TAMPA — When the Bucs travel to Lambeau Field on Sunday to face the Packers, they'll encounter an offense that continues to steamroll opponents, producing historic numbers along the way.
But while the Packers might currently possess the most feared offense in the NFL, their unit is not unique in posting galactic totals.
It is difficult not to notice the evolution under way in this era of pro football, one that has made routine the sort of eye-popping numbers that used to be considered aberrations.
According to NFL data, this could be a historic season in many respects:
• Total yards per game (694) is on pace for a single-season high. This rate would surpass the previous high (672), set just last season.
• Net passing yards per game (463.3) are also on a record pace (443.1, last year). The 67,643 net passing yards entering Week 11 is the most ever at this point in a season.
• Scoring is also up. The 44.08 average points per game is on pace to be the highest mark since 1965, when the per-game average was 46.12. Green Bay leads the league in scoring, averaging 35.6 points, a pace that would produce 569 points for the season, shattering the franchise record of 461 in 2009.
The trend is undeniable. But what factors are behind this shift? That answer is complex, though theories abound.
For some, the answer is philosophical. In the ever-changing NFL, teams change styles and tactics in waves as certain teams begin to achieve success with particular strategies. Maybe the pass-heavy nature of today's NFL is a result of the recent success of teams such as the Saints, Patriots and Packers.
"That's how things are right now," Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn said. "It might (change) back after a while. A couple of years ago, you saw Miami started running the wildcat, and what happened? Everybody started running the wildcat."
But there are much different and complicated reasons behind this, too.
One of them is, arguably, the level of sophistication in today's game, one that has allowed offenses to excel. It's the reason the Bucs' Tampa 2 defense has been merged and augmented with a variety of styles and coverages.
"Playing basic defense doesn't win for you anymore," Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Everybody's figured out how to beat your base defenses. Teams are smarter now. So, defenses take a lot more chances. You gamble on blitzes, you play some man-to-man, you have some vulnerabilities in your zone coverages.
"And the quarterbacks are good enough to take advantage of it. I think it's just a collective consciousness about how to beat certain defenses. I mean, you can't play Cover 2 against Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. You just cannot do it. They'll dice you. And you can't play three-deep against those guys. They know where all their outlets are. So, you try to mix it up."
Some agree the college game is a factor. The spread offense dominates the college ranks, with players lining up farther from the football than ever. The old-school power game has been mostly thrown to the wayside at the college level, often replaced by the shotgun formation and four-wide receiver sets.
"You have to win now in this league, and you have all these rookies coming in from these wide-open spread (college) offenses," backup quarterback Josh Johnson said. "They're not going to be ready (to adapt). In order to get them up to speed, you have to do what you have to do. For example, look what's happening in Denver with Tim Tebow. Until they get things figured out, you have to adapt or you're going to get fired. The patience isn't there anymore, and I think that's a factor."
Another matter that can't be ignored: The evolution of the game's rules have typically favored offenses. From rules that protect quarterbacks from certain forms of hits, to those protecting defenseless receivers, to the dramatic increase in defensive pass-interference calls, most recent rule changes haven't helped defenses.
Whatever is behind this shift to a more offensive game, the change has been extraordinary. This is not your father's NFL.
"No disrespect to anyone, but people who watch football probably get really excited by more offense," offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. "There's more passing, more scoring. But as far as people who really know football, it might be exciting, but it's not football.
"It's not something you ever expected to see."
Bucs at Packers, 1 p.m. Sunday. TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM