Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Crunching the Numbers

It's a bit early to put too much weight in the statistics Tampa Bay or any other team has produced to this point, but the Buccaneers have generated some numbers that are either encouraging for the near future or significant in a specific player's career

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Through the first two weeks of the 2010 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed just 21 points.  The Pittsburgh Steelers, who will be visiting Tampa this weekend, have surrendered just 20 points.  Together with the Miami Dolphins (also 20 points allowed), those represent the three stingiest teams in the NFL so far.

Could we be in for an old-fashioned slugfest, befitting of two franchises with proud defensive traditions, when the Buccaneers meet the Steelers at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday?  If so, Pittsburgh better hope for a fast start and the Buccaneers may just need a strong finish.

See, the Steelers have been the second-hardest team to score on in the first half so far, and the Buccaneers have been completely impenetrable in the second half.  Pittsburgh allowed a total of six first-half points in beating Atlanta and Tennessee, better than any team except Miami (three first-half points).  Meanwhile, Tampa Bay vanquished Cleveland and Carolina without allowing a single second-half point to either team.  It is the only team in the NFL yet to be scored on after the intermission.

Stats can be misleading, of course.  Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh could end up in a high-scoring shootout, like the defensive-minded Buccaneers and Washington unexpectedly did in November of 2005.  (Buccaneer fans will fondly recall Mike Alstott's two-point conversion run for a 36-35 win in that one.)  Still, it is at least impressive what both the Buccaneers and Steelers have done to this point to keep their opponents out of the end zone.

Below you'll find a few more stats that are of interest to the Buccaneers with 12.5% of the regular season now in the books.  Some are milestones, some are trends, all are encouraging for Buccaneers fans.

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Williams Off to a Flying Start

In his regular-season NFL debut against the Cleveland Browns, rookie wide receiver Mike Williams turned in a dazzling three-yard touchdown catch to help the Buccaneers win, 17-14.  Williams first tipped the ball away from Browns cornerback Joe Haden in the end zone, then spun, found the deflection and caught it before tapping his toes just inbounds.

Last Sunday in Charlotte, Williams did it again, catching a medium-range square-in pass from quarterback Josh Freeman and turning it into a 35-yard score.  On this one, Williams darted into the middle of a pack of six Carolina defenders after the catch but was somehow able to squirt out the other side for the score.

As such, the 2010 fourth-round pick became the first Buccaneer rookie to score in each of his first two games since teammate and similarly-surnamed Cadillac Williams in 2005.  Williams memorably ran for 434 yards and two touchdowns to open the '05 campaign, sending his shoes to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after he set a new rushing record for a player in his first three games.

When it comes to wide receivers, however, Williams is in uncharted territory.  He is, in fact, the first receiver in franchise history to score a touchdown in each of the first two games of his rookie season.  The Bucs have had some very good rookie receiving seasons – Kevin House, Lawrence Dawsey, Michael Clayton – and Williams looks to be well on his way toward producing another one.

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Like Father, Like Son

Tight end Kellen Winslow has needed some time off from practice in recent weeks, and he isn't one of the three Buccaneers who have caught touchdown passes from Josh Freeman at this point.  But if one looks at the team's reception chart through the first two games of the season, one will find Winslow in his customary spot.

Last year, Winslow led the team in receptions and broke the team's single-season records for a tight end with 77 catches for 884 yards and five touchdowns.  Through two games of 2010, Winslow is again the team's leading pass-catcher, with eight grabs for 115 yards.

Winslow has played all 18 of the Bucs' regular-season games since he was acquired via trade in the 2009 offseason.  And when Winslow plays, he catches passes.  In fact, with four catches in each of the Bucs' first two games, he now has at least four grabs in 11 consecutive games dating back to the 2009 midseason.

Winslow's fourth catch against Cleveland in the opener was also the 300th of his career.  His steady production made him the second fastest tight end to that mark, in terms of games played, and the only man above him on the list is his own father.

Tight Ends: Fewest Games to 300 Receptions

Player

Games

Kellen Winslow (Father)

57

Kellen Winslow (Son)

61

Antonio Gates

66

Jeremy Shockey

67

Tony Gonzalez

71

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Caddy Climbs the Charts…And Helps the Bucs Win

The Buccaneers have committed to the run in the first two games of the season, pounding away with Cadillac Williams even when the carry-to-carry results haven't been overwhelming.  In each of the first two games, Williams' dogged running has been an important part of the winning formula.

Against Cleveland, Williams' repeated runs helped tire out the Browns' front, and when the Bucs needed to put a close game away late, he suddenly began ripping off longer gains.  In Carolina, Williams ran 27 times, his highest single-game total since November of 2006, and though he gained only 51 yards overall he was lauded by the coaching staff afterward for helping the team set the game's tempo and control the clock.

The Carolina game might have been a grinding day of work for Williams, but along the way he took another big step up the team's all-time rushing chart.  With his 51 yards he moved to 3,366 all-time, surpassing the 3,363 rushing yards Michael Pittman had as a Buccaneer from 2002-07.  The only running backs still ahead of him on the list are three of the most accomplished players in team history: James Wilder (5,957 yards), Mike Alstott (5,088) and Warrick Dunn (4,986).

Obviously, Williams has a way to go before he challenges that next level on the all-time chart, but he is certainly getting plenty of opportunities to build his total these days.  Dating back to last season, the Buccaneers have now given him the ball at least 20 times in four straight games; surprisingly, that's the first time that's ever happened in his career.

The Bucs have won three of those four games, which is not surprising.  Williams now has 17 games in his career in which he has carried the ball at least 20 times, and the Bucs are 13-4 in those contests.

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2-0 Looks Good From Here

During training camp, Head Coach Raheem Morris told his team that the 2010 season was "A Race to 10."  His point was that 10 victories usually means a ticket to the playoffs, so the first goal was to get to that mark, then see what happens from there.

The Bucs got out of the blocks quickly in that race, posting their first 2-0 start since 2005.  Of course, the team understands that a 2-0 mark guarantees nothing more than two wins in 2010, either in Tampa or around the NFL.  Last year, for instance, there were nine teams standing at 2-0; five of them (New Orleans, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Baltimore and the N.Y. Jets) went on to make the playoffs while four (Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta and the N.Y. Giants) did not.

On the other hand, the Buccaneers have made it to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons (1997, 2000 and 2005) in which they started 2-0.  Only twice has the team started 2-0 and then not advanced to the postseason (1980, 1992).

Morris is trying to guide his team back into that race, and while a 2-0 start doesn't guarantee postseason play it does make it much more likely that the team will at least be in the race.  In the five-season period from 2005-09, 47 NFL teams put together a 2-0 start.  Ignoring the playoffs for now, let's see how many wins each of those 47 teams ended up with:

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Wins

Season

2-0 Teams

7 or fewer

8

9

10 or more

2009

9

0

3

3

3

2008

10

2

1

2

5

2007

10

3

1

1

5

2006

11

2

2

1

6

2005

7

0

0

0

7

Totals

47

7

7

7

26

Of those 47 teams, only 7 finished with fewer than eight wins, meaning the vast majority of 2-0 starters at least remained in playoff contention through much of the season.  Further, more than half of those teams – 55.3% - finished with 10 or more victories.

The most interesting season on that list is 2005, when seven teams started out 2-0 and all seven of them made it to double digits in victories.  Since then, at least nine teams and usually more have gotten off to 2-0 starts.  This season?  It's the first time since 2005 that fewer than nine teams find themselves undefeated at this point.

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