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BUCS DEFENSE NEEDS TO LIMIT BIG PLAYS

Tampa Bay's defense managed to rise from 26th overall last week to 13th overall in the NFL this week by holding the Green Bay Packers to just 181 yards of total offense en route to a 30-21 win.

Just as we explained last week, Tampa Bay's defensive ranking is a bit misleading since the Bucs are only allowing opposing offenses to convert 33.3 percent of their third down attempts. Their red zone defense has also been excellent.

What has hurt the Bucs' overall defensive ranking is the unusual amount of big plays Tampa Bay has allowed through four regular season games.

Last season, Tampa Bay's defense, which ranked No. 2 overall, allowed a total of 31 plays that produced 20-plus yards through 16 regular season games.

Through four games in 2008, the Bucs defense has allowed 14 plays that have produced 20 or more yards, which is nearly half of the 31 Tampa Bay surrendered all of last season. Interestingly, a 33-yard run by Atlanta is the only run play that went over 20 yards vs. Tampa Bay's defense. The other 13 plays have been through the air vs. the Bucs' defense, which ranked No. 1 vs. the pass last year.

To make matters worse, five of those 14 plays have resulted in touchdowns for opposing offenses. The Bucs defense has given up touchdown passes of 39, 84, 42, 25 and 48 yards, which is perplexing when considering Monte Kiffin's unit has always prided itself on not allowing big plays downfield.

In 2007, Tampa Bay's defense allowed a total of just seven touchdown plays of 20 or more yards. The Bucs are only two away from reaching that total and they have 12 regular season games to go.

The Bucs defense is creating turnovers and limiting opposing offenses' production on third downs. If it can find a way to eliminate just a few big plays per game it will return to the top 10 and establish itself as a dominate defense again.

GRIESE INTERCEPTION BREAKDOWN
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay is off to a 3-1 start and tied for first place in the NFC South division, the hot topic for debate this week has been quarterback Brian Griese, who has tossed six interceptions over the last two games.

Griese, 33, has completed just 55 percent of his passes since replacing Jeff Garcia in the starting lineup in Week 2. That's interesting to note since his completion percentage is down substantially from his previous two-year tenure with the Bucs in 2004-05, when he completed 69.3 and 64.4 percent of his passes, respectively.

But even Bucs head coach Jon Gruden is concerned about Griese's penchant for throwing interceptions, and unfortunately his past two games have been more like the norm, not the exception.

The good news is Griese has thrown 48 touchdowns since his five-year tenure with the Denver Broncos ended and he joined the Miami Dolphins in 2003. The bad news is Griese has tossed 45 interceptions during that same span, which accounts for the 37 games Griese has played in since '03.

To make Griese's interception total even worse, seven of his 45 picks have been returned for touchdowns since '03, and five of those have come as a member of the Bucs.

Listed below is Griese's interception logs for each of the past six seasons:

2008
Griese INT vs. Green Bay (returned 39 yards)
Griese INT vs. Green Bay (returned 6 yards)
Griese INT vs. Green Bay (returned 62 yards for a TD)
Griese INT vs. Chicago (returned 3 yards)
Griese INT vs. Chicago (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Chicago (returned 12 yards)

2007
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 5 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 64 yards for a TD)
Griese INT vs. Green Bay (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Minnesota (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Minnesota (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 7 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 36 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Washington (returned 53 yards)
Griese INT vs. Washington (returned 2 yards)

2006
Griese INT vs. Green Bay (returned 6 yards)
Griese INT vs. Green Bay (returned 8 yards)

2005
Griese INT vs. Minnesota (returned 88 yards for a TD)
Griese INT vs. Minnesota (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Green Bay (returned 38 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 17 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 51 yards)
Griese INT vs. Detroit (returned 19 yards)
Griese INT vs. New York Jets (returned 16 yards)

2004
Griese INT vs. St. Louis (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Atlanta (returned 8 yards)
Griese INT vs. San Francisco (returned 26 yards)
Griese INT vs. San Francisco (returned 13 yards)
Griese INT vs. Carolina (returned 46 yards for a TD)
Griese INT vs. Atlanta (returned 33 yards)
Griese INT vs. San Diego (returned 4 yards)
Griese INT vs. San Diego (returned 12 yards)
Griese INT vs. San Diego (returned 30 yards for a TD)
Griese INT vs. New Orleans (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Carolina (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Carolina (returned 17 yards for a TD)

2003
Griese INT vs. Tennessee (returned 11 yards for a TD)
Griese INT return vs. Tennessee (returned 36 yards)
Griese INT vs. Tennessee (returned 0 yards)
Griese INT vs. Baltimore (returned 10 yards)
Griese INT vs. Washington (returned 20 yards)
Griese INT vs. Washington (returned 1 yard)

Despite his alarming interception total, Griese owns an 8-1 record (3-0 in 2008) as a starter in Tampa Bay. He's tossed 31 touchdowns and 25 interceptions as a member of the Buccaneers. But no matter how much Gruden likes Griese, there's no way he can remain the starter if he continues to turn the ball over. Griese will have a shot at breaking his interception streak in Denver on Sunday. The Broncos have just one interception through four games and have the 30th-ranked defense in the NFL.

BUCS DEFENSE PRODUCING TURNOVERS, SCORES
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the No. 2-ranked defense in the NFL in 2007, but defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin was not pleased with the amount of turnovers produced, particularly in the passing game, where the Bucs had just 16 interceptions through 16 regular season games.

The extra emphasis on turnovers has paid off for the Buccaneers, who have notched half of their interception total (eight) from last year through just four games. Tampa Bay has a total of nine turnovers (eight interceptions and one fumble recovery) through the first quarter of the season.

The Bucs have also taken two of those interceptions and the one fumble recovery in for touchdowns to give the defense three scores on the year. To put that touchdown total in perspective, the Bucs have already scored more TDs on defense than they did a year ago when cornerback Ronde Barber accounted for the team's only two defensive scores.

But don't think that the defense has quenched its thirst for touchdowns. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden challenged the defense to score nine times in 2002, and it managed to accomplish that feat en route to winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden hasn't publicly made it known how many TDs he challenged his defense to score in 2008, but our guess is it was to either match or surpass the TD total from '02.

HISTORY SUGGESTS DENVER GAME IS BIG FOR BUCS
Tampa Bay is off to a 3-1 start and faces the 3-1 Denver Broncos on Sunday.

At first glance, one could make a case for the Bucs being able to afford to lose this contest. It's an AFC opponent and road game, so most people probably expect the Bucs to lose to the Broncos.

However, history suggests the Bucs will have a very successful season if they can improve to 4-1 with a win over the Broncos on Sunday.

The best start Tampa Bay has ever gotten off to in a season was 5-0. That happened twice in 1979 and 1997, respectively.

The Bucs have only started the regular season 4-1 twice in their franchise history. Both of those feats were accomplished during head coach Jon Gruden's tenure with the team in 2002, and 2005, respectively.

Tampa Bay won the NFC South division both times it started the season 4-1, and the first time it happened (2002) the team went on to win the Super Bowl.

In addition to starting 4-1 twice, the Bucs have gotten off to a 3-1 start five times in their franchise history, including this season. Tampa Bay started the 2007 season 3-1 and went on to win its third NFC South division title in three seasons. The Bucs also started 3-1 in 2000 and went on to make the playoffs that year.

While 4-1 would look awfully encouraging, 3-1 doesn't guarantee the Bucs anything, evidenced by the fact that Tampa Bay started 3-1 in 19990 and 1992 just to finish those seasons with 6-10 and 5-11 records, respectively.

If the Bucs can find a way to win in Denver (the Bucs have won just one game there before), they will improve to 4-1 and be in fairly good shape heading into two straight home games vs. Carolina and Seattle.

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