DE Chidi Ahanotu and the Bucs' defense wants to assert itself once again on Sunday
A strange thing has happened to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense recently.
A look at the league rankings shows a '10' next to the Bucs' defense, marking the first time that unit has seen double digits in years. That will happen when a team puts up 433 total yards on you, as the Buffalo Bills did last Sunday.
But don't be fooled by that game or that pesky number 10. Tampa Bay's defense remains one of the league's most feared crews. The unit that allowed the fewest points in the league from 1996 through 1999, Tony Dungy's first four years as head coach, is ranked seventh in that category again in 2000, having allowed an average of 16.4 points per game. The Bucs have held nine of their 12 opponents to 20 points or less; the only teams that have played 12 games and held more opponents below 20 are Miami (11), Baltimore (11) and Tennessee (10).
The win over the Bills was a prime example of the efficiency of the Bucs' defense. Despite the gaudy yardage total, Buffalo had only a few scoring opportunities and two were thwarted by turnovers.
Still, Tampa Bay had ranked in the top three in the NFL's defensive rankings for three straight seasons before 2000, and a fourth would have made them the first team to do that since the great Chicago Bears' squad of the mid-1980s. With four games left, a leap from 10 to three could be difficult (the Bucs' 297.8 yards allowed per game is 30 more than Buffalo's average in third place), but Tampa Bay will try to take a step in that direction today against Dallas.
The Cowboys have been held to 20 points or less seven times this season and are ranked 19th in overall offense. That unit, however, still boasts Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and one of the best offensive lines in the league. In truth, Dungy and his team would be happy simply to move from seven wins to eight, regardless of what Smith and his teammates do to the Bucs' defensive ranking.
Kickoff is at 1:00 p.m. You can follow all of the action by visiting Buccaneers.com's special Gameday section. Inside, you'll find pregame reports from the Bucs' locker room beginning at noon, followed by extensive in-game reporting. Besides reports of the action following each quarter, the Gameday section will have links to updated stats, up-to-the minute injury information, a photo gallery that grows as the game progresses, and more.