurate.

They don’t, however, give us a complete picture.

Third-down conversion percentage is not a reliable indicator of the quality of a defense.

That’s because defenses face relatively few third downs. The Bucs defended more than 1,000 plays last season. Less than 20 percent were third downs. In fact, they were a couple of plays away from facing the fewest third downs.

By emphasizing third down, we risk overlooking performance on early downs. Here’s why that’s important: Defenses that perform poorly on first and second down but well on third down tend to decline the next season, Football Outsiders research shows.

That’s exactly what has happened to the Bucs.

The defense was bad on early downs last season. It allowed the third-most yards per play on first down. While it was a little better on second down in terms of yards allowed, it allowed opponents to gain a first down 35.8 percent of the time, the fourth-highest rate.

So as sparkling as the third-down percentage was last season, it wasn’t especially meaningful. What good is a low percentage if opponents are getting first downs before they get to third down?

Compounding the Bucs’ struggles this season is their inability to force opponents into predictable situations. Instead of watching for passes, screens and draws on third down, they’re having to worry about runs and play-action, too.

"The better you are on first and second down, then the better chance you have on third down," safety Keith Tandy said.

"Obviously if you get them in more defense-favorable situations on third down, then you should have more success."

Case in point: On Sunday against Carolina, Tampa Bay bit on a run fake and left tight end Ed Dickson wide open on a third and 1. Dickson gained 14 yards to extend a drive that eventually ended with a touchdown.

The chances of a turnaround this season are slim. The Bucs are allowing 5.4 yards per play on first and second downs. That’s around league average, but it’s only a slight improvement over last season.

Until the defense is more consistent on all downs, it’s going to see more of the field than the grounds ­keepers.

Contact Thomas Bassinger at [email protected] Follow @tometrics.

 
Comments
Bucs’ belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

Bucs’ belief in Jameis Winston has been shaken

TAMPA — Belief is the biggest attribute a quarterback can bring to his team. Belief in his talent. Belief in his commitment to winning. Belief in his ability to bring everyone together and have his voice lead the path forward.But the belief the Bucs ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs-Dolphins: Things to watch in Sunday’s 1 p.m. game

Bucs-Dolphins: Things to watch in Sunday’s 1 p.m. game

TAMPA — Can the Bucs pull off back-to-back wins with a backup quarterback? Win a game on the road for the first time this season? Politely hand the unnamed trophy for the state’s worst football team back to the Dolphins?Mike Evans is back from his su...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh: Who would you rather have?

Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh: Who would you rather have?

In the crowd-pleasing sports-talk of game of "Who Would You Rather Have?’’ there might not be a more perfect match-up than this.Gerald McCoy vs. Ndamukong Suh.Both are defensive tackles. Both went to, what were at the time, Big 12 schools. Both were ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Gerald McCoy to Ndamukong Suh: ‘Let them remember us’

Gerald McCoy to Ndamukong Suh: ‘Let them remember us’

TAMPA — In the spring of 2010, one of the biggest debates the week leading up to the NFL draft was which defensive tackle would be selected first? Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy.Both figured to be highly productive NFL players. S...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Dolphins preview

Cannon Fodder podcast: Bucs-Dolphins preview

Greg Auman has a final preview of Sunday’s Bucs-Dolphins game in Miami in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.He talks about key matchups to watch for, from perhaps the NFL’s best slot receiver in Jarvis Landry, to Miami’s vulnerabilities at right tackl...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Fennelly: If this is true, Jameis Winston is done in this town

Fennelly: If this is true, Jameis Winston is done in this town

TAMPA — Why should we believe this man?Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston is being investigated by the NFL concerning an allegation of him groping a female Uber driver in Scottsdale, Ariz., in March 2016.Winston denied the allegations Friday in a statem...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Bucs journal: DB Vernon Hargreaves will miss Sunday’s game with hamstring injury

Bucs journal: DB Vernon Hargreaves will miss Sunday’s game with hamstring injury

TAMPA — The Bucs will play Sunday against the Dolphins without Vernon Hargreaves, who has been their nickel defensive back the past two games.Hargreaves, the 2016 first-round pick out of Florida and a former Wharton High standout, has been ruled out ...
Published: 11/17/17
Jameis Winston accused of groping Uber driver

Jameis Winston accused of groping Uber driver

TAMPA — The NFL is investigating an allegation that Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston groped a female Uber driver in Arizona in March 2016.Winston called the allegations "false" and contested the unnamed female driver’s assertion that he was her only p...
Published: 11/17/17
Uber called Jameis Winston about ‘you or someone in the vehicle with you’

Uber called Jameis Winston about ‘you or someone in the vehicle with you’

Tampa Bay Times has listened to a voicemail Jameis Winston received from Uber relating to the March 2016 incident in Arizona.The NFL is investigating the allegations that Winston grabbed a female Uber driver's crotch in 2016.In the call, someone...
Published: 11/17/17

Jameis Winston says groping allegations are ‘false’

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston denied allegations by an Arizona Uber driver that he groped her in 2016. The NFL confirmed it is investigating the incident.Winston released a statement on his Twitter account saying the driver was 'confused,' by the n...
Published: 11/17/17