By GREG AUMAN
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — Dirk Koetter doesn’t share all the details, but the Bucs coach has a list of specific statistical goals for every game, little things that he believes are key ingredients to NFL victories.
Winning the turnover margin, no surprise, is his No. 1 goal in any game. The Bucs have validated that in their past two wins, with seven total takeaways and just one turnover against Carolina and San Francisco.
But second, intriguingly, is what Koetter calls “explosives,” and he has even come up with his own criteria for what constitutes an explosive play, distinct from the common standard of any offensive play of 20 yards or more.
Koetter counts an explosive as any running play of 12 yards or longer or a pass play of 16 yards or longer, and has said his goal is to get eight in any game. Each week, he measures explosives gained vs. explosives allowed.
“I’m not trying to say that everybody buys into this, and I don’t really care if they do or they don’t,” Koetter said Monday on his weekly radio show. “We buy into it, and we preach it every day.”
The Bucs had 11 explosives on Sunday — five running, including a 45-yarder by Jacquizz Rodgers and 44-yard score by Peyton Barber, plus six passing, including three to receiver Russell Shepard. The 49ers had four in building a 14-0 lead, but just four the rest of the way, including three on Colin Kaepernick scrambles.
So how much does winning the Koetter explosives differential correlate with winning the game?
First, we looked at the Bucs’ six games — they’ve won the explosives battle three times (plus-1 vs. Falcons, plus-3 vs. Rams, plus-3 vs. 49ers) and they’ve lost it three times (minus-3 vs. Cardinals, minus-4 vs. Broncos, minus-8 vs. Panthers), so that matches their overall record. The team that has won the explosives differential is 4-2 in the Bucs’ six games — obviously the Panthers win goes against that as their worst margin, but again, he’s saying turnover margin trumps this and against Carolina the Bucs were plus-4 in turnovers in a super-close win.
What’s curious is that if you assess an explosives differential for all 32 NFL teams, the Bucs are tied for the fourth-worst in the NFL at minus-8 — only the Chiefs (minus-9, hosting Bucs Nov. 20), Raiders (minus-16, play at Bucs on Sunday) and 49ers (minus-25, really bad defense) are worse. And those aren’t all bad teams — the Raiders are 5-2 and the Chiefs 4-2, so clearly, a bad explosives differential is something a team can overcome with other things, like turnover margin.
The NFL’s best teams at Koetter’s explosives metric? The Falcons (whom the Bucs beat in Week 1 and face them again Nov. 3) are the NFL’s best at plus-18, with Arizona (plus-14, routed the Bucs 40-7 in Week 2), Dallas (plus-13, host Bucs in Week 15), Carolina (plus-12, coming to Tampa in Week 17) and Denver (plus-11, beat Bucs 20-7 in Week 4) rounding out the top five.
So in the metric that Koetter finds second-most important statistic, the Bucs will face the five best teams in the NFL, including two of them twice. That suggests the Bucs need to vastly improve in that area to finish with a winning record.
There are some extremes. The Seahawks have allowed the fewest running explosives (three) and the next closest is eight, the 49ers have allowed the most (28) and the next closest is 21; the Broncos and Vikings have allowed the fewest passing explosives (21) and the Raiders have allowed the most at 46.
On offense, Bills have the most rushing explosives (27) and the Vikings the fewest (four); Atlanta has the most passing explosives (52) and the Bills the fewest (20).
Most glaring outliers to the suggestion that explosives differential correlates to winning? The Raiders, who are 5-2 yet rank 31st in explosives differential, while the Panthers rank fourth yet are 1-5.
Contact Greg Auman at firstname.lastname@example.org and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.
By Joey Knight
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- While Bulls coach Willie Taggart has suggested some defensive changes are forthcoming in the wake of Friday's debacle at Temple, one of them won't be the voice of the play-caller.
Beleaguered first-year coordinator Raymond Woodie will continue calling the shots, Taggart said during his regular weekly press conference Tuesday.
"Who do you want me to use?" Taggart said.
When a reporter suggested first-year safeties coach John Jancek, a former coordinator at three Division I schools including Tennessee, Taggart dismissed the notion.
"But he was a former defensive coordinator that ran a totally different defense," Taggart said. "We're in the middle of the season, so no. We're going to get better -- everybody. So you guys write about that now. Write about that: No, (a new play-caller) is not going to happen, okay? So we're going to get better."
Criticism of Woodie intensified Friday after the Bulls' listless defense surrendered 319 rushing yards in the 46-30 loss at Temple. USF, one of only five Division I schools to allow two players to run for at least 200 yards this season, ranks last in the American Athletic Conference against the run (206.3 ypg).
Taggart blamed Friday's struggle on myriad factors: lack of energy, failure to fill gaps and poor angles. MLB Auggie Sanchez, the defensive captain, blamed himself.
"That's my bad for not going back and making sure guys are right, making sure guys are flying around," he said. "Because if you're not aligned right but you play 100 percent, I guarantee you'll make a few plays. ... So it just goes back to not having much energy, and I put that on me."
INJURY UPDATE: Taggart re-stated that QB Quinton Flowers, who exited with a hamstring injury late in the fourth quarter Friday, "absolutely" would be ready to go this Friday against Temple.
"He's a tough guy," Taggart said.
Elsewhere, CB Ronnie Hoggins (calf) is expected to play after missing the last two games. WR Ryeshene Bronson (shoulder), who didn't make the trip to Philadelphia last weekend, practiced Tuesday and made a nice catch, Taggart said.
CHIRPING OWL: Taggart and Sanchez had little reaction to Temple RB Ryquell Armstead's postgame comments that essentially questioned the Bulls toughness.
Speaking of his fullback, 240-pound Temple junior Nick Sharga, Armstead said: "By the end of the third quarter he had USF players falling to their knees out of fear of making contact with him."
"It's a slap in the face," Sanchez said. "Were we falling on our knees to cut him, or was he making us fall to his knees? That's the only question I would ask. ... Kudos to them, they beat us. (Armstead) had a career night (210 rushing yards), I think that's the most yards he's ever had, so good for them. They can say it, they won."
Taggart basically concurred: "If he had said it before the game, I'd have something to say. But it's afterwards. He can say that. They beat us. They ran the ball hard. They beat us. He can say what he wants to say. Pretty cool."
ODDS AND ENDS: Friday is USF's "Salute the Service" game, in which the Bulls will wear uniforms (details to come) honoring those who serve in the military. ... The Bulls enter Friday's game three rushing TDs shy of the program's single-season record (30) set in 2007. ... If he can play through his tweaked hamstring, Flowers (745 rushing, 1,722 passing yards) could become the first 2,000/1,000 player in program history. ... Navy is 22-4 over its last 26 games, with three of those four losses coming against ranked teams. ... For the second consecutive week, USF will have the broadcast crew of Adam Amin (play-by-play), Mack Brown (analysis) and Molly McGrath (sideline) calling its game, this time for ESPN2.
AUDIBLE: "If you ask me what I'm more ticked about more than anything, it's the selfish penalties. We can't have those." -- Taggart, whose team was penalized 11 times for 88 yards (including a personal foul and a taunting whistle) against Temple.
CLEVELAND — The player with the potential to have the single biggest impact on the World Series that opened in Cleveland on Tuesday night could have been a Ray.
Or at least a Devil Ray.
Andrew Miller, the dominating reliever whose early-and-often usage by the Indians has changed the dynamic of postseason bullpen management, was a third-round pick in 2003 by Tampa Bay’s first regime.
And, as a product of Gainesville’s Buchholz High, he was intrigued by the prospects of pitching for what was essentially his hometown team.
But money was something of an issue, as was Miller’s own maturity, or lack thereof. He said he wasn’t ready at 18 for the pressures of the big-league deal and fast track the Rays were offering, figuring he’d probably be better prepped for pro ball after three years at North Carolina.
TAMPA — In a profession laced with sordidness and slick talkers, he has remained smudge-free. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose name carries even more respect than syllables, may evade a question now and again, but he won’t lie.
So when he’s asked if quarterback Will Worth — the seldom-used backup thrust into a starting role out of necessity — has surprised him, the answer is yes. And yes.
“I hoped that he would play well,” Niumatalolo said days before the Midshipmen visit USF. “But he’s playing a lot better than I thought, and I’m really, really excited for him.”
That makes one surprised observer. Finding No. 2 may take some doing, especially among those who saw Worth during his days as Newsome High quarterback, middle linebacker, punter, captain, cornerstone and conscience.
Now he is a part of the solution.
LeBron James. Oh, save us, LeBron. Save us from the dreaded Dream Team known as the Golden State Warriors. You’re our only hope to keep a fantasy team made up of All-Stars and constructed by gobs of money and greed and selfishness from turning the NBA, which opened play Tuesday night, into a season of yawns.
This a Warriors team that won an NBA regular season-record 73 games and then added, arguably, the second-best player on the planet in Kevin Durant. The Warriors would have won the NBA title last season, but one man stopped them: LeBron.
And now LeBron is our best hope to push a pin in Golden State’s bubble, the one man who can stop the dream team.
TORONTO — Rookie F Brayden Point is digging his first road trip.
The first-class seats on a chartered plane. Nice hotels.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said.
Point, 20, hopes he’s sticking around for a second one with the Lightning. And he might.
With RW Ryan Callahan (hip surgery) nearing a return, perhaps this weekend, some wonder what that means for Point, a first-year pro who made the team out of camp. Point is the only forward, other than RW Jonathan Drouin, who can be sent to AHL Syracuse without having to clear waivers. So it would make sense to give Point top-line minutes for the Crunch rather than battle for playing time among 13 healthy forwards.
But Point is making a case to stay with his strong play and was a plus-2 through five games, before Tuesday’s victory at the Maple Leafs, while averaging between 14 and 16 minutes of ice time. Tampa Bay could carry 13 forwards, including Point.
“There’s no reason for him to go anywhere,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s been playing minutes too. You don’t want your young guys sitting there playing 6-7 minutes a night. He’s been a big contributor to our team.
“A lot of guys have, that’s why we’re having success because everyone is contributing. But (Point has been really good). For me, there’s no issue there.”
That doesn’t guarantee Point stays once Callahan comes back. And there are a few games before the Lightning has to decide.
Point’s play just makes for a tougher call for the Lightning, which you can argue is a better team with Point in the lineup.
“You never know,” Point said. “All I can do is play my best.”
His turn: G Ben Bishop started Tuesday against Toronto, the Lightning sticking to its planned split between him and backup Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy was outstanding in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Ottawa, stopping 27 of 28 shots. But Cooper indicated there’s not much wiggle room in their plan to ride the hot hand in net. Vasilevskiy is 2-0 with a 1.51 goals-against average; Bishop 2-1, 3.69.
“Now you’re starting to be like knee-jerk reactions,” Cooper said. “You say, ‘Oh he had a shutout.’ Because you can go the other way. ‘That was kind of a stinker game for that guy, maybe we should put him back in.’ If there’s a plan and guys are aware of what’s going on, guys know when they’ll play.
And it can be unfair to the guys that have to hold out sitting here saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I need my guy to screw up for me to get in.’ I don’t think that’s how it should go, especially if you have complete confidence in both guys. Let the plan work out and everyone is at ease.”
Nuts and bolts: Much was made Tuesday on how much less drama there was surrounding the Lightning than its last trip to Toronto in March; C Steven Stamkos re-signed for eight years, and Drouin rescinded his trade request, hoping for an extension of his own. Cooper had a great line. “Yeah, the boring Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s rare.” … D Matt Taormina is expected to be the healthy scratch.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
By Marc Topkin, Times Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — The Indians did their part Tuesday in contributing to one of the greatest nights in Cleveland sports history for several reasons.
Taking the field a half-hour after the Cavaliers raised their NBA championship banner in the arena next door, the Indians beat the favored Cubs 6-0 in the opener of the best-of-seven World Series.
Because their stoic ace, Stetson University product Corey Kluber was dominating, outpitching World Series-wise Jon Lester by working six sterling innings with nine strikeouts, and pulled then only to preserve bullets for a potential quick return in Game 4.
“I think he’s a good pitcher all the time. I mean, I think for the last three years he’s been pretty good,’’ Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But to your point, in these playoffs he’s been about as good as — and we need him and we’re going to need him more. But he prepares so hard and we’re talking about before the game his routines and his work ethic. That’s why, here late into October, and the needle on the gas tank doesn’t point towards empty.’’