Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris is not a big stats guy. Most statistics, he says, are for "losers.'' One exception: third-down efficiency.
"I actually care about that one,'' he said.
So, far this season, the Bucs are playing like they care. On what is often referred to in the NFL as the "money down,'' few teams have cashed in more regularly than Tampa Bay.
Though just 20th overall in total offense, the Bucs enter Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons sixth in the league in offensive third-down efficiency, having converted 13 of 26 third down plays for a 50-percent success rate.
The Bucs defense, meanwhile, has been even more efficient. After allowing just seven of 22 possible conversions, the league's 28th-ranked defense is seventh in third-down efficiency with a 76-percent success rate.
As impressive as those numbers are, though, Morris isn't completely satisfied. The Bucs could be doing better on both sides of the ball, he said, and a deeper look at the stats confirms it.
The Bucs, slow starters this season, have converted just three of 10 third-down plays in the first half and stopped just seven of the opponents' 14 first-half tries. Tampa Bay is a different team in the second half, though, earning those lofty spots in the league's third-down efficiency rankings.
The offense has so far made good on 10 of 16 second-half tries, including five of six against the Vikings last week. The defense, meanwhile, has stopped all eight of their opponents' second-half conversion attempts.
"We have executed and done everything we're supposed to do in the second half,'' Morris said. "But you have to be consistent and win those battles all the time. That's a do-or-die situation.''
Since the beginning of training camp in 2010, the Bucs have spent more than $100 million to keep their offensive line intact. The folks at profootballfocus.com aren't so sure it's money well spent.
Profootballfocus spent the past offseason doing some original research to determine how often quarterbacks were pressured by pass rushers in 2010. The Bucs didn't fare well in the final analysis.
According to the website's research, Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman was pressured on 47.3 percent of his pass attempts in 2010. That figure ranked 31st out of 32 teams in the study.
On average, NFL teams allowed their quarterback to be pressured on 36 percent of their pass attempts last season, the research said. The Bucs may be performing a little closer to that mark this year.
Though the study included other variables, Freeman has been sacked, hit or forced to scramble 18 times in 85 passing situations through two games. Using just those criteria, Freeman has been pressured on 21 percent of his throws.
Opposing quarterbacks threw for an average of 258 yards against the Bucs the first two weeks of the season. History suggests Tampa Bay will tighten up in that area.
Though injuries and suspensions forced a lot of changes during the span, the Bucs came into the 2011 season ranked fourth overall in fewest passing yards allowed by a secondary since 2006.
The stingiest secondary during that five-year span was Indianapolis, which allowed 189.9 passing yards per game. Oakland (190.6), Pittsburgh (194.5) Tampa Bay (196.7) and the New York Jets (197.7) fill out the top five.