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The Answer Man, Series 8, Volume 3

Posted Mar 9, 2012

Among the topics covered are the predictive power of opening-possession field goals, the history of Tampa Bay offensive MVPs, and more


The Answer Man is all about synergy and cross-leveraging of assets and all that, so when I was approached about taking my act onto Facebook, I readily agreed.

 

Now, the Answer Man himself is not on Facebook, mainly because it would make it easy for the supervillains to find me, and I don’t really need constant status updates on what my archenemies had for dinner or how good their workouts were.  But there’s no denying how far Facebook has reached into our lives, and the Buccaneers’ own account is an awesome way for fans to keep in touch with the team and with each other.  If you haven’t checked it out yet, go like us right now!

 

Last week, my colleagues here at One Buc asked the good folks on our Facebook page if they would like to send some questions my way.  The response was immediate and impressive.

 

There were, of course, plenty of the same sorts of queries I’m not in position.  You know: “Who are the Buccaneers going to draft in the first round?”  Or, “Who are we going to sign in free agency?”  As I’ve said before, I may be an insider, but I’m not included in the absolute inner-circle meetings where such decisions are made.  And, hypothetically, if I was and just didn’t want to reveal that it was so, I wouldn’t stay there for long if I shared that information in one of my columns.

 

But believe me, there are still countless topics we can discuss; I’ve been doing this for nine years and we’ve never come close to running dry.  And our friends on Facebook were certainly able to come up with some.  For instance:

 

Eddie Bermudez asks (on Facebook):

Bucs will be 4-3 or 3-4 this fall?

 

I’m sure most of you understand that Eddie is asking whether the Buccaneers’ defense will continue to employ a base 4-3 front or will switch to a 3-4.  And the answer, Eddie, is that Tampa Bay will still be a 4-3 team in 2012.

 

Head Coach Greg Schiano used a 4-3 base defense during his long and successful run at Rutgers, and new Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan had the New York Giants in a 4-3 during his season as the team’s coordinator in 2009.  In his introductory press conference in Tampa last month, Sheridan pointed out that the Buccaneers have spent years amassing personnel for a 4-3 defense, and he believes the roster is best suited to continue in that manner.

 

“In the building right now, we have 4-3 personnel, right?” said Sheridan in response to a question very like yours, Eddie.  “That’s what they’ve drafted for and we will go that way, of course, because that’s the makeup of our front seven.   To try to convert to [a 3-4] in a single offseason would be very ambitious.”

 

It should also be noted, of course, that calling yourself a 4-3 team doesn’t mean you never utilize formations and plays with only three down linemen.  The Bucs used 3-4 concepts last year and the year before that, often using either Quincy Black or Dekoda Watson as a standup pass-rusher on one edge.  Sheridan has worked for teams of both type and is sure to incorporate some aspects of both into his overall approach.

 

“When you watch film, you see all the teams, the 3-4 teams, which I just came from in Miami, we looked like four-down a lot even though we were technically a 4-3 team.  I think you’ll find the same thing for us.  Even though we are going to be 4-3 personnel…we’ll look like an odd front plenty of times.”

 

Got that, Eddie?  The fleshed-out answer is that Tampa Bay will employ a 4-3 defense in 2012, as they have for more than two decades now, but you will probably notice some plays that look suspiciously like a 3-4 front.  And that’s quite normal.

 

By the way, did you know that Tampa Bay was actually a 3-4 team during its first 15 seasons?  Yep.  That’s what John McKay ran throughout his tenure, and subsequent coaches retained that front until 1991, when Richard Williamson went from interim head coach to full-on head coach (for just that one season, as it would turn out) and brought in Floyd Peters to be his defensive coordinator.  The Bucs have been running a 4-3 ever since.

 

As my new Facebook friends are going to find out, I have a tendency to go off on tangents beyond what your question originally asked for.  I call it “added value,” though my long-time readers may have a less-flattering term for it.  Of course, everyone can continue to send questions to me the way we’ve always done it, through a submission page here on Buccaneers.com that links to my email.  Click here to go to that page right now if you have a burning question submit.  And now, on to this week’s topics!

 

**

 

1. Austin of Punta Gorda, Florida asks:

Hey Answer man.  An easy one for you: I was wondering if it was possible (even if only theoretically) for a scoring football play to take no time off the clock.

 

Answer Man: Actually, Austin, it happens all the time.  The Bucs alone did it 25 times last year.

 

In the “Scoring” section of the delightfully-readable NFL Rulebook (Rule 11), Article 2 lists the four types of scoring plays: (a) Touchdown: 6 points; (b) Field Goal: 3 points; (c) Safety: 2 points; (d) Successful Try after touchdown: 1 point (Field Goal or Safety) or 2 points (Touchdown).

 

(By the way, you would think that the “Types of Scoring” information would be the first Article in the Scoring section, right?  Nope.  The first thing the NFL wants you to know about scoring is, and I quote: “The team that scores the greater number of points during the entire game is the winner.”  Now, I suppose that needed to be officially put down on paper somewhere, but it’s still kinda funny.  To me at least.  I’m a little weird.)

 

Section 3 spells out the “Try” option and Note 2 says this: “The Game Clock will not run during the try.”  That means you’ve watched hundreds of scoring plays over your years of NFL fandom that took no time off the clock, good sir Austin.

 

But yeah, I know that’s not really what you meant.  I won’t dodge the true intent of the question.

 

The Answer Man can think of three ways of scoring without any time coming off the clock, in addition to the aforementioned extra points.  One is sort of a weird rule in the books that you almost never see, one is a play that is theoretically possible but the Answer Man can’t remember seeing it happen, and one is actually pretty obvious.  I’m surprised you, Austin of Punta Gorda – you of all people – didn’t think of the last one.

 

The first option I mention is what is known as a “fair catch kick,” and it’s something I actually discussed in one of my columns way back in 2004, in the 13th volume of my very first series.  (If you follow that link and read more about fair catch kicks, you may notice that I said I couldn’t fly.  I was, uh, just kidding back then.  I’ve also changed my look pretty dramatically since those days.)

 

We all know what happens after a fair catch, right?  The ball is spotted by the official at the point of the catch and the offense jogs onto the field to run a play.  What most people probably don’t know is that the receiving team on a punt actually has two options after executing a fair catch.  They can bring their offense on the field and run a play from scrimmage, or they can attempt a kick from that spot.  It’s a weird kick, a “free kick,” that would be kicked from the spot and can be either drop-kicked or kicked off the ground without a tee, and the defense has to be 10 yards off the ball.

 

Thus, if a player were to fair catch a (bad) punt at the opposing team’s 40-yard line, the team’s coach could elect to try a very unusual field goal attempt from the 40, which would be a 50-yard attempt.  That’s obviously not something most coaches are going to do…except there’s one situation in which it makes sense.  If the clock expires on the period in play during the play that produces the fair catch, the receiving team cannot extend the period to run a play from scrimmage.  However, they can choose to extend the period to tray a fair catch kick.  This would be an untimed down.  Should the team attempting such a kick actually make a field goal – I know, very unlikely – that would be a score with no time elapsed.

 

The last time a fair catch kick was successfully converted into three points was by San Diego’s Ray Wersching against the Buffalo Bills way back in 1976.  The last player to try such a kick was Green Bay’s Mason Crosby in 2008.  Crosby just missed on a 68-yard try, which if it had succeeded would have officially been the longest successful field goal in NFL history.

 

The second option, the one that is theoretically possible but needs at least one player on the receiving team to have a total lapse of judgment, involves kickoffs.  As you probably know, the clock starts on a kickoff in the NFL when it is caught or touched by a member of the receiving team.  Thus, we can eliminate the somewhat “normal” concept of a return man fumbling the ball in the end zone and the kicking team recovering for a touchdown.  Some amount of time would have to come off the clock between the moment it’s touched and the moment it’s recovered, even if it’s just a second or two.

 

However, it’s important to remember that the ball is live on a kickoff and can be recovered by either team once it has passed 10 yards from the spot it was kicked.  The kicking team does not need the receiving team to touch the ball, as would have to occur on a punt, in order to recover it and get possession.

 

So, theoretically, the kicking team on a kickoff could kick a ball that bounced into the end zone and was not touched by the receiving team.  If a member of the kicking team got to the ball first and fell on it in the end zone, it would be a touchdown and no time would have expired since the clock wouldn’t start until the kicking team touches it.

 

The third option is by far the most likely, and the one I was surprised didn’t occur to you.  It’s a simple matter of an untimed down after the clock has expired at the end of a game (or a half) but the game is not yet over.  How does this happen?  When the defense commits a penalty on what would have been the final play.  The rules state that the game (or the half) can’t end on a defensive penalty.  If time expires during a play but the defensive team is hit with a flag, the offense gets to run one more untimed down.

 

So, let’s say that Team A snaps the ball from midfield with three seconds left in a game, trailing by four, and tries a “Hail Mary” pass.  The ball falls incomplete in the end zone but Team B is called for pass interference.  The clock at this point would read 0:00, but the ball would then be moved to Team B’s one-yard line and the offensive team would get one play to try to punch it in.  There would be no clock running on the play, because it has already expired.

 

If anybody else out there can think of a scoring play that doesn’t take any time off the clock, let me know and I’ll put touch on the subject again in a later column.

 

Whew!  That was kind of a long one.  I’m glad I’m done with this Austin character.  Oh, wait a minute…

 

**

 

2. Austin of Punta Gorda, Florida asks, yet again:

Hey Answer Man. I'm back again and this time with an unusual (and fairly specific, now that I see it typed out) pattern in football games. It seem to me that if the team gaining first possession scores a field goal on their first drive, they will go on to lose that game. Is there any truth to this pattern?

 

Answer Man: How come, I’m Answer Man with a lower-case “m” in your first question by a capital “m” in your second one?  And by the way, it’s Answer Man.  It’s part of the title, dude.

 

You know, I’m going to go on record on this subject right now, before I even start the research on this one (you’ll have to take my word for that).  This strikes me as an observation borne out of emotion, like you’ve seen (or think you’ve seen) your favorite team (the Bucs, I hope) too many times settle for a field goal on an opening drive and then go on to shatter your hopes by losing that game.

 

I get the basic idea behind this.  You may think that holding a team to a field goal at the end of a successful game-opening drive is actually an emotional win for the defense, a way of taking back the momentum that the other team had seized right off the kickoff.  That emotion, that momentum, transfers over to the other team’s offense and they then take control of the game.  Or something like that.  Certainly, there can be a feeling of missed opportunity after a promising drive comes up with just three points instead of seven.

 

I’m tempted to ramble on about “confirmation bias,” but I’ve probably flogged that dead horse a few too many times.  I think I might lose some of you if I bring it up again.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this previous column and see what I mean.  I discuss it towards the end of Question #2.

 

But think how many games open up with a drive that nets no points at all.  Take the emotion out of the equation and tell me whether you’d rather have your team score three points or zero points on the opening drive.  Who would ever choose the zero-point option.  Opening the game with a field goal drive isn’t the best possible outcome, but it ain’t too shabby, either.

 

But you think there’s a connection between field-goal openers and losses.  So let’s find out.

 

No…wait.

 

/record-scratch sound effect

 

You know what you’re asking me here, right?  Essentially, you’re claiming that the likelihood – or, let’s use the word “probability” – of an NFL team winning a game goes down when it scores a field goal on the game’s opening possession, and you’re asking me to try to verify that.

 

Well, did you know that there’s a statistic a bunch of very smart people have devised that happens to be called “win probability?”  Yep.  I really haven’t researched its origins in depth, but I would guess it’s originators noted how much traction similar stats had gotten in baseball in the last couple decades and figured the same thing could and should happen in football.

 

Anyway, the win probability stat is based on outcomes of NFL games in recent seasons, using similar circumstances to gauge the likelihood of a team going on to victory based on such things as the score, the amount of time left, where the ball is, what down it is, et cetera.  You say, “I don’t think teams usually win when they kick a field goal on the game’s opening drive.”  Win probability says, “Here is the likelihood of a team winning after kicking a field goal on its opening drive.”

 

Sort of.  I found a win probability calculator on the immensely cool site advancednflstats.com, but it doesn’t work exactly as you have laid this out, Austin.  It’s more a matter of entering down and distance and time and scoring differential, et cetera.  But I can enter this situation – Team B getting the ball at their own 20 with 10 minutes left in the first quarter, down 3-0.  I think we can agree that’s the approximate scenario, right?  An opening field goal drive might take about five minutes off the clock, after which the ever-prevalent touchback on the ensuing kickoff would create the exact situation described above.

 

So, put that into the calculator and you find that the team that just got the ball has a win probability of 40%.  That means the team that kicked the opening-possession field goal has a 60% chance of winning the game.  Remember, this isn’t just conjecture; this is based on actual game outcomes.  Even if you don’t believe previous games are a good predictor for what is going to happen in the game in question, you still have to concede that the win probability stat is based on things that have actually occurred in NFL games.  In other words, in this situation in the past, the field goal-kicking team has won 60% of the time.

 

(If you want to try the win probability calculator out yourself, here’s the specific page on advancednflstats.com.)

 

While on that site, I even stumbled upon a specific example that exactly matches your scenario, and it’s a game you probably remember: The NFC Divisional Playoff Game this January when the New York Giants went into Green Bay and upset the Packers.  Wouldn’t you know it, the Giants opened that game with a field goal drive!

 

The site has a win probability graph for that game, showing how likely it was that the Giants were going to win all along the 60-minute axis of the game.  At the point that they kicked the field goal, they were said to have a 60% chance of winning, which of course they did go on to do, 37-20.

 

It’s possible at this point that I’ve lost you, that you don’t really care for “advanced stats” such as these and you haven’t been swayed off your intuition about opening-game field goals by this win probability thing.  You want to see some actual game results.  You want the Answer Man to roll up his sleeves and dive into the (tedious, time-consuming) research already.

 

Sigh.  I thought maybe I could talk my way out of it.  Here’s the compromise.  I will research the entire 2011 season, every game play-by-play, and give you the results of all the games that fit into your scenario.

 

/time passes, Answer Man grows inexorably older

 

Done.  Interestingly, there were exactly 32 such games, or an average of one per team.  Two of them involved the Buccaneers.  And if you think the sample size is big enough to be meaningful, I’m about to become very familiar with the taste of crow.

 

Turns out the team that kicked a field goal on the game’s opening possession went on to lose that game 20 of the 32 times.  That’s a 62.5% failure ratio (almost exactly the opposite of what the win probability calculator predicted).  Doesn’t seem to matter if the game was at home or on the road, either, as home teams were 4-9 in such situations, while road teams were 8-11.

 

I guess you did notice something of a trend, Austin.  I wonder if it was anything more than an anomaly in 2011, but I don’t wonder enough to slog through another season of play-by-plays.  Do you know how long that took?  Seriously.  At this point, I’ll just admit that my prediction was way off base and that there was something to your observation.  Personally, I’m not willing to bet that there is actually a correlation between starting a game with a field goal and losing, but I’ll concede that those two things were connected in 2011.

 

And I’ll even give you a little statistics-based fuel for your fire, Austin.  Remember how I said that win probability graph in the Giants-Packers game said New York had a 60% chance of winning after that opening field goal…and in this case the prediction was accurate?  Well, it’s worth noting that, on that opening drive, the Giants’ win probability actually peaked several plays earlier, after Ahmad Bradshaw ran for five yards on first down to make it second-and-five at the Green Bay 13.  At that exact moment in the game, even with no points on the board yet, the Giants’ expected win probability was 68%.

 

That’s very telling to the Answer Man.  The very good chance that New York would soon be up 7-0 sent their chances of winning in an upward direction…but moments later when they settled for three points, their chances actually came down a little bit.  I know, I’m really overusing the italics today, but I really have some things I’m trying to emphasize.  Having a very good chance to score a touchdown five minutes into the game is actually better than actually getting a field goal a few minutes later.  They’re both good, but the field goal is less good.

 

That, I think, is the best thing I’ve said in this entire answer in support of your hypothesis, Austin, so I’m going to end on that.

 

**

 

3. Gary Dillon of Canfield, Ohio asks:

I briefly looked thru the archives as instructed but it is so extensive that I could have missed any related entries. Therefore, can you tell me the "Offensive Player of the Year" for the Buccaneers each year since 1976 and maybe a bit about each and why they won the award. Thank you.

 

Answer Man: That’s fair enough, Gary.  I have been pretty darn prolific haven’t I?  I appreciate you putting in the effort, and I don’t really remember answering something like this before.

 

The thing is, Gary, the Buccaneers really don’t have an award by that name.  There never has been an official Offensive or Defensive Player of the Year for the team, either chosen internally or named by the media.  The only thing analogous is a team MVP award, which has been awarded on an annual basis by the St. Petersburg Times since the Bucs’ inaugural 1976 season.  This player is chosen by the assembled media in the press box during the last game of the season.  (The award has been mirrored for most of the season by a Tampa Sports Club MVP choice, which is considered the fans’ selection.  For our purposes will go with the media award here.)

 

And you know what?  Given the history of strong defenses in Tampa – I don’t think anyone would argue that, historically, the Bucs have been better on defense than offense; they’ve certainly peaked higher on that side – it’s surprising how many of the annual MVPs are offensive players.  Of course, I think you generally find that bias with most MVP/Heisman type awards, but still…even in the Monte Kiffin-led defensive heyday, more often than not an offensive player was chosen as the MVP.

 

That works out well for us here because I figured that, in the absence of an historically-awarded Offensive Player of the Year award, we can simply make a year-by-year list of who probably would have received that honor.  In order not to let my own biases into this too much, I’ll just use the selected team MVP in any year that an offensive player was chosen.  In order to keep this from getting out of hand, I’ll only write a very short amount about each selection; there are 36 of them, after all.  In the years in which I had to make the choice, I’ll alert you to that fact by putting my selection in italics and putting the defensive player who won the award in parentheses.  So here we go…

 

1976: WR Morris Owens (DT Dave Pear)…Look, this was a bad offense, which is not at all surprising given the expansion rules back then.  That team had more than twice as many turnovers (37) as touchdowns scored (15). Owens accounted for six of the team’s 14 offensive TDs, so he’s the obvious choice.

 

1977: Owens (DE Lee Roy Selmon)…This offense was actually worse, scoring just 103 points in 14 games.  Owens only scored three TDs this time, but that was the biggest chunk out of the total of seven (SEVEN!) on offense.  He also had the biggest chunk of yards of any Buc, with 655 receiving yards to Ricky Bell’s 436 on the ground.  The three-headed QB machine of Gary Huff, Randy Hedberg and Jeb Blount combined for a 22.6 passer rating.  Owen wins by default.

 

1978: RB Ricky Bell (LB Dewey Selmon)…Bell ran for 679 yards and scored a team-high six touchdowns.  Could’ve been rookie QB Doug Williams if he hadn’t missed a third of the season.

 

1979: Bell…This was Bell’s finest season, and his power running was a big reason (along with the NFL’s #1 defense and heady play from Williams) that the Bucs shocked the league by advancing to the NFC Championship Game.  Bell ran for 1,263 yards and seven TDs, averaged 4.7 yards per carry and added 22-248-2 in the passing game.

 

1980: QB Doug Williams…Williams shattered his own Buc passing records by throwing for 3,396 yards and 20 touchdowns.  That single-season TD mark would actually hold until 1989, amazingly, when it was tied by Vinny Testaverde.

 

1981: Williams...The Bucs went back to the playoffs as Williams topped his 1979 mark with 3,563 passing yards, which would remain the team record until Brad Johnson topped it in 2003.  The offense as a whole got much better with the addition of James Wilder and the emergence of Kevin House.  House had a fantastic season but TE Jimmie Giles was almost as important in the passing game.  They split the vote and Williams, who hit them for a combined 1,963 yards, takes the honor.

 

1982: RB James Wilder (S Neal Colzie)…Get used to seeing this name, as Wilder was the Bucs’ offense for a good part of the 1980s.  Here, he led the team in rushing (324 yards), receptions (53) and TDs (four); remember that those numbers are low because a strike shortened the season to nine games.

 

1983: Wilder (Hugh Green)…This wasn’t anywhere close to his best season, but no one on the offense did more than Wilder’s 1,020 combined yards.  I’m not forgetting about the offensive line, and candidates such as Dave Reavis and Steve Wilson, but the team gave up 49 sacks and only averaged 3.2 yards per run that year.

 

1984: Wilder…Perhaps the biggest no-brainer on this entire list.  Wilder set a still-standing (and never really challenged) franchise record with 1,544 yards.  He set a (since-broken) NFL record with 407 carries and established a new Buc standard with 85 receptions.  Apologies to Kevin House and his 1,005 yards, but Wilder just did too much.

 

1985: Wilder…Another 1,300 rushing yards, still the second-best mark in team annals, another 53 catches, plus 10 touchdowns.  Another easy choice, though House, TE Jimmie Giles, QB Steve DeBerg and T Ron Heller also were strong.

 

1986: QB Steve Young…I probably would have given it to Wilder one more time, but the media choice was Young, in his second season with the team after being the first overall pick in the USFL dispersal draft.  Young threw for 2,282 yards and ran for another 425, though his TD/INT ratio was just 8/13.

 

1987: QB Steve DeBerg…Interesting choice since DeBerg threw for less than 2,000 yards and was replaced in the season’s final month by rookie QB Vinny Testaverde.  However, it’s fair to point out that DeBerg had a 14/7 TD/INT ratio and finished with an 85.3 passer rating, a Buc record at the time.

 

1988: WR Bruce Hill…Hill and fellow 1987 draft pick Mark Carrier came into their own in this year, with Hill (58-1,040-9) edging out Carrier (57-970-5) for the team leads.  Yes, Testaverde distributed the ball to both, but he also tossed an eye-opening 35 interceptions.

 

1989: WR Mark Carrier…Carrier missed out in ’88 but he took the award by force the next year.  Though his single-season reception (86) and TD (9) totals have since been passed, his 1,422 yards remain a team record and overall it is considered the best season by a receiver in team history.

 

1990: RB Gary Anderson (CB Wayne Haddix)…Acquired from San Diego in an April trade for second and third-round draft picks, Anderson wasn’t the same player who had 80 catches in 1986 or 1,119 rushing yards in 1989, but he was still a dual threat who eventually led the team with 1,110 combined yards.

 

1991: T Paul Gruber (LB Broderick Thomas)…The team’s first-round pick in 1988, Gruber was in the middle of a five-year stretch in which he never missed a single offensive down.  The Bucs’ offense was not good in 1991, ranking 26th in the league and gaining just 250 yards per game, but by this point Gruber had been recognized as one of the best and most consistent offensive tackles in the game.

 

1992: RB Reggie Cobb…Cobb – who by the way has enjoyed a very long and successful career as a college scout since his playing days ended – had his best year in 1992, rushing for 1,171 yards and nine touchdowns.  Cobb was a workhorse, and he scored more than twice as many touchdowns as anyone else on the team.

 

1993: QB Craig Erickson (LB Hardy Nickerson)…Erickson’s numbers weren’t fantastic in ’93, but they weren’t bad (3,054 yards, 18 touchdowns) and he had little support from an anemic rushing game.  WR Courtney Hawkins, with 62 catches for 933 yards, would be a close runner-up.

 

1994: Gruber…You know an offensive lineman is good when he is chosen as the team’s MVP, as he was this year by the Bucs’ beat writers.  You could pretty much pick any year in Gruber’s career to honor him, as consistent as he was, but it’s worth noting that the Bucs allowed only 30 sacks in ’94, their lowest total since 1981.

 

1995: RB Errict Rhett (Nickerson)…After coming on strong in the second half of his 1994 rookie campaign, Rhett became the offensive workhorse in ’95, rushing for 1,207 yards.  No other player carried the ball more than 26 times.  In addition, Rhett’s 11 touchdowns were second only to Wilder’s 13 in 1984 in the Bucs’ single-season record chart.

 

1996: FB Mike Alstott (Nickerson)…Alstott’s unforgettable Buccaneer career started in fine fashion, as the second-round pick out of Purdue led the team and set a (since-broken) rookie team record with 65 catches.  With Rhett holding out to start the season, the Bucs didn’t have much a rushing game, but Alstott contributed 377 yards on the ground and led the team with six touchdowns.

 

1997: QB Trent Dilfer…Many, many players contributed in a huge way to the Buccaneers’ return to the playoffs in ’97 after a 16-year drought, but Dilfer might have taken the biggest leap.  He made it to the Pro Bowl after throwing for 21 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions, and he compiled a nice 82.8 passer rating.  If one could merge Alstott and “Thunder & Lightning” partner Warrick Dunn into one player, Dilfer wouldn’t stand a chance, but as it was the media thought the offense’s leader was its key player in ’97.

 

1998: RB Warrick Dunn (LB Derrick Brooks)…Dunn didn’t go back to the Pro Bowl in ’98, as he did in his rookie season, but this campaign was even better.  He ran for 1,026 yards, averaged 4.2 yards per carry, caught 44 passes and scored six touchdowns.  Dilfer tied his own record with 21 touchdown passes and Alstott had another gigantic season, but Dunn edges them out in this particular year.

 

1999: Alstott (Brooks)…This time it was Alstott that led the team in rushing, with 949 yards, though Dunn had a huge year in the passing game and was probably just as important.  Alstott breaks the tie, however, by leading the team with nine touchdowns, which was obviously his specialty.

 

2000: Dunn…This was probably Dunn’s best year in Tampa, and it took him back to the Pro Bowl (along with eight of his teammates).  He ran for 1,133 yards, averaged 4.6 yards per carry, caught 44 passes for 422 yards and even topped Alstott, and everyone else on the team, with nine touchdowns.

 

2001: WR Keyshawn Johnson…In his second year with the team after a blockbuster trade in 2000, Johnson destroyed the team record with 106 receptions, racking up 1,266 receiving yards in the process.  He scored just one touchdown, incredibly, and averaged only 11.9 yards per grab, but in a season in which the running game faltered badly, he was the team’s most consistent offensive threat.

 

2002: QB Brad Johnson…Johnson had a marvelous year and peaked at the right time, though he did miss a few games at the end due to a neck injury.  Johnson threw 22 TD passes against just six interceptions, completed 62.3% of his passes and had a 92.9 passer rating.  He also got the nickname, “The Bull,” due to his tenacious style of play.

 

2003: WR Keenan McCardell…I probably would have gone with Johnson again (3,811 yards, 26 TD passes), but McCardell was certainly not a bad choice.  With Keyshawn Johnson falling out of favor (and deactivated for the last five games of the year), McCardell stepped into the number-one receiver role and played like a man still in his prime, with 84 catches for 1,174 yards and eight TDs.  Michael Pittman (1,348 combined yards) could also make a strong case.

 

2004: WR Michael Clayton…Clayton is the first rookie on this list, though he was joined by another just one year later.  With McCardell holding out and eventually traded, Johnson already gone and imports Joey Galloway and Tim Brown oft-injured, the first-round pick out of LSU stepped into the void and immediately contributed 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven TDs.  He did this while playing with three different starting quarterbacks.

 

2005: RB Cadillac Williams…Williams entered the league in stunning fashion, racking up an NFL-record 434 rushing yards in his first three pro games.  That sent his cleats and several other items off to the Hall of Fame.  Truth be told, looking back at it dispassionately, one might now pick Galloway, who was absolutely marvelous: 83 catches, 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns.  At the time, though, Williams impressive play as a rookie seemed awfully uplifting for the rest of the team.

 

2006: WR Joey Galloway…Galloway gets his due anyway, though this campaign was actually a small step down from what he did in 2005.  The speedy receiver led the team with 62 catches for 1,057 yards and seven scores even though rookie sixth-rounder Bruce Gradkowski was the starting quarterback for the majority of the season.

 

2007: QB Jeff Garcia...Garcia’s first season with the Buccaneers was a success in every way except for his ability to stay in the lineup.  Garcia compiled a 94.6 passer rating, completed 63.9% of his passes and helped the Bucs’ offense rack up 5,229 yards overall.

 

2008: WR Antonio Bryant...After sitting out a year, Bryant returned to the NFL in a huge way, in the process going from speculative signing to the team’s best offensive player in a matter of months.  Bryant racked up 83 catches for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns, and nobody else on the Bucs’ offense had more than 484 receiving yards.  Bryant peppered his outstanding season with some of the most amazingly acrobatic catches in franchise history.

 

2009: TE Kellen Winslow…Winslow’s first season with the Bucs was a hit after he was acquired in the offseason in a trade with Cleveland.  Winslow’s 77 catches led the team and were more than twice the total of anyone else in the offense.  That and his 884 receiving yards were the most ever by a tight end in franchise history.

 

2010: QB Josh Freeman…This was the season that created all the hope that Freeman is going to be the team’s franchise quarterback for years to come.  His 25/6 TD/INT ratio was among the best ever posted in NFL history, and his 95.9 passer rating was the top mark ever by a Buccaneers quarterback who started all 16 games in a season.

 

2011: G Davin Joseph...Full disclosure – I couldn’t locate the announcement of this year’s Buccaneer MVP, and I didn’t want to hold up the whole column another day while I looked.  I’ll take an educated guess that it was the team’s only Pro Bowl selection, and perhaps the most consistently effective performer on the team during a season of struggles.  Joseph was considered one of the best run-blockers in the NFL in 2011.

 

Well, there you go, Gary.  I hope you found that entertaining and illuminating.  Or at least one of the two.  The weird thing to me, in reviewing the list is that TE Jimmie Giles was never chosen (some of that, obviously, was my fault).  It’s weird because Giles is undeniably one of the best offensive players in team history, and even the third member of the Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium, but if you believe this chart he wasn’t the absolute best offensive player on the team at any point.  He was definitely one o the best for an extended number of years, and overall his career ranks right at or near the top.

 

**

 

4. Oliver Martin of Cleveland, Ohio asks:

Answer Man!  I may be wrong about this but it seems to me like the Bucs went for the two-point conversion a lot more than usual last year.  I know that might not have been a great thing some of the time……I mean, sometimes they were going for two because they were down a bunch.  Anyway, that part aside, I was just wondering if we really did go for two more often than usual last year.  And while you’re at it, could you tell me when the first year was that teams could go for two in the NFL?

 

Answer Man: Like Austin above, you’re instincts were right, Oliver.

 

The Buccaneers went for two seven times in 2011, their highest total ever in a single season.  That was also the most two-point-conversion attempts in the entire NFL last year.  In fact, only three teams tried more than three two-pointers in 2011: Tampa Bay (2 of 7), Denver (3 of 6) and the New York Giants (4 of 4).  Another three teams tried it three times, all of whom succeeded on two of them: Carolina, Detroit and New Orleans.  Apparently, the NFC South was the epicenter of two-point attempts in 2011.

 

The two-point-conversion option was introduced in the NFL in 1994, and the Bucs immediately tried six of them, succeeding half the time.  Four years later, in 1998, Tampa Bay once again went three-of-six on two-point tries.  After that, however, the frequency of two-point tries went down and stayed down, only hitting four attempts in three different seasons between 1999 and 2010.  The Bucs only tried one two-point conversions in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 seasons combined.

 

The last two-pointer the Bucs attempted in 2011 – an incomplete pass from Josh Freeman intended for Dezmon Briscoe – was actually the 50th try in team history.  The Bucs are 23-of-50 all-time in that category, for a success rate of 46%.

 

Warning: This is when I go into “extra information you didn’t ask for” mode.

 

For instance, did you know the first player to score on a two-point attempt in team history was wide receiver Horace Copeland?  After a one-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run by Errict Rhett at San Francisco on October 23, 1994, Craig Erickson threw a two-point pass to Copeland for the first such conversion in franchise annals.  It was also the first attempt, but the second came just a little later in the same quarter, on a pass to tight end Jackie Harris.

 

And do you know who has scored the most two-point conversions in team history?  If you guessed Mike Alstott because it seemed like the obvious choice…well, that was good thinking.  Alstott is the only player so far with three two-point conversions, though Kellen Winslow (on catches) and Josh Freeman (on runs) already have two each, so Alstott’s lead could be in jeopardy.  Of course, one of Alstott’s two-point conversions is the most famous one in team history, the game-winner in the insane 36-35 Bucs victory in 2005 after Head Coach Jon Gruden made one of the gutsiest calls ever.

 

Actually, Alstott was involved in one of the other really entertaining two-point conversions in Buc history.  Losing 14-9 in Green Bay in the 2000 season finale, and needing a win to take the division, the Bucs went for two, with Shaun King handing off to Warrick Dunn.  Dunn then handed to Alstott, who had lined up close to the line and then started off perpendicular to Dunn’s path, going left to right.  Alstott swept around to the right and, as he was approached by a Packer defender, flipped a lateral back out to King, who walked in untouched.  The Bucs later tied the game, 14-14, but missed a chance to win it in regulation and then lost in overtime, dropping them to a Wild Card berth.

 

**

 

5. Xavier of Lacey, Washington asks:

Which person on the Buccaneers went to the most Probowls?

 

Answer: That’s an easy one, X, but first a little nit-picking.  Anyone who’s been reading my columns for awhile knows one of my biggest pet peeves: Super Bowl is two words!  Not Superbowl.  Super Bowl.  Well, the same thing applies to the Pro Bowl.  Please be advised.  (I had a third-grade teacher back on the Answer Man home planet who drilled it into our heads on a near daily basis that “a lot” is two words.  I think some of that obsession rubbed off on me.)

 

As to your question, the answer is Hall of Fame-bound linebacker Derrick Brooks.  With 11 Pro Bowl selections, Brooks is actually one of the most decorated players in league history, not just with the Buccaneers.  Here are the players who have been to the most Pro Bowls, all-time, arranged by number of appearances:

 

14

OL Bruce Matthews, DT Merlin Olsen

13

LB Ray Lewis*, WR Jerry Rice, DE Reggie White

12

TE Tony Gonzalez*, S Ken Houston, G Randall McDaniel, LB Junior Seau, G Will Shields

11

T Larry Allen, CB Champ Bailey*, LB Derrick Brooks, QB Brett Favre, DT Bob Lilly, QB Peyton Manning*, DE Gino Marchetti, T Anthony Munoz, T Jonathan Ogden, T Willie Roaf, DE Bruce Smith, CB/S Rod Woodson

 

Those marked with an asterisk are still active, so may move up the list.  As of now, however, there are only 10 players in league history with more Pro Bowl appearances than Brooks, and only five defensive players  higher on the list.  And it’s not like the Pro Bowl is only a modern contrivance; they’ve been playing it since 1950.

 

You may have noticed that I referred to Brooks as “Hall of Fame-bound.”  Yes, that is a little bit of my bias showing, but the list above is good evidence that he is probably headed for Canton before too long.  There is only one player on that list who is eligible for the Hall of Fame and not yet in it – Shields – and he may eventually get the call.  Shields was eligible for the first time this past year (as was Willie Roaf, who got in) and he made it all the way to the list of 26 semifinalists.

 

Obviously, all the active players are not yet eligible, and neither are a bunch of the others, such as Brooks, Seau, Allen (he’s very close) and Favre.  To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, a player has to be out of the game for five years.  So Brooks still has two more years to wait, but it won’t surprise the Answer Man if that’s all the time he has to wait.

 

As for Buccaneer history, Brooks has a fairly big lead of four Pro Bowls on the second  man on the list, defensive tackle Warren Sapp.  Of course, Sapp departed after the 2003 season while Brooks remained in Tampa throughout his career (1995-2008), though Sapp did not go to any more Pro Bowls while with the Oakland Raiders.  Sapp, like Brooks, has an NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophy on his mantle, and will probably join his former teammate in Canton someday.

 

Mike Alstott comes in next on the Bucs’ list of Pro Bowlers, and first among offensive players, with six all-star selections.  That actually ties defensive end Lee Roy Selmon, who is in the Hall of Fame, for third on the list.  Ronde Barber, John Lynch and Hardy Nickerson all had five each, though Lynch eventually bagged four more while with the Denver Broncos.

 

**

 

Okay, now we get to a few more questions submitted through Facebook.  I only have names for these folks, not hometowns.

 

6. Daniel Leon asks:

Are we going to use the black jerseys next year? I think it’s time to bring them back out and give these Bucs a new identity.

Answer Man: Well, this proves that it doesn’t really matter what the source of the questions is, we’ll always have some of the same topics to fall back on.

 

I’ve never quite figured out why, but this is a question I find at least once in my mailbag pretty much every month.  Usually multiple times.  The reason I find it strange is that the Buccaneers have never worn black jerseys in game.  Never.  Not once.  Ever.  From 1976 through 1996, the only two base colors for the Buccaneers’ jerseys were white and orange.  From 1997 to the present, the only two base colors used for the jersey have been red and white…plus an occasional Throwback Game that brings back the orange.

 

I guess I understand where the question comes from.  At Buccaneer home games and even around town, you occasionally see fans in black Buccaneer replica jerseys.  They are definitely manufactured and sold, and I’ll even go so far as to say they look pretty good.  In the crowd, at least.  Personally, I reserve judgment on whether or not it would be a good luck for the Bucs in a game until I get to see a locker room full of them.

 

And all I can tell you Daniel is that I know of no plans by the Buccaneers to petition the league for the use of alternate jerseys (other than the throwbacks).  Believe me, if the Bucs ever decide to employ an alternate jersey, such as black, the team will most definitely publicize it well in advance.

 

**

 

7. Travis Austin McClellan asks:

I get in an argument daily about this so maybe you can back me up answerman. Who had the more dominant defense... the 2000 superbowl ravens or the 2002 super bowl buccaneers?

 

Answer Man: Seriously, are you baiting me here?!  “Superbowl” as one word (grrrr) and then as two words half a line later?  And “answerman” on top of that?!  There’s an artery starting to pulse in my neck.  Serenity now.  Serenity now.

 

Okay, I’m calm.  And I’m even pretty thrilled to have this question because not only does it give me an opportunity to brag about the 2002 Bucs’ defense (one of the best of all-time, and I defy anyone to prove otherwise), but it also lets me be a little bit lazy here at the end of a long column.

 

See, I’ve answered this very question before, and not too long ago.  Back in July of 2010, in Volume 10 of my sixth series, I did all the analysis, and reading back through it now it still holds up just fine.  In other words, it’s cutting-and-pasting time!  Yay!

 

In that column, I actually combined questions from two different fans and ended up with a much bigger analysis.  After some defining of terms, I ended up matching the Buccaneers and Steelers defenses in the entire period of 1996-2008 (otherwise known as the Monte Kiffin Era in Tampa).  The results of that were pretty remarkable in that the two teams came out almost identical over that 13-season span.  If you want to check out that part of the answer, just follow the link above.

 

The second part of that answer back in the summer of ’10 was more along the lines of what you’re asking for here, Travis: A specific comparison of the 2000 Ravens and the 2000 Buccaneers, two teams that won Super Bowls largely because of absolutely dominant defenses.  As you’ll see, I threw a few other well-known single-season defensive groups into the mix, too, such as the 1985 Chicago Bears.  And like I said, there really isn’t any need for editing, so here’s a reprint of that analysis:

 

/snip

 

…the Ravens of 2000 are generally considered one of the best defenses of all time, and the Answer Man wouldn't argue. I would argue that the 2002 Bucs are right there in the same category, and further I would claim that they are often given credit as such. I think that defense gets a lot of respect, especially after it undressed the Raiders in the biggest game of all.

 

So we'll take the 2002 Bucs, the 2000 Ravens and...hmm, what Steelers team? The 2005 and 2008 teams won Super Bowls, but the Answer Man would argue that the 2001 and 2004 defenses were better than in 2005. However, the 2008 Steelers team did finish first in the league in yards and points allowed and had numbers comparable to or better than the 2001 team, so we'll go with that one so that all three involved are Super Bowl champs. Actually, considering that the Steelers only allowed 237.2 yards per game in 2008, it's an excellent pick. If you sort out the best single-season team defensive performances since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, ranked by yards, you get a lot of teams from the 1970s. The game was much less offensive back then. Only three teams in the top 15 are not from the '70s: Those 2008 Steelers and the 1991 Eagles.

 

Just for the heck of it, let's throw in the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers and, even though they'll be the only team on the list that didn't win the Super Bowl, the aforementioned 1991 Eagles. I've just listed them chronologically, starting with the most recent.

 

 

Yds. Allwd/

Gm.

Pts. Allwd/

Gm.

TOs

Forced

1st

Downs

Opp. 3rd-

Down Eff.

Opp. Passer

Rating

2008 Steelers

237.2

13.9

29

240

31.4

63.4

2002 Bucs

252.8

12.3

38

236

33.6

48.4

2000 Ravens

247.9

10.3

49

216

34.1

62.5

1991 Eagles

221.8

15.2

48

206

30.0

52.1

1985 Bears

258.4

12.4

54

236

29.6

51.2

1974 Steelers

219.6

13.5

47

200

32.7

44.1

 

Conclusion? All those defenses were awesome. Even given the differences in the game between the '70s and '80s and the '00s, the Ravens and Bucs still have the best two points-against numbers. Again, that's what it comes down to. Those '85 Bears forced the most turnovers and also had the best third-down against numbers. The '91 Eagles, which famously finished the year ranked first in overall defense, rushing defense and passing defense, gave up just 221.8 yards per game, almost as good as the '74 Steelers. Too bad they didn't have the offense to take advantage of it. I threw in my pet stat in the final column: opponent passer rating. What the Bucs did that year was unreal. Yes, the 1974 Steelers had a 44.1 opponent passer rating, but Pittsburgh's own rating that year was just 49.0. Again, different eras.

 

Anyway, by the raw numbers, it looks like the 2000 Ravens hold a very slight edge over the 2002 Bucs. Juggle the numbers another way and you might come up with a different answer.

 

/snip

 

I bet you thought I was going to find some way, any way, to make the Bucs come out on top.  I’ll admit I’m biased, and I still believe the ’02 Bucs are a match for the ’00 Ravens.  However, if we’re going to undertake a statistical comparison, we have to abide by the results.  Based on Baltimore’s edge in points allowed and total turnovers, I think you’d have to say that was, by a very small margin, the more dominant season.  VERY small margin.  Call it 1a and 1b.

 

Told you I was biased.

 

**

 

I’m also done for this week.  Thanks again to all our friends on Facebook, and to my social media colleagues here at One Buc Place for finding a new way to reach out to those fans who have great questions for me to ponder.  I’m sure we will continue to include Facebook in our process from now on.

 

Please also be aware that my email inbox is – finally – starting to get pretty full.  We started slow with this volume but more stuff is happening every day regarding the Buccaneers, and so there’s a lot more to discuss.  I still can’t answer such questions as, “Who are the Bucs going to draft in the first round?” or “Will the Bucs sign ‘Player A’ in free agency?”  But there are certainly related questions we can dive into.  Please don’t hesitate to ask.


And if you missed it up top, here’s the link to the page where you can send in your questions.  Thanks again.

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