The Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the NFL in rush defense in 2012, and that's a noteworthy achievement in its own right. The Buccaneers are a franchise that, to this point, is best known for several long stretches of defensive dominance, and yet they had never before finished in first place in that particular category. Their rushing yards allowed per game – 82.5 – was nine percent better than second-place finisher Pittsburgh (90.6); there was no bigger gap between any two teams on the league than between the Bucs and Steelers.
But, of course, some team is going to lead the NFL in rushing defense every year, so the significance of the achievement might seem to be only related to the Bucs' own history. What makes this specific accomplishment remarkable, in a league-wide sense, is the fact that just a year ago, Tampa Bay had the worst run defense in the entire NFL.
By shaving their yards allowed per game on the ground from 156.1 to 82.5 – nearly cutting it in half – the Bucs became the first team ever to go from worst to first in that category in one year.
That's an exciting thing about this defense," Said General Manager Mark Dominik. "The big thing that came out of it was this: We're the number one rush defense in the National Football League. We went from 32nd to #1. That's the first time that's ever happened in NFL history. That's a tremendous stride and it's something to get excited about. It's the third fewest rushing yards allowed in a single season since 2009."
The Buccaneers also led the NFL with an average of 3.5 yards allowed per carry, and no team in the NFL more consistently stopped opposing ballcarriers at or behind the line of scrimmage. That type of play is called a "stuff," and the Bucs easily led the NFL in that category with 80, or exactly five per game. The next closest team, Detroit, had 65 and no other team even got to 60.
It should be – and has been – pointed out that, at the same time the Buccaneers' defense finished last in the NFL against the pass in 2012. The Buccaneers weren't the NFL's best in overall yards allowed or, more importantly, points allowed, and they aren't getting ready for a playoff agme this weekend. No one at One Buccaneer Place would suggest that leading the league in run defense was the top overall goal.
But it was a goal, and the team's incredible turnaround in that category is an indication that the changes the team needed after 2011 are well underway. Call it one very important step in the plan.
"Certainly, we weren't where we wanted to be against the pass, and that's something we have to work on to get to where we want to be as a total defense," said Dominik. "But that's the kind of turnaround, that's the kind of direction we wanted to see from this football team."