With the kickoff of the NFL season just 24 hours away, I made the easy decision to dive into Pro Football Reference for this week’s RPW. And the “Random Page” button blessed that decision with a somewhat relevant topic. With the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the 1st game of the season, we will look at another great Tampa Bay team from years past.
The 1999 Bucs defense was a dominate squad. The ended the season allowing the 3rd fewest points and yards in the league. They surrendered less than 7 points to opponents 4 times and less than 200 yards of total offense 4 times. The group forced multiple turnovers in half of their games that season. They allowed 19 touchdowns in 16 games. And most importantly, they allowed touchdowns in the redzone just 34.4% of the time, 2nd in the league.
This defense was a collection of great all-time talent, with three 1st Team All-Pros in 1999 (who would all go on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame). Those three players were linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch, and the world-destroying talent of defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Warren would win Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 behind a team leading 12.5 sacks as a DT. These guys were bolstered by players like Hardy Nickerson and a young Ronde Barber.
The team was coached by defensive mastermind Tony Dungy who, along with defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, installed the now well-known Tampa 2, a variation of the Cover 2 defense. The defensive staff also employed guys like Herm Edwards, Rod Marinelli, and Lovie Smith, all of whom would go on to coach tough defensive teams.
All of this was important as the defense carried an offense that ranked in the bottom third of most statistical categories (except for rushing attempts and yards, spearheaded by All-Pro fullback Mike Alstott). They struggled to put any points on the board, ranking 27 in scoring. But the defense carried this team to an 11-5 record, 1st in the Central Division and a bye in the playoffs.
Now, the page we actually landed on is the situational splits for this defense, so let’s take a look at some of the most important stats that explain the team’s success. First is the defense by quarter. The main stat I want to look at is Adjusted Net Yards per Pass Attempt (ANY/A)1, which a good indicator of passing success. The league average of ANY/A in all situations is 5.2. Here is Tampa:
Although the 1st quarter was tough for the team, they locked it down the rest of the game, particularly the 2nd and 4th quarters. Just 1.8 ANY/A in the 2nd quarter, compared to 5.5 for the entire league in the 2nd quarter. The entire team knew it was time to pin their ears back and attack the quarterback late in the game. Eight INTs and 15 sacks in just the 4th quarter, as well as a 51% completion percentage. They did allow a bit more rushing yards per carry, but they were probably okay with that. The Buccaneers defense spent the majority of the year playing while ahead of their opponents.
508 plays while leading compared to 468 plays while tied or trailing. There were far more obvious passing downs for the defense to jump on as opponents struggled to get close to the endzone. These splits also show us how good this defensive scheme was when paired with this players. For the average NFL team, they allow 4.8 ANY/A when tied. That increases all the way up to 7.4 ANY/A when playing with a lead. For the Bucs, the inverse happens. From 5.0 when tied, they push it down to just 3.5 when leading. That is absurd. Opponents had to score early to have any shot of beating this defense before they strangled the life out of them.
There was one team that was able to full solve the Buccaneers though. In Week 15, the Oakland Raiders thoroughly whipped the Tampa squad in every aspect of the game. Oakland won 45-0, gaining 400 total yards and pushing in 5 touchdowns (and adding a fumble recovery score for good measure). It was only the 2nd game all season they allowed over 100 rushing yards (including the playoffs), but they allowed 2 different players to go over 100 in the same game. Napoleon Kaufman and Tyrone Wheatley combined for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns, 2 apiece. The Raiders were the only team to reach the endzone in the 3rd quarter against Tampa, which they did 3 times.
The 45 points in this game was what pushed the defense out of all-time territory. Without that game, their points allowed per game drops from 14.69 to 12.67. They would have only allowed 14 touchdowns in 15 games. An already incredible season could have looked even more unreal.
Of course, if the defense was getting overwhelmed, the offense was going to be no help to throw them a lifeline. The offense managed just 137 yards. They gained only 9 1st downs and turned the ball over 3 times. It was a massacre.
Who was the evil genius that oversaw the complete dismantling of a thought to be unbeatable Tampa 2? It was none other than Oakland Raiders legend, head coach Jon Gruden. He embarrassed the entire coaching staff with that game, the worst loss of Tony Dungy’s career. Just 3 years later, in 2002, Tampa Bay would make the infamous decision to trade for Jon Gruden. They gave up two 1st round picks, two 2nd round picks, and $8 million for a coach! It seemed to work though, as Gruden and the Buccaneers would win the Super Bowl in their first year together.
My theory is that ownership never forgot this game in 1999 when Gruden schooled Dungy up and down the field for 60 full minutes. After a couple more playoff failures, Malcolm Glazer was tired of seeing the team not make it over the hump. He dreamed of a coach like Gruden. This was his audition for the coaching job 3 seasons down the line.
After winning the championship, Tampa would fail to win another playoff game until 2020. Gruden spent 6 more mediocre seasons in Florida before heading to the broadcasting booth.
Here are your highlights of the 1999 Buccaneers.
And that’s the story of the 1999 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defensive Splits.
Keep Sports Fun.
Twitter - @ColinRingwood12
ANY/A - adjusted net yards per passing attempt: (pass yards + 20*(pass TD) - 45*(interceptions thrown) - sack yards)/(passing attempts + sacks).