Against New Orleans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers will get close look at offensive trends

Sunday, Tampa Bay faces quarterback Drew Brees, who is at the helm of the league’s most productive offense.

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Sunday, Tampa Bay faces quarterback Drew Brees, who is at the helm of the league’s most productive offense.

TAMPA — Bucs coach Raheem Morris saw his defense play one of its best games in a 24-7 win Sunday at Seattle, but when he arrived home and watched the highlights on TV, he could barely tell that his team had pitched a shutout in the second half or yielded its fewest points this season.

"We got five turnovers this weekend, and the only thing I saw was Cadillac (Williams') screen and Derrick Ward's screen on SportsCenter," cracked Morris, referring to his club's two touchdowns. "It's unbelievable.

"It's an offensive league. There's no doubt in anybody's minds that offense sells tickets."

Especially nowadays.

When the Bucs travel to New Orleans for Sunday's game against the Saints, they will face an offensive juggernaut that is part of a trend in the NFL. Scoring, yardage and big plays are on the rise, and it's clear offenses have the upper hand.

According to NFL data, the 2009 season has had the third-highest number of touchdowns through Week 15 (1,095). Just once since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger have more touchdowns of 50 yards or longer been produced through Week 15. And if the current pace holds, teams will set a mark for average combined yards per game.

It's hard to establish why this is happening.

There are many theories. Most attribute it to the level of skill among offensive players, particularly quarterbacks.

"What you're seeing is an evolution from what guys like (the Colts') Peyton Manning and (the Patriots') Tom Brady have done," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "And now you're seeing (the Saints') Drew Brees trying to mimic that.

"This is a wide-open league now, and teams are giving more responsibilities to the quarterback. And if you have an assassin back there like Brees or Manning or Brady, it's over. You better have a pass rush, and you better have two (cornerbacks)."

Brees has the Saints on pace to score the third-most points in NFL history. Their 34.5-point scoring average and 419.6 average yards per game lead the league.

Brees, Brady, Manning and the Chargers' Philip Rivers are part of an impressive and unflappable group of quarterbacks, and some argue it's rare to have that much talent packed into the league at once.

"I do agree that the league's never been healthier in regard to a number of good quarterbacks playing well," Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Those quarterbacks have help, too.

"There are some really good quarterbacks out there right now, and with the way skill positions have gone, there are some exciting players who can make some plays," Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "When you see guys throwing five and six touchdowns in a game, it's unreal. That's just where I guess the game is going."

"The athletes are so good," Saints linebacker Jon Vilma said, "that they're going to get some yards."

The trend is forcing teams to keep pace.

The skill level at quarterback had a lot to do with the Bucs' attempts to tinker with their defense in the past couple of seasons. And their decision to draft quarterback Josh Freeman in the first round in April was, in part, an admission that defense alone can't win championships.

"I believe that we have that (talent) in Josh Freeman," Faine said. "I believe the future's definitely bright."

Rules changes and officiating also are likely factors behind the outpouring of offense. It's hard to argue that the league hasn't legislated in favor of offenses, given the tweaks in recent seasons on things such as illegal defensive contact and player safety rules that prohibit defenders from striking offensive players in various fashions.

"It's the rules," said Morris, a former college defensive back and Tampa Bay's former secondary coach. "You can't touch them."

It could also be simple evolution at work.

"Teams are just throwing the ball a lot more," Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "I think there's been a big push in high school football now where a lot of teams are throwing the football, and you didn't see that 20 years ago.

"So, kids are growing up throwing the football, and you see the spread offense in college. I just think the tendency at lower levels is to throw the ball."

One thing no one did in addressing this issue is complain. Everyone loves a great offense, even those whose job it is to stop one.

"The league wants this to be an offensive league," Morris said. "Really, me too. Just not on the days that I'm playing."

MOST POINTS,

SEASON

589 New England 2007

556 Minnesota 1998

552 New Orleans2009*

541 Washington 1983

540 St. Louis 2000

*-Projected

MOST 50-YARD TDs in NFL tHROUGH WEEK 15 (SINCE 1970)

1551998

1392009

1372008

1342003

1342007

highest COMBINED

Avg. YARDS PER GAME

672.19*2009

6691981

668.731983

659.561984

658.891985

*—Through Week 15

Source: NFL

Against New Orleans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers will get close look at offensive trends 12/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 8:01pm]

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