Ever so often, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter pulls back the curtain a bit and shares some of the stats that matter to him most as a coach.
On Friday, he was happy to report that the Bucs, by rushing for 130 yards in Thursday's 12-8 preseason win over the Jaguars, had checked off one of their statistical goals for the team in any game: rushing for 125 yards or averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
It's an interesting threshold -- teams often set specific goals to remind players of their importance, whether it be winning the turnover battle or hitting a certain percentage on third downs. Go back a year or two, and the 125-yard mark is one that illustrates how much the Bucs missed a consistent running game last season, especially compared to 2015, when Koetter was Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator.
How many times did the Bucs rush for 125 last season, or average 4.5 per carry? They did so exactly once -- rushing for 249 yards against a historically bad 49ers run defense in their road win. They came awfully close in their season-ending win against Carolina -- 25 rushes for 112 yards, which works out to 4.48 yards per carry. We'd understand if they round up and count that one.
Compare that to 2015, when Doug Martin finished second in the NFL in rushing. The Bucs hit that rushing goal in 10 of 16 games, exceeding the yardage total against the Saints (139), Panthers (141), Jaguars (183), Redskins (190), Giants (136), Eagles (283), Colts (132), Falcons (166) and Rams (146), and averaging 6.1 yards per carry in their second game against the Saints.
Piling up rushing yards can sometimes be a by-product of winning as much as a cause -- teams ahead in the second half will be more likely to run the ball, running off clock; teams trailing in the second half may need to abandon the run even if they were running effectively. NFL teams that rushed for 125 yards or more won 67 percent of the time, but the 4.5-yard average isn't particularly telling, as teams averaging at least 4.5 yards per carry went 93-92 last year, barely a winning record.
That the Bucs could go 6-10 in a season where they meet their rushing goal 10 times, then go 9-7 when they meet it just once, shows what Tampa Bay was able to overcome in its improvement last year. Koetter talks about his offense being a run-first offense, establishing the run and then finding a balance with the pass. Doing so will make life easier for Jameis Winston in 2017 and could be a key part of the Bucs' efforts to end a 10-year playoff drought.
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