Troubling Third Down Numbers For Buccaneers’ Defense


The Buccaneers defense has been doing well. But after the game against the Lions, an issue has come to light. The defense is struggling in third and long situations. So much so that the only reason for such a disappointing performance can only be attributed to the scheme, pressure, and cushion Todd Bowles dials up on a regular basis.

The Numbers

So to break down the numbers I looked at the defense’s play on third and seven or more.

The current average across the NFL is 39% third down success rate. That’s 39% percent of the time a team will successfully convert on third down. Right now the Buccaneers defense is allowing a conversion rate of 49.6%. A full 10.6% above the average. So far after five weeks they have only found themselves under this number one time. That was a 35% conversion rate allowed against the Saints in week four. Unfortunately this has not been the case in the other weeks. To start the season the Buccaneers allowed the Vikings to convert six of fourteen (42%). Against the Bears that number jumped to 53%. The Eagles managed to convert 10 of 16 for 62% and this week with the Lions in town they allowed 56%. Not a solid showing at all.

The Pressure Scheme

Todd Bowles loves to bring his pressure on third down. Especially on third and long situations with the premises being it should create havoc, disrupt the play, and force turnovers. The problem is it’s not getting home. To date the Buccaneers have done well to make teams face long third down situations. Fifty percent of the third downs this defense has forced have been a third and seven or greater situation (22 plays). These are the key times Bowles brings those extra rushers and drops the secondary into a cushion. A scheme facing criticism and for good reason. It’s not working.

Breaking Down The Defensive Performance

Thus far on the 22 third downs that were seven yards or more the defense has allowed a whopping 45.5% conversion percentage. That’s huge. Opposing teams stand a nearly 50% chance of converting a first down when they face seven yards or more. For example I went back and looked at the number from this previous week.  Jared Goff went four of five with a 20.8 yard average per attempt for a quarterback rating of 158.3. Two of those passes were touchdowns.

The Buccaneers defense has allowed an average quarterback rating of 122.9 this season with third and seven or more. That includes a poor performance from Dereck Carr (57.9 rating) and Justin Fields (20.8 rating). Meanwhile the defense has only mustered two sacks. So needless to say the pressure is not getting there and the cushion is bailing out opposing teams. These are situations the defense MUST come up with a stop and quite frankly it’s all on the Bowles shoulders for this massive blunder.

Offensive Struggles

The offense has a place for blame here too. Leaving the defense out there after they sputter leaves little room for the team to rest. This also provides the opposing offensive coordinator ample opportunity to scheme against the Buccaneers. We see this with the increase through quarters of the third and seven or more situations. In all the first quarters combined the defense has only faced this situation twice. Those occurrences increase to six times in the second, and seven in the third and fourth quarters. So on way to prevent the defense from being in this situation in the first place is having an efficient and potent offense. As of now they have not fully flushed out their potential.

Final Thought

With an offense that still needs to figure itself out, yes they leave the defense on the field far more often then they should. But that doesn’t excuse the scheme. Bowles needs to adjust and until he does the opposing teams will extend their drives.

In the next article we break down the numbers of the Buccaneers’ blitz statistics.

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