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Bucs Must Increase Frequency Of Sacks
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris wants to see his team improve in several areas this season.
This includes the pass rush, where the Bucs defense notched just 29 sacks in 2008. That sack total ranked tied for 21st in the National Football League last year.
Morris knows how successful a defense can be when it consistently gets pressure on the quarterback. He was, after all, a quality control coach under former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin when the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII.
The Bucs' Super Bowl team recorded 43 sacks during the 2002 regular season. The last two Super Bowl champions – the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers – notched 53 and 51 sacks, respectively.
While a large sack total is always welcomed by defensive coordinators, the frequency in which defenses record sacks typically gives observers an even better idea of how effective (or ineffective) a particular team's pass rush is.
Last season, opposing offenses attempted to pass the ball 475 times against the Bucs defense. Of the 475 times opposing quarterbacks dropped back to throw versus Tampa Bay, the Bucs recorded 29 sacks. That amounts to one sack every 16.3 pass attempts, which ranked 19th in the league last year.
The top team in this category was the Dallas Cowboys, whom the Bucs face in Week 1 of the 2009 regular season. Dallas' ranking shouldn't come as a surprise since the Cowboys led the league in sacks with 58 last year. What is even more impressive than that sack total is the frequency in which Dallas notched a sack last season. Would you believe the Cowboys brought down the quarterback every 8.7 pass attempts, which is nearly double Tampa Bay's 16.3 average?
The Super Bowl champion Steelers recorded a sack every 10.4 pass attempts last season. And for Tampa Bay fans that are curious, the Bucs averaged one sack every 11.8 pass attempt they faced during their own Super Bowl run, which proves defensive coordinator Jim Bates has work to do in terms of improving Tampa Bay's pass rush.
Don't think Tampa Bay's pass rush was the worst in the NFL last year, though. It definitely wasn't, as the chart shows below. For example, the worst team in the league from a pass rushing standpoint was Kansas City, which averaged one sack every 52.2 pass attempts. The second-to-last pass rush belonged to Cleveland, which averaged just one quarterback takedown every 31.8 pass attempts.
Those averages certainly are worse than Tampa Bay's (16.3), but Bates still has his work cut out in terms of improving the Bucs pass rush, which the team believes he can and will do with the implementation of his 4-3 scheme, along with the maturation of former first-round pick Gaines Adams and contract year DE Jimmy Wilkerson is in.
2008 Sack Frequency Average (Pass Attempts Faced vs. Sacks Recorded)
Dallas: 508 passes faced — 58 sacks — 8.7 avg.
Pittsburgh: 533 passes faced — 51 sacks — 10.4 avg.
Philadelphia: 525 passes faced — 48 sacks — 10.9 avg.
Minnesota: 530 passes faced — 45 sacks — 11.7 avg.
N.Y. Giants: 503 passes faced — 42 sacks — 11.9 avg.
Tennessee: 575 passes faced — 44 sacks — 13.0 avg.
Miami: 551 passes faced — 40 sacks — 13.7 avg.
N.Y. Jets: 572 passes faced — 40 sacks — 14.3 avg.
Oakland: 471 passes faced — 32 sacks — 14.7 avg.
St. Louis: 444 passes faced — 30 sacks — 14.8 avg.
Carolina: 557 passes faced — 37 sacks — 15.0 avg.
Green Bay: 518 passes faced — 34 sacks — 15.2 avg.
Detroit: 443 passes faced — 28 sacks — 15.8 avg.
New England: 474 passes faced — 30 sacks — 15.8 avg.
Baltimore: 528 passes faced — 33 sacks — 16.0 avg.
Indianapolis: 481 passes faced — 30 sacks — 16.0 avg.
Jacksonville: 465 passes faced — 29 sacks — 16.0 avg.
Seattle: 566 passes faced — 35 sacks — 16.1 avg.
Tampa Bay: 475 passes faced – 29 sacks — 16.3 avg.
Arizona: 517 passes faced — 31 sacks — 16.6 avg.
Atlanta: 549 passes faced — 33 sacks — 16.6 avg.
San Francisco: 545 passes faced — 30 sacks — 18.1 avg.
New Orleans: 526 passes faced — 28 sacks — 18.7 avg.
Houston: 471 passes faced — 25 sacks — 18.8 avg.
Denver: 495 passes faced — 25 sacks — 19.8 avg.
Washington: 511 passes faced — 24 sacks — 21.2 avg.
Buffalo: 492 passes faced — 23 sacks — 21.3 avg.
San Diego: 605 passes faced — 27 sacks — 22.4 avg.
Chicago: 622 passes faced — 27 sacks — 23.0 avg.
Cincinnati: 506 passes faced — 17 sacks — 29.7 avg.
Cleveland: 541 passes faced — 17 sacks — 31.8 avg.
Kansas City: 522 passes faced — 10 sacks — 52.2 avg.
Bye Week Falls At Right Time For Bucs
One of the reasons many pundits believe the odds are against Tampa Bay posting a winning record in 2009 is because of the team's schedule.
The Bucs have the fifth-hardest schedule in the NFL. Six of their 16 regular season games are against 2008 playoff teams, and that doesn't even count the 11-5 New England Patriots, who didn't qualify for post-season play last year and are scheduled to face Tampa Bay in London in October.
But there are a few things to consider before one completely writes off this Buccaneers team before the 2009 season even begins.
While Tampa Bay's schedule is tough, NFC South rivals Atlanta and Carolina have it even harder, according to the league's strength-of-schedule calculations. The Panthers and Falcons are ranked second and fourth, respectively, in that category, while the New Orleans Saints aren't far behind the Bucs at No. 8.
All of the NFC South teams face the NFC and AFC East divisions this year, not just the Buccaneers. It wouldn't be surprising to see the winner of the NFC South division post a 9-7 record in 2009 due to the strength of schedules, and if the winner's record is significantly better than that the NFC South champion should probably be considered a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl given how difficult the schedules appear to be.
At first glance, Tampa Bay's overseas trip to London to play New England looks like a serious disadvantage for the Buccaneers, who lose one of their eight home games in this situation.
However, there is one significant perk that could help Tampa Bay should it still be in the playoff race come November. The Bucs bye week falls in Week 8 (Nov. 1), which is almost halfway through the 2009 regular season and ideal for any NFL club.
The rest of the NFC South teams are scheduled to take early bye weeks. The Saints are scheduled to have a bye on Oct. 11, and the Falcons and Panthers will have their bye weeks nearly one month earlier than the Bucs on Oct. 4. Tampa Bay's division rivals better hope a rash of injuries aren't sustained in November and December. If such a scenario unfolds these teams could find themselves struggling to win games and stay in the playoff hunt without a mid-season respite.
Will the Bucs be able to capitalize on their late bye week? It will all depend on how the team fares in those first seven games of the season, which aren't going to be easy.
Morris Will Have Opportunity To Break Negative Trend
Say what you will about Jon Gruden, but he accomplished an awful lot during his seven-year tenure with Tampa Bay.
In addition to winning Super Bowl XXXVII and three NFC South division titles, Gruden also helped the Bucs break some disturbing and embarrassing trends in Tampa Bay.
That includes the cold weather losing streak, where the Bucs had never won a game when temperatures were below 40 degrees at kickoff, Tampa Bay's losing skid at Philadelphia in the playoffs, as well as the Bucs never having returned a kickoff for a touchdown before – accomplishing that feat twice in his final two seasons as Tampa Bay's head coach.
The other two trends were snapped in Gruden's first season with the Bucs en route to hoisting the franchise's first and only Lombardi Trophy.
But one trend Gruden was never successful in ending was Tampa Bay's West Coast woes. In fact, Gruden contributed to the Bucs' losing ways on the other side of the country.
The Buccaneers are 6-28 all-time in the regular season on the West Coast, which includes games in Arizona, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and Seattle.
Believe it or not, the Bucs never won a regular season game on the West Coast during Gruden's seven-year tenure with Tampa Bay. The Gruden-led Bucs were 0-7 in those contests.
But the Bucs weren't completely winless on the West Coast under Gruden. Tampa Bay did record one win on the other side of the country, and boy did it count. The Bucs defeated the Raiders 48-21 in Super Bowl XXVII, which was played in San Diego.
Tampa Bay has one game to play on the West Coast this year. The Bucs travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks on Dec. 20. Seattle has posted a 38-18 regular season record at Qwest Field since it opened in 2002. Complicating matters is the fact that this game likely will be played in cold weather.
It will be interesting to see if new Bucs head coach Raheem Morris can break some of the negative trends associated with Tampa Bay, just as his predecessor did before him.