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The question is not whether Saquon Barkley is the best running back in this draft class. The question is whether any running back, even one as good as Barkley, warrants a top-five draft selection in the NFL in 2018.

24 Nov 2015

Any Given Sunday: Bucs Over Eagles

by Andrew Healy

When the No. 3 defense goes up against the No. 25 offense, you can usually feel pretty good if you bet on that offense scoring under 37.5 points. But even before Sunday, the Buccaneers presented more danger to the highly ranked Eagles defense than a bottom-dweller offense usually would. The Buccaneers' No. 25 offense rolled up 38 points (Tampa Bay's final seven points in the 45-17 rout of the Eagles came by way of a Lavonte David interception return) in large part because they run with the kryptonite for the 2015 Eagles defense: the power back.

The Eagles entered Sunday with identical defensive DVOA of -17.3% against the pass and the run. Since runs are usually less efficient than passes, that split is unusual. The Broncos and Panthers were the only other defenses whose DVOA against the pass was lower (which is better for defenses) than their DVOA against the run. While the Eagles were one of only four defenses under -10.0% in pass DVOA, 18 defenses had broken that mark in run defense. So what had set the Eagles' defense apart was primarily their success against the pass rather than the run. Moreover, their run defense had one clear weakness: runs up the middle. Coming into Sunday, the Eagles had mostly stopped outside runs but ranked near the bottom against inside runs.

Eagles' Rushing Defense By Direction Before Sunday
Direction Rushes DVOA Rank
Left end/Left tackle 79 -19.1% 11th
Left guard/Middle/Right guard 85 -1.5% 29th
Right end/Right tackle 74 -26.3% 5th

The Buccaneers' running game -- powered by a between-the-tackles back in Doug Martin -- matched up exactly with the Eagles' weakness against the run. A little more than half of Martin's carries (54.3 percent) are charted as going either up the middle or over left/right guard, placing him squarely with other power backs such as Jonathan Stewart (53.4 percent) and Mark Ingram (55.9 percent).

Against the Eagles, Martin ran 27 times for 235 yards. Eighteen of those carries came between left and right guard and went for 159 yards, amassing 46 DYAR. He went for 66 yards (and 18 DYAR) on just three carries to the outside left and 10 yards (for -5 DYAR) on six carries outside right. Running inside two-thirds of the time represents a small step up from Martin's tendency against other teams, perhaps in part reflecting Tampa Bay's attempt to exploit the Eagles' defensive weakness.

After Sunday, the success of the Eagles' run defense breaks down pretty neatly according to the type of back and running game they're facing. Against power backs, the Eagles have failed (with one exception). Against speed backs, the Eagles have succeeded with no exceptions. The distinctions aren't perfect, but to avoid judgment calls I define any runner as a power back if at least half his carries went between the tackles; a speed back if he did so less than 40 percent of the time; and a "close call" if he fell in the middle.

Here's how running backs have fared against Philadelphia, from the most effective (Martin) to the least (Devonta Freeman), along with the category of each back:

Power vs. Speed Backs Against PHI Defense
Player Type of Back 2015 Pct Middle Rushes vs PHI DYAR vs PHI DVOA vs PHI
22-D.Martin Power 54.3% 27 59 45.2%
28-J.Stewart Power 53.4% 24 33 24.2%
22-M.Ingram Power 55.9% 12 13 18.6%
23-R.Jennings Power 62.9% 13 11 10.7%
34-C.Sims Close Call 44.7% 10 6 6.4%
20-D.McFadden Close Call 49.7% 37 21 4.0%
26-T.Coleman Speed 22.0% 20 3 -4.9%
46-A.Morris Speed 36.7% 17 -2 -12.3%
21-J.Randle Speed 28.9% 18 -7 -17.8%
29-B.Powell Close Call 45.2% 10 -6 -26.4%
26-L.Miller Power 56.1% 16 -11 -28.8%
24-D.Freeman Speed 32.3% 10 -14 -37.1%

The Eagles' struggles against power backs reflect an emphasis on speed on defense, and also the limitations of tackle Bennie Logan. But their defense was not unmasked by Martin's performance in a way that every team can repeat going forward. The Patriots in Week 13 loom as an opponent that could pummel the Eagles with repeated doses of downhill back LeGarrette Blount. The LeSean McCoy Revenge Bowl the following week presents a much friendlier matchup for the Eagles' defense.

The Buccaneers' Fantastic Fivesome

Whatever the Eagles' weaknesses against power runners, Martin's big day also reflects the remarkable emergence of the Buccaneers' offensive line. A year after ranking last in adjusted line yards, the Bucs are now ninth in ALY, riding a unit that has just two players left from last year's not-so-fantastic fivesome and only one (left guard Logan Mankins) playing in the same position.

On Sunday, the Buccaneers got great play all over the line. On Martin's first big run, rookie left tackle Donovan Smith blocked linebacker DeMeco Ryans more than 10 yards downfield. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus got the key seal that sprung Martin on his 84-yard second-quarter run. Center Joe Hawley, cut by Atlanta in September, repeatedly drove Bennie Logan downfield to create room for Martin to run. And Mankins looked like his 2010 self, showing power one play and then doing an incredible job covering for Smith to prevent a potential first-quarter strip sack on the next.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

The still shot actually captures a little better what Mankins accomplished with the block. He made an incredible split-second decision and then showed great agility to save his rookie quarterback.

Mankins and his linemates might have been expected to have some success against the Eagles with runs between the tackles, but even more promising going forward than the huge holes they ripped open for Martin might be this kind of play that provided Jameis Winston time to throw against an excellent pass defense. Winston became just the third rookie quarterback to throw for five touchdowns in a game, and his advanced stats are similarly gaudy. His 173 DYAR and 84.3% DVOA led all quarterbacks this week, with those huge numbers reflecting how highly we ranked the Eagles' pass defense coming into Sunday.

Four touchdowns into his day, Winston had a statline that gave him too much credit. Martin had set him up inside the 10-yard line on two long runs. Twice with the Buccaneers in the red zone, the Eagles refused to accept Winston interceptions. In the third quarter, however, with the Buccaneers up by two scores, Winston looked completely in command. His yardage total overall includes little help from yards after the catch -- just 2.2 yards per catch, the least in the league in Week 11.

More than any other factor, Sunday's fantastic fivesome paved the way for Winston's breakout performance. For most of the game, Winston threw like a quarterback who expected to have a clean pocket, an unexpected development this soon for the Buccaneers with all the turnover on their previously terrible offensive line.

By the VOA

As much as the Buccaneers dominated the matchup against the Eagles defense, the Eagles offense played just as poorly against the Buccaneers' No. 15 defense entering Sunday. The Eagles' day on offense was captured by Mark Sanchez's third interception, a pick-six to Football Outsiders' favorite Lavonte David that felt a little like Jack Squirek's interception in Super Bowl 18. David wasn't thinking screen before the snap like Squirek was anticipating a swing pass, but he moved so fast after the snap towards Darren Sproles that he might as well have been.

DVOA (Opponent adjustments included)
PHI -38.4% 33.4% 0.9% -70.9%
TB 39.9% -18.4% 6.0% 64.3%
VOA (No opponent adjustments)
PHI -40.6% 34.3% 0.9% -73.9%
TB 35.1% -25.1% 6.0% 66.2%

The Eagles overall had the worst performance of the week by DVOA, which will happen when you lose by 28 at home to the No. 24 team in DVOA entering the week. Dark times in Philadelphia.

The Keep Looking At Wins Stat of the Week

Getting legitimately great blocking from the Buccaneers' offensive line wasn't the only unusual aspect to Doug Martin's 235-yard day. In the 45 games in NFL history when a running back rushed for at least 220 yards, only Martin on Sunday and Barry Sanders in 1994 failed to rush for at least one touchdown.

Fewest Rushing Touchdowns, 220-Plus Rushing Yards
Player Date Tm Opp Result Att Yds Y/A TD
Barry Sanders 11/13/94 DET TB W 14-9 26 237 9.1 0
Doug Martin 11/22/15 TB PHI W 45-17 27 235 8.7 0
Walter Payton 11/20/77 CHI MIN W 10-7 40 275 6.9 1
DeMarco Murray 10/23/11 DAL STL W 34-7 25 253 10.1 1
Willie Ellison 12/5/71 LARM NO W 45-28 26 247 9.5 1
Emmitt Smith 10/31/93 DAL PHI W 23-10 30 237 7.9 1
Jamaal Charles 9/23/12 KC NO W 27-24 33 233 7.1 1
Beanie Wells 11/27/11 ARI STL W 23-20 27 228 8.4 1
O.J. Simpson 9/28/75 BUF PIT W 30-21 28 227 8.1 1
Napoleon Kaufman 10/19/97 OAK DEN W 28-25 28 227 8.1 1
Priest Holmes 11/22/98 BAL CIN W 20-13 36 227 6.3 1
Jamaal Charles 12/23/12 KC IND L 13-20 22 226 10.3 1
Knowshon Moreno 11/24/13 DEN NE L 31-34 37 224 6.1 1
Willie Parker 12/7/06 PIT CLE W 27-7 32 223 7.0 1
Jim Brown 11/3/63 CLE1 PHI W 23-17 28 223 8.0 1
Gerald Riggs 9/17/89 WAS PHI L 37-42 29 221 7.6 1
Jamal Lewis 9/14/03 BAL CLE W 33-13 30 295 9.8 2
Corey Dillon 10/22/00 CIN DEN W 31-21 22 278 12.6 2
O.J. Simpson 11/25/76 BUF DET L 14-27 29 273 9.4 2
Jamaal Charles 1/3/10 KC DEN W 44-24 25 259 10.4 2
O.J. Simpson 9/16/73 BUF NE W 31-13 29 250 8.6 2
LaDainian Tomlinson 12/28/03 SD OAK W 21-14 31 243 7.8 2
Jim Brown 9/22/63 CLE DAL W 41-24 20 232 11.6 2
Player Date Tm Opp Result Att Yds Y/A TD
Ricky Williams 12/1/02 MIA BUF L 21-38 27 228 8.4 2
Clinton Portis 12/29/02 DEN ARI W 37-7 24 228 9.5 2
Chris Johnson 11/1/09 TEN JAC W 30-13 24 228 9.5 2
Bo Jackson 11/30/87 LARD SEA W 37-14 18 221 12.3 2
Greg Bell 9/24/89 LARM GB W 41-38 28 221 7.9 2
Michael Turner 9/7/08 ATL DET W 34-21 22 220 10.0 2
Marshall Faulk 12/24/00 STL NO W 26-21 32 220 6.9 2
Tiki Barber 12/17/05 NYG KC W 27-17 29 220 7.6 2
Adrian Peterson 11/4/07 MIN SD W 35-17 30 296 9.9 3
Jerome Harrison 12/20/09 CLE KC W 41-34 34 286 8.4 3
Shaun Alexander 11/11/01 SEA OAK W 34-27 35 266 7.6 3
Fred Taylor 11/19/00 JAC PIT W 34-24 30 234 7.8 3
Tiki Barber 12/30/06 NYG WAS W 34-28 23 234 10.2 3
Arian Foster 9/12/10 HOU IND W 34-24 33 231 7.0 3
Adrian Peterson 10/14/07 MIN CHI W 34-31 20 224 11.2 3
LaDainian Tomlinson 12/1/02 SD DEN W 30-27 37 220 5.9 3
Doug Martin 11/4/12 TB OAK W 42-32 25 251 10.0 4
Mike Anderson 12/3/00 DEN NO W 38-23 37 251 6.8 4
Corey Dillon 12/4/97 CIN TEN W 41-14 39 246 6.3 4
Jim Brown 11/19/61 CLE PHI W 45-24 34 237 7.0 4
Barry Sanders 11/24/91 DET MIN W 34-14 23 220 9.6 4
Cookie Gilchrist 12/8/63 BUF NYJ W 45-14 36 243 6.8 5

For those playing make-believe football, this means that Doug Martin had just under the number of fantasy points accumulated by Matt Asiata in Week 9 last year in a game when he had 57 total yards from scrimmage. Another sign -- as if we needed another -- that fantasy football is insane.

Posted by: Andrew Healy on 24 Nov 2015

4 comments, Last at 27 Apr 2016, 10:19am by Brianseo


by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 11/24/2015 - 4:56pm

The turnaround in the Bucs offensive line has to be one of the most surprising things this year, right? Starting two second-round rookies, their best lineman (RT Demar Dotson) goes out in the preseason and gets replaced with career underwhelming journeyman Gosder Cherilus, Logan Mankins is about 90 years old, and the center got dumped from Atlanta's terrible line. I thought this line was going to get Winston killed, but they've been just shockingly competent so far.

by Pat :: Tue, 11/24/2015 - 5:00pm

No notice that the Eagles have another glaring weakness, by DVOA? They're 31st in the league vs. #1 receivers. #2 receivers, lesser-used WRs, tight ends, RBs, they're fine on. But the top passing threat of the other team, they're flat out awful. In other words, their secondary sucks.

You didn't exactly see anyone explode versus the Bucs, but there were a bunch of times they held an extra guy back to help block, and then the receivers quickly found open spots in the Eagles defense - even though they might be surrounded by a bunch of defensive backs.

The secondary was also responsible for those 2 long Martin runs, if memory serves (definitely the 84-yard one was).

by Brianseo :: Wed, 04/27/2016 - 10:19am