Tampa Bay Bucs: How Weak of a Ground Game Can They Still Win With

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David Malinsky

Friday, August 4, 2017 2:08 PM GMT

On the 2017 Tampa Bay Bucs: How Weak of a Ground Game Can They Still Win With…A morning coffee toast to good friends (as they drink some of the world’s best in CR), and the proper salute to one that will be missed…The markets are still lagging behind on Kyle Freeland…

Point Blank – August 4, 2017

It will be time to switch divisions and head to the NFC South today as the 2017 NFL tour continues, the focus being on one key issue for each team that the shrewd handicapper should be focusing on. Today that issue is also an evergreen discourse on a fundamental aspect of football science.

Before that let’s set-up the next two days for those of you unable to join the crew for IFBC 2017. This is the first of what should become an annual event that will not only prepare folks for the pointspread battles of the upcoming football season, but also to help Costa Rican officials better tweak their standards for allowing various reprobates through customs, and of course keeping various law enforcement agencies in San Jose at high alert (likely having to dig deep into the penal code to classify some forms of nefarious behavior).

Here is the schedule of events for the next two days, which will be streamed live at the site (the schedules are in Costa Rica time, which is U.S. Mountain Time Zone this time of year) - 

There are some great friends taking place in the event, but this morning we also take the time to properly appreciate one no longer with us. As noted in the Wednesday edition, we lost Eric Strasser earlier this week. Eric was better known as “Palmtree” across the Point Blank community, and I am sure that many who never met him personally came to accept him as a friend for his MLB contributions through the years. Today the Jukebox is plugged in for the appropriate farewell, Clarence Clemons being one of Eric’s favorites. I was not able to find a video of this one, but here is a wonderful rendition of “Road to Paradise”, live from Asbury Park long ago. Sometimes you only need the sound…

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Now time to go forward, and that means diving into what the ground game still means in the modern NFL.

In the modern NFL, how good can an offense be without a legit threat at RB

It is understandable that optimism is running high in Tampa – James Winston has about as much NFL experience as a 23-yeard old QB can have, which means realistic anticipations of an elevated playing arc. Especially with weapons like DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard having been added, Jackson being the first Buccaneer WR of the Winston era that can stretch opposing defenses. Having gone from 2-14 in the last season before Winston came on board, and then to 6-10 and 9-7 the past two campaigns, there is a striking appearance of momentum.

There is a caution, however. The Bucs won five games in 2016 in which they scored fewer than 20 points, which is not an easy trick in this NFL era. The offense finished #18 in the Football Outsiders weighted charts, which was a decline after they finished #12 in 2015. It was the ground game that caused the problems, falling from #11 to #30, and my Tampa Bay charting for 2017 begins where 2016 ended.

Although there is one main purpose today, there are two aspects. First is the changing nature of pro football, now firmly a pass-first game, and just how much running is still necessary in order to be successful. Second is the issue of how we measure individual RBs, not just on their base numbers but on how the presence impacts the offense, and in particular that takes us to Doug Martin and the mediocre group that the Bucs will open the season with during his three-game suspension.

Despite the fact that we are witness to a passing era, what happens to teams that don’t run the ball well? Let’s go to the bottom five over the past five seasons, using the FO ratings, and see their placement in the standings. Note that this is all about efficiency, and not about teams compiling better rushing stats because they are winning, and hence running more, or weaker counts when losing, and naturally running less. Since Tampa finished right in the middle of the bottom five pack in 2016, it lends some perspective –

2016   33-47

2015   29-51

2014   36-44

2013   34-46

2012   37-43

Average Team  6.7-9.3

It is a simple study, but one that does set a foundation. The 2016 Bucs finished a little over two full wins more than the average of the other 24 teams in the sampling. While adding Jackson and Howard will indeed give Winston his best targets yet, and allow for a lot of creativity from Dirk Koetter’s playbook, is there any reason to expect the ground game to be any better? That matters, because without a run threat, defenses don’t have to bring a safety near the box, and can focus far more on pass coverage.

Doug Martin was better than his 2016 numbers, but still wasn’t very good

Martin is the wild card, of course. He has had Pro Bowl flashes in the past, but injuries both kept him off the field for much of 2016, and limited him when he did play, an anemic 2.9 yards per rush over 144 attempts.

What is his prognosis for 2017? That is not an easy one to answer. Martin can be physically fresher than a RB of his age because he took so many fewer hits, and the determination to come back from how awkward 2016 ended. But having only played more than 11 games in one season over the last four, has his career simply had too much disruption?

Now the statistical issue to be careful with. One could make the case that with Jacquizz Rodgers averaging 4.3 per rush on 129 carries, and Peyton Barber 4.1 on 55, some of the other Tampa Bay RBs picked up the slack well. I believe that is a trap, and can happen in a lot of RB comparisons. It wasn’t that Rodgers and Barber ran better than Martin; it was that opposing defenses were much more content to allow them to have their yards, and focus more on keeping the passing game in check.

Despite his poor individual production counts, the Buccaneers were 6-1 SU in the games that Martin got at least 16 carries, and that included road wins over the Falcons and Chiefs, and a home win over the Seahawks. The only loss came by a 26-20 count at Dallas, certainly nothing wrong with that. In the eight games Martin did not play, and the one in which he was a non-factor because of an early injury, the Bucs were 3-6. A deeper dive of the offensive efficiency counts backs up the basic W/L table.

Rodgers and Barber don’t combine to make a full-time quality NFL starter. Charles Sims only averaged the same 2.9 as Martin in 2016, and showed his limitations. While the Tampa Bay passing game has the opportunity to be special, in terms of both talent and tactics, if the running game remains as bad as it was in 2016, it is a significant burden for the rest of the offense to overcome.

One of the keys on this front will be something for the eye test, and also use the emerging statistics that will be out there to help measure it – how much pressure is Jameis Winston going to get after play action fakes? In those first three games will he be able to buy time by faking a handoff to Rodgers/Barber/Sims, or will opposing defenses have such little respect for that trio that they just tee-off on the pass rush.

Why you should like Kyle Freeland more than the rest of the marketplace does

Before moving PB over to the new platform there was a take on Kyle Freeland early and the season, detailing why there may be more than meets the eye coming from him. Freeland is not a sex-appeal guy to the Fantasy crowd, lacking high strikeout counts, while others might have feared a young pitcher without seemingly great stuff having to work from the Coors Field mound.

Freeland is a different story, however, born and raised in the area and having had to craft his pitching around dealing with the altitude and dry air. So how has the debut gone? He has dealt to a 6-4/3.21 across his 10 home starts, both not afraid to throw strikes, and to also have the focus to keep the ball low in the zone (5.2 ratio of GB:FB).

I believe there is merit behind the numbers but the markets still don’t, with Pinny already dropping from -163 to -145 on the Rockies this morning. So I will be a little chalky in this one, but -150 is the trigger point for #912 Colorado (8:40 Eastern), with Freeland getting the usual advantage of a young left-hander in the first-look setting against an opponent, and in this case it is a slumping Phillies team playing with precious little confidence on the road – they failed to score in 25 of their last 26 innings in getting swept by the Angels, despite facing a mediocre group of pitchers.

Your Daily Dose of SportsBIT

There isn’t one, with Ted Sevransky spending his Thursday flying luxuriously to Costa Rica, where he opens the Friday morning discussions. But the gang will be back on Monday as the NFL pace picks up, a full pre-season board on tap that brings plenty of talking points to sort through.

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If you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.