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With just one more win in their final four regular season games or one loss by the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will win the 2007 NFC South division title and head to the playoffs.
The division title would be Tampa Bay's second in three seasons and third under head coach Jon Gruden, who joined the organization via a trade with the Oakland Raiders in 2002.
So how does this Tampa Bay team, which more than likely will win their division and go to the playoffs, stack up against the last Bucs team to accomplish both of those feats, which was the 2005 club?
Decide for yourself by comparing the stats below.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD 2005: 11-5 (5-1 in division) (6-2 at home) (5-3 on road) 2007: 8-4 (4-0 in division) (5-1 at home) (3-3 on the road)
THIRD DOWN PERCENTAGE (OFFENSE) 2005: 39.4 2007: 39.3
THIRD DOWN PERCENTAGE (DEFENSE) 2005: 35.0 2007: 41.8
SACKS RECORDED 2005: 36 2007: 26
SACKS ALLOWED 2005: 41 2007: 22
PENALTIES/YARDS 2005: 131/1,085 2007: 60/467
Quarterbacks The quarterback position wasn't necessarily a weakness, but it wasn't considered a strength for the 2005 Buccaneers, either. Quarterbacks Chris Simms and Brian Griese combined to complete 62.2 percent of their passes for 3,171 yards and toss 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
Simms helped the Bucs win the NFC South division title, but he struggled down the stretch and tossed two interceptions in Tampa Bay's 17-10 loss to Washington in the Wild Card playoff game.
Even though he's 37, Jeff Garcia has proven to be a much better fit for head coach Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense. He's mobile, has fairly decent arm strength and might be the most accurate passer the Bucs have had in Tampa Bay under Gruden.
Garcia has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards and tossed 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. His mobility and ability to improvise and elude pressure are the main reasons why Garcia has been sacked just 15 times this season. He's also rushed 34 times for 116 yards and one touchdown.
Tampa Bay's offensive production has increased, evidenced by the fact that the Bucs have scored 25 offensive touchdowns through 12 games after producing just 20 through the entire 2006 regular season. Tampa Bay needs to score just six more offensive touchdowns in its last four regular season games to surpass the team's 30 touchdwon mark in 2005.
ADVANTAGE: 2007 Bucs
Running Backs One of the reasons why Tampa Bay made the playoffs in 2005 was because of its running game, which was led by rookie sensation Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. The No. 5 overall pick of the 2005 NFL Draft rushed for 1,117 yards (4.1 avg.), including a team-record six 100-yard rushing games, and scored six touchdowns en route earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
Tampa Bay's ground attack has been more consistent this season, and without Williams' help. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 against Carolina. But even before he sustained that injury Williams was struggling to find his rookie groove and secure the football.
Those circumstances gave former undrafted free agent Earnest Graham the opportunity he had been waiting for, and he's taken full advantage.
Graham has rushed 176 times for 737 yards (4.2 avg.), including three 100-yard rushing games, and scored seven touchdowns. He's also displayed more reliable hands than Williams in the passing game, hauling in 36 passes for 228 yards this season. Graham needs to average just 66 yards per game on the ground over the final four games of the season in order to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, which would be an impressive feat considering the fact that he's started just seven of Tampa Bay's 12 games this year.
In addition to Garcia's presence and playmaking ability helping to open things up in the running game, B.J. Askew has proven to be an upgrade over Mike Alstott at the fullback position. Askew is a better lead blocker and has displayed the pass-catching ability that Alstott had in his prime by catching 17 passes for 171 yards.
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay lost Williams for the year and RB Michael Pittman for several games due to a sprained ankle, the Bucs' running game currently ranks 12th in the NFL. The highest the Bucs have ever ranked in that department under Gruden was 14th, which came during Williams' rookie campaign.
This unit looks to build on that success over the final four games of the season with Pittman getting healthier and newcomer Michael Bennett getting more comfortable and confident in Gruden's scheme.
ADVANTAGE: 2007 Bucs
Wide Receivers Nothing much has changed since 2005 in terms of Joey Galloway being Tampa Bay's primary wide receiver in Gruden offense. However, Garcia is doing a great job of getting other receivers involved, which makes this unit much improved from the 2005 season.
Galloway caught a team-leading 83 passes for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2005. Through 12 games this season, Galloway, 36, has caught 49 passes for 891 yards and six touchdowns and appears to be poised to produce his third straight 1,000-yard season.
Although he's their biggest offensive playmaker, Galloway does not currently lead the team in receptions. That honor goes to WR Ike Hilliard, who has served as an upgrade at the Z (flanker) spot by catching 55 passes for 635 yards and one touchdown despite battling through an ankle injury throughout the season.
Graham has been a significant contributor in the passing game. So has tight end Alex Smith, who finished the 2005 season with 41 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns. He has already surpassed his 2005 touchdown total with three scores. Smith has also caught 32 catches for 372 yards through 12 games.
One player whose production has declined since 2005 is former first-round pick Michael Clayton. He caught 32 passes for 372 yards in '05. Clayton has caught just six passes for 109 yards through 10 games (one start) this year.
ADVANTAGE: 2007 Bucs
Offensive Line Tampa Bay's offensive line, which was made up of left tackle Anthony Davis, left guard Dan Buenning, center John Wade, right guard Sean Mahan and right tackle Kenyatta Walker in 2005, looks much different this year, and it's playing much better.
The 2005 group deserves a lot of credit for Williams' success as a rookie, but this wasn't the most talented bunch, evidenced by the fact that Davis and Buenning are riding the bench in Tampa Bay and Walker is out of the league.
The only starter that remains the same is Wade, who is no longer in his prime, but is benefiting from two talented guards that are playing around him in rookie Arron Sears and second-year G Davin Joseph. Sears is one heck of an athlete, but both he and Joseph need to show more consistency.
The Bucs attempted to upgrade their left tackle position by signing Luke Petitgout in free agency. He played well until he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4. To the surprise of many, second-year T Donald Penn has filled in quite well for Petitgout.
Bucs second-year RT Jeremy Trueblood might be this unit's most consistent and physical player. He still has room for improvement, but he's definitely an upgrade over Walker, a former first-round pick and bust.
Garcia's ability to improvise and buy himself time to throw has made this unit look better than it has played at times, but Tampa Bay's offensive line is playing well as of late and certainly has played a role in the Bucs' ability to average nearly 120 yards rushing per game.
ADVANTAGE: 2007 Bucs
Defensive Line The pass rush was an issue for Tampa Bay's defensive line earlier in the season, but this group needs just 10 more sacks over the final four games of the season to match their sack total (36) in 2005.
Former Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice recorded a team-high 14 sacks in '05. Without him, the Bucs have used a rotation of sorts along the line, and everyone is contributing to the sack total.
Former Arena League star Greg White has seen a significant amount of playing time at right end, and he leads the team in sacks with 5.5. He's also displayed some Rice-like qualities in terms of forcing fumbles. White leads the team in that category with four.
Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye has done what former Bucs UT Anthony McFarland could not do – solidify the three technique spot in Tampa Bay's defense. He isn't Warren Sapp and won't make the Pro Bowl, but Haye has been an upgrade over McFarland and Ellis Wyms at the position, notching five sacks and leading the defensive line in tackles with 73.
Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan has contributed to Haye's success by effectively taking on double teams at the point of attack. He's surprisingly right behind Haye with 74 tackles and has also notched 1.5 sacks this season.
Bucs DE Greg Spires has recorded just one tackle and has missed a significant amount of playing time due to a calf injury. However, veteran DE Kevin Carter, who was not part of the 2005 team, and rookie Gaines Adams have filled in nicely for Spires.
Carter is no longer in his prime and lacks the ability to redirect effectively, but he's still played well against the run and notched 3.5 sacks.
Adams got off to a slow start from a pass rush standpoint, but he's come on as of late. The fourth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft has recorded 4.5 sacks and four passes defensed while notching 39 tackles.
The Bucs likely will finish the season ranked in the top five in total defense. Although it ranks 16th against the run, Tampa Bay's defense is not playing as well against the run as it did in 2005, when is surrendered less than 100 yards per game. Its pass rush is getting better as the season goes on, but it hasn't been as consistent as the one produced by the '05 Bucs defense.
ADVANTAGE: 2005 Bucs
Linebackers This unit looks quite different two years after the Bucs won the NFC South division. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles, who led the team in tackles with 196 in '05, is retired. Ryan Nece, who started at strongside linebacker that season, is on the bench and contributing on special teams.
Ten-time Pro Bowl Derrick Brooks is the one familiar face on this unit. He was second on the team in tackles in '05 with 176. Although he's no longer in his prime, Brooks currently ranks second on the '07 Bucs defense with 137 tackles and could receive some Pro Bowl consideration. He will have to average 10 tackles per game over the final four games of the season to surpass his tackle total from the '05 season.
Still, this unit as a whole is much faster than it was in 2005.
Tampa Bay 2005 second-round draft pick Barrett Ruud has done an outstanding job of replacing Quarles at the middle linebacker spot. Ruud currently leads the Bucs in tackles with 142. He has also recorded two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. While he's been impressive, Ruud hasn't had the type of season Quarles delivered in '05, which was arguably the best of his career.
Cato June is proving to be an upgrade at the strongside linebacker spot. Nece recorded 104 stops there in '05. June has already surpassed Nece's tackle total from that season with 106 takedowns through 12 games. June has also shown more playmaking ability by recording one interception and one forced fumble.
ADVANTAGE: 2005 Bucs
Defensive Backs Just as Tampa Bay's 2005 defense did, this year's Bucs defense is allowing well under 200 yards per contest via the passing game, but the secondary is not creating as many turnovers.
Led by cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Juran Bolden, Tampa Bay's secondary accounted for 16 of the defense's 17 interceptions in 2005. Barber and Kelly led the team in picks that year with five each, and Dexter Jackson and Will Allen, who split time at free safety, accounted for one and three interceptions, respectively.
Tampa Bay's 2007 defense has notched 12 interceptions, and nine of those have come courtesy of the defensive backs. Strong safety Jermaine Phillips, who did not record an interception in 2005, leads the Bucs in interceptions with three through 12 regular season games.
Not only did rookie Tanard Jackson beat out Allen for the starting free safety job, he has two interceptions and has forced two fumbles and recovered two.
Barber leads the Bucs in passes defensed with 13, but he has just one interception, which made him the franchise's all-time leader in that category. Kelly struggled with a groin injury earlier in the season, which has led to reduced playing time. He has one interception as well.
Phillip Buchanon has done a decent job starting in place of Kelly. He has 54 tackles, two interceptions and is second on the team in passes defensed with 10.
When Kelly was injured, Bucs CB Sammy Davis filled in nicely as the team's nickel cornerback, which was a position that became a liability with Bolden in the lineup last year.
While Bucs have improved in terms of points allowed (15.5 per game and turnover ratio (plus-11) and the defense is allowing almost an identical amount of yardage per game through the air, the 2005 Buccaneers defensive backs have the edge simply because they produced more turnovers and were better on third downs, where Tampa Bay is allowing opposing offenses to convert 41.8 percent of the time this year compared to 35 percent of the time in 2005.
ADVANTAGE: 2005 Bucs
Special Teams Bucs kicker Matt Bryant and punter Josh Bidwell played integral roles in Tampa Bay's playoff run in 2005, and they're having similar success this season.
Bryant made 21-of-25 (84 percent) of his field goal attempts in 2005. He has drilled 20-of-25 (80 percent) of his tries through 12 games this year.
Bidwell made the Pro Bowl in 2005 by averaging 45.6 yards per punt and pinning 24 of his 90 attempts inside the 20-yard line. He is averaging 44.5 yards per attempt this season on just 57 attempts. He's pinned 19 punts inside the 20-yard line and his longest punt was a 61-yarder.
Tampa Bay's return games haven't improved much compared to 2005. The Bucs special teams unit has been depleted by a rash of injuries to key players, including return specialist Mark Jones, who was averaging 11.9 yards per punt return until he suffered a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 21. As a result, Tampa Bay is currently averaging 7.4 yards per punt return as a team.
The Bucs' kickoff return team was pitiful in 2005, averaging just 19.5 yards per attempt. Although it's not a lot better, the Bucs are averaging 22.6 yards per kickoff return this year.
However, Tampa Bay's kickoff and punt coverage teams have been excellent. The Bucs are allowing opponents to average just 7.6 yards per punt return and 17.6 yards per kickoff return, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL and No. 1 in the NFC this season. That gives the edge to the 2007 Bucs team.
ADVANTAGE: 2007 Bucs
Coaching Tampa Bay's 2005 coaching staff got a lot out of a team that wasn't that experienced, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where three rookies started. The Bucs won the NFC South division, but their inexperience in the playoffs cost them as the Redskins beat the Pewter Pirates even though Tampa Bay's defense held Washington to a playoff-record low of 121 yards of offense. Six of Tampa Bay's 11 wins came by seven points or less that season.
Whether the Bucs match or surpass that win total remains to be seen. However, some of Tampa Bay's wins in 2007 have come in more convincing fashion. The Bucs' four wins against their NFC South opponents have come by a combined score of 109-51. In addition, four of Tampa Bay's eight wins have come by seven points or less. The other four were decided by a combined score of 106-31.
Tampa Bay's defense ranked No. 1 overall in 2005 and was better than the 2007 defense. But the Bucs rank No. 4 overall in 2007 and are without several key contributors from 2005, including defensive end Simeon Rice and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles and assistant coaches Rod Marinelli, Joe Barry and Mike Tomlin.
Gruden and the Bucs coaching staff made some necessary adjustments during the 2007 offseason, including installing the shotgun on offense. It also has two new assistant coaches on defense in defensive line coach Larry Coyer and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. The defense has had success working in an effective rotation along the defensive line, not to mention defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit has two rookies starting in defensive end Gaines Adams and free safety Tanard Jackson.
The Bucs have overcome several key injuries and currently have 12 players on injured reserve. They've gotten young players to pick up the torch and carry on in the injured players' places, including RB Earnest Graham, T Donald Penn, QB Luke McCown and DE Greg White.
Perhaps the biggest credit that can be attributed to the coaching staff is Tampa Bay's amount of penalties, or lack thereof. The 2005 Bucs were called for a whopping 131 penalties.
Through 12 games this season, the Bucs have been penalized just 60 times and are on pace to commit just 80 penalties on the season. That penalty count would be the lowest in Gruden's tenure with the Bucs and would be just five less than the penalty total of the 1999 team, which made the NFC Championship Game that year.
ADVANTAGE: 2007 Bucs team
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