Monte Kiffin's defense has allowed the fewest yards in the NFL over the last four years
At the end of the 2003 season, Simeon Rice ranked sixth on the list of active NFL players with the most quarterback sacks. By the beginning of the 2004 season, Rice will likely be third.
Now that's a productive offseason.
Actually, Rice is moving up the list due to the offseason decisions of three other players; Bruce Smith, John Randle and Trace Armstrong have all retired or are expected to do so. Thus, Rice and his 93 career sacks will trail only Michael Strahan (114) and Robert Porcher (95.5) once the season begins. Strahan, who led the league with 18.5 sacks last year, is a good bet to hold onto the top spot through 2004, but Porcher, who has 10 sacks the last two seasons compared to Rice's 30.5, might want to watch his back.
Why the sudden focus on Rice's career sack arc? Well, it was one of the first things we noticed when we cracked open the 2004 NFL Record & Fact Book, delivered to Buccaneer headquarters Wednesday with an audible thud.
Weighing in at 766 pages this year, the Record & Fact Book – commonly referred to as the White Book in league circles – is an invaluable tool for NFL employees throughout the season. It contains team rosters, stats and figures, league records, historical information, statistical breakdowns, a digest of the rules, important dates, draft summaries and much more, all in excruciatingly fine detail.
Buccaneer staffers and members of the media who cover the team will refer to the White Book repeatedly throughout the season, which is why the league delivered a stack of book-filled boxes to One Buccaneer Place Wednesday. However, this item is also available to the fans and will be on sale at major bookstores within weeks.
On page 27 of the 2004 NFL Record & Fact Book is an updated list of the active league leaders in sacks, following other lists for such categories as passing, rushing, receiving, intercepting and punting. Flip the page and you've got lists of the winningest coaches in the league, active and all-time. Head back the other direction and you can see each team's list of opponents through the 2009 season.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Let's stroll through the White Book's 766 pages and see what other interesting tidbits we can find, particularly those of Buccaneer flavor.
Leading the Way
Staying for a moment on the topic of active leaders in statistical categories, we find several other veteran Buccaneers in prominent positions.
Quarterback Brad Johnson, for instance, is 10th among all active players in passer rating, the statistic the NFL chooses to rank its QBs in this book. Johnson's career mark of 84.1 slots him right between Rich Gannon at 84.7 and Steve McNair at (a presumably percentage-points lower) 84.1. The current leader, by a wide margin, is the New York Giants' Kurt Warner, at 97.2. Johnson's completion percentage of 61.8 is the fifth-best mark on the list.
Kicker Martin Gramatica debuts on the active scoring leaders list with 538 points. Though he stands just 23rd on the list, he gives away many years to those at the top, 22-season vets Gary Anderson (2,346 points) and Morten Andersen (2,259). Among all players with five seasons or less, Gramatica is the leader.
New Buc running back Charlie Garner climbed into the top 10 on the rushing chart last year. He is ninth heading into 2004, as his 6,986 career yards ranks behind Stephen Davis's 7,234 and ahead of Priest Holmes's 6,692.
The Bucs have two of the top 30 pass receivers. Keenan McCardell is sixth among active players with 724 catches while Joey Galloway creeps onto the list at number 29 with 434. Galloway is also 19th on the punt-return chart, with a career average of 10.3 yards per return.
Rewind That Back
Replay reviews, both those brought on by coaches' red flags and those originating in the upstairs booth, were down in 2003 after peaking in 2002. The current two-challenge replay system has been in effect since 1999, and the '02 season featured the most reviews, 294 in 256 games. Last year, in the same number of games, there were 255 reviews, or almost exactly one per game. Coaches' challenges sank from 208 to 184, and only 66 calls were reversed in 2003, down from 94 in 2002.
By the way, the NFL has extended the replay system for five more years, through the 2008 season.
Let's Get It Started
The Bucs have won four of their last eight season openers, but overall remain four games under .500 in openers, at 12-16. They will get their next chance to improve that mark on September 12 in Washington.
The most successful opening-day team ever is Dallas, sporting a 30-13-1 record that figures to a .698 winning percentage. Much of that is due to a league-record 17-year winning streak that ended with a loss in 1982. It is all the more surprising, then, to see Dallas tied for the NFC's longest current losing streak on opening day. Both Dallas and Arizona have lost four straight openers. The longest losing streak in the NFL as a whole belongs to Cleveland, which has fallen in six straight openers. The longest winning streak, five games, is owned by Indianapolis. Danger: The Colts open this season against the defending league champs, the New England Patriots.
The Scariest Month
When the Bucs won three of four in October in 2002 en route to the league title, it marked a significant change in the team's monthly pattern of success. Last season, a frightening loss to Indianapolis and an unsuccessful trip to San Francisco brought back bad October memories. Thanks in part to a pattern of slow second months and fast finishes from 1996-2001, Tampa Bay has an unusual month-by-month success rate over the last decade.
Specifically, from 1994-2003 the Bucs have a winning regular season record in every month except October. Tampa Bay's last decade features a .526 mark in September, a .421 mark in October, a .585 mark in November and a .605 mark in December and January.
The Bucs have interesting company with that pattern. The only other team in the NFL to have a losing record in October but a winning mark in every month over the last decade is New England, winner of the two Super Bowls surrounding the Bucs' biggest victory.
The Bucs' 2004 October schedule: vs. Denver, at New Orleans, at St. Louis and vs. Chicago. In what could be considered a good omen, Tampa Bay's bye this season falls on Halloween.
Defensive Dominance Continued
The Buccaneers' defense, which has ranked among the league's top 10 for a stunning seven years running, has been the league's hardest defense against which to score or move the ball over the last four years combined.
Actually, whether one goes back two, three or four years, the Bucs are the league's stingiest defense in terms of yards allowed. Ranking second to Tampa Bay in yards allowed over the last two years is Denver (8,510 to 9,259); over the last three years it's Bucs #1 and Pittsburgh #2 (13,163 to 13,755); the Bucs' closest competitor over the last four years is Baltimore (17,963 to 18,107).
Tampa Bay also has the fewest passing yards allowed over the last two, three and four years, and the fewest points allowed over the last two years (the Bucs drop to second in that category behind Philadelphia over the past three and four year periods). The Bucs are also first over the last four years in forcing turnovers, with 151 takeaways to Baltimore's 149.
Keeping it Close
For the third straight season, almost exactly half of the games played in 2003 were decided by a touchdown or less.
Last year, 124 of the 256 regular-season games featured a winning margin of seven points or less. That percentage of 48.4% close games closely mirrored the marks of 49.2% in 2002 and 48.8% in 2001. Roughly one quarter of the games in 2003 were decided by a field goal or less – 60 of 256 games or 23.4%.
The Bucs certainly contributed to that high percentage of close games, as nine of their 16 contests were decided by seven points or less, including five that were decided by three points or less. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay was 2-7 in that first category of games and a debilitating 0-5 in the second. Over the previous four seasons, the Bucs had compiled a 16-16 record in games decided by a touchdown or less and a 9-8 mark in those won by a field goal or less.
Of the eight players the Buccaneers selected in April's NFL Draft, three were the only men taken from their respective schools. Sixth-round tight end Nate Lawrie was the only Yale player drafted, and seventh-round fullback Casey Cramer was the draft's lone Dartmouth representative, giving the Bucs a rare Ivy League duo. In addition, the only Southern player drafted this season, cornerback Lenny Williams, went to Tampa Bay in the seventh-round.
On the other hand, fourth-round safety Will Allen was one of 14 players drafted out of Ohio State, once again making the Buckeyes the most heavily represented team on draft weekend. The Bucs also got one of seven LSU players snapped up, first-round wide receiver Michael Clayton. The Tigers had the fourth most players drafted, behind Ohio State, Miami (9) and Purdue (9).