Bearreport.com's John Crist and Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins are previewing this weekend's game all week with their "Behind Enemy Lines" series. Get the inside scoop on this game well before kickoff on Sunday. Read Part I by Clicking here, Then read part two by Clicking here.
For Derrick Brooks, it all comes down to turnovers.
The Bucs linebacker, who started his 14th NFL season three weeks ago said the number of turnovers in Tampa Bay pretty much dictates how the season is going to go. Brooks is counting on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to help turn that number in the Bucs' favor.
"He's been consistent and one of the great things about Monte is that he is constantly finding new ways to challenge our defense," Brooks said. "You look at the success of our defensive categories in terms of turnover ratios that tells you everything about our franchise."
Last year the Bucs were a plus-15 in the turnover department and finished 9-7 to win the NFC South. In 2006, the Bucs were a minus-12 and finished 4-12 and in the NFC South cellar.
Those turnovers are the key, Brooks said, because when Tampa Bay is winning the turnover battle, it's also winning games, advancing in the playoffs and securing division titles.
"That's the one stat to me that correlates the success of our football team, the turnover ratio," he said. "Every one of us has a say in that, defense and offense."
Tampa Bay's defense has remained one of the best units in the NFL despite an obvious youth movement that has included defensive end Gaines Adams, linebacker Barrett Ruud and free safety Tanard Jackson.
But Brooks remains a standard-bearer at weak side linebacker, despite his 14 years in the NFL and a hamstring injury that took him out of the lineup in the second half of the season opener against New Orleans.
There was some talk that the hamstring might end Brooks' streak of 193 consecutive starts, which dates back to his rookie season in 1995. Along the way he compiled a NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, 10 Pro Bowl nods and more than 1,400 tackles. That doesn't mention his 24 interceptions, six of which have gone back for touchdowns.
But Brooks made it 194 straight starts last week against Atlanta, though he did yield some playing time to rookie Geno Hayes once the game was out of reach. He looks to be on course for No. 195 this weekend against Chicago.
The Bucs have a good system for showing new players the ropes and teaching them about accountability, he said. Brooks just treats rookies like he wanted to be treated when he first joined the NFL.
"I don't care what college program you've come from," he said. "At the time with Florida State and myself, I felt that I was coming from a very sophisticated program and still when I got here it was a very humbling experience because I didn't know what to expect."
All young players have a transition to make, Brooks said, but some things have changed since his rookie days. He didn't have the benefit of veterans with more than a dozen years of experience, he said.
"Our rookies today have that," he said. "They have a World Championship; something that's part of a team history."
When he began playing, the goal was just to have a winning season, he said. Tampa Bay had 12 straight losing seasons when Brooks arrived, plus two more until head coach Tony Dungy began to turn the team around.
"It's really night and day, to be honest, and I think that's why I gained an appreciation to let these guys understand just how hard it is to succeed in this league," Brooks said. "You have to earn your right to be in this league, it's a privilege. I think our guys on this team slowly start to understand that on a day-by-day basis, that you have to earn your right and it's a privilege to play in this league."