Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Football Geekery (Week of Sept. 10)

This week's studies include a look at the correlation between strong run defense and victory, Tampa Bay's history with defending champions, and more

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Coaches don't always care for stats…but we love them!  Each week, we're going to give you a closer look at three or four pieces of statistical analysis, hopefully in a way that is relevant to the Buccaneers' current state of affairs.

Let's get started.

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1. Stop the Run and Win

You've likely already heard that the Buccaneers tied a franchise single-game record in Sunday's opener when they held the Carolina Panthers to a paltry 10 rushing yards.  That note was widely disseminated just moments after the Bucs' finished off their 16-10 win.

The game remained in doubt through almost the full 60 minutes, as Cam Newton and a talented Panthers team was trying to mount a comeback.  Had the Bucs not sealed the game with a superb "four-minute drill" to kill the final 2:46 on the clock, Newton would have had one more chance to pull out the victory.

He would have been defying the odds had he done so, however.  Presumably the Panthers would have gotten the ball back with somewhere between 30 and 90 seconds remaining and no timeouts, which means they almost surely would have gone exclusively to the pass.  Thus, their rushing yardage total would have been anemic had they won or lost.

The thing is, the Buccaneers almost never lose when their run defense is playing as well as it was on Sunday.  And it doesn't even need to be a historically strong effort, as was the case against Carolina.  Sunday's game marked the 28th time in 37 seasons that Tampa Bay has held an opponent to 50 rushing yards or fewer.  The Buccaneers have now won 23 of those 28 games.

Of course, there is some muddying of cause and effect here.  A team that is losing by a large margin is likely to pass the ball much more frequently, thus holding its rushing total down simply by play-calling.  For example, the Buccaneers beat the Detroit Lions on Sept. 17, 2000 but a wide 31-10 margin, and they were up 21-3 midway through the second quarter.  Detroit, which finished the game with just 17 rushing yards, only ran it twice in the second half.

There are, however, days in which the run defense is incredibly stout no matter what the situation, and Sunday's game certainly qualifies.  The score was never out of hand, so Carolina had its full playbook at its disposal, and Newton obviously provided a very serious and challenging rushing threat.  Tampa Bay was up to that challenge in Week One and, as usual, that led to a victory.

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2. Bring on the Champs!

Having vanquished division-rival Carolina, the Buccaneers now head to New York to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions.  That gives Tampa Bay an opportunity to duplicate a feat they've achieved only one other time in franchise history.

Overall, the Buccaneers have played the defending Super Bowl  Champion the following season 19 times, including three occasions (1986, 1997 and 2010) in which they were division mates with the Lombardi Trophy owners and thus faced them twice.  They are 4-15 in those games, but have actually won four of their last nine opportunities.

The most recent of those four victories against the defending champs was just two seasons ago, when the Buccaneers upset the New Orleans Saints on the road in the 2010 season finale to finish with a 10-6 record.  The Saints finished 11-5 and made the playoffs but were bounced out by Seattle in the Wild Card round the next week.

Tampa Bay also beat Denver in 1999, St. Louis in 2000 and Baltimore in 2001, all after they had won the league the previous year.  Each of those games was at Raymond James Stadium, so the 2010 win in the Superdome marks the only occasion on which a Tampa Bay team has gone on the road to beat a defending Super Bowl champ.  Obviously, next Sunday's game gives the team a chance to do it again.

Beating the defending champs has proven to be a very good omen for the Buccaneers, or perhaps a good gauge as to how strong that year's Tampa Bay team was.  The Bucs finished with a winning record in each of those four campaigns, averaged 10 wins per season and made the playoffs in three of the four years.  The lone season that didn't end in a postseason berth was 2010, when Tampa Bay joined (in unwelcome fashion) a very small group of teams ever to win 10 regular-season and not make the playoffs.

The defending champions that have fallen to the Buccaneers have mostly not been teams that fall on hard post-Super Bowl luck.  Yes, the John Elway-less Broncos slumped to a 6-10 record in 1999, but the other three teams on the list all won at least 10 games and all made the playoffs.

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3. Barber Cuts Two Ways

Ronde Barber celebrated his 200th consecutive start at cornerback, an NFL record, in quintessential Barber fashion, making a mark in each of the two statistical categories that are most often used to illustrate his incredible impact on the game.  In an effort that was hugely important to the Bucs' win over Carolina, Barber recorded both his 28th career sack and his 44th career interception, and he remains the only player in NFL history with at least 25 sacks and at least 40 picks.

Barber was surprised after the game when he was informed that, against the odds, that was only the second time in the regular season that he had recorded both a sack and an interception in the same game (he also did it in that unforgettable 2002 NFC Championship Game, but that's another story).  The other occurrence was also against Carolina, in 2005, and yes, both of those games were Buccaneer victories.

Since most of his big-play outings have been either an interception game or a sack game, however, it may be interesting to find out which of those two achievements is more likely to be associated with a Buccaneer win.  Surprisingly, by the percentages at least, a Barber sack is more predictive of victory than a Barber interception.

Barber has recorded at least one interception in 36 different regular-season games during his career.  Tampa Bay is 23-13 in those games, which equates to a fine .639 winning percentage.  He has recorded at least one sack in 27 different regular-season games during his career, and the Buccaneers are 19-8 in those outings.  That's an even better winning percentage of .704.

Either way, it appears to be a very good thing for the Buccaneer when Ronde Barber gets his hands on either the football or the quarterback, and it's especially good when he does both on the same afternoon.

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