WR Antonio Bryant obviously ran well during a pregame evaluation because he has been cleared to play against the Giants
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense has surrendered 900 yards and nearly 70 points through the first two weeks of the season, and on Sunday they take on the NFL's sixth-ranked offense.
Those first two facts are of critical relevance to every Buccaneers coach and player. The third, in the common parlance of Head Coach Raheem Morris, is just gray matter.
To be sure, the Eli Manning-led New York Giants are indeed a formidable foe for the Buccaneers in Week Three. But it could be any offense from the first-ranked New Orleans Saints to the 32nd-ranked Cleveland Browns invading Raymond James Stadium on Sunday and Tampa Bay's approach to fixing its defensive woes would be the same.
"On defense, we talked about it being about us," said Morris of his team's internal discussions this past week. "We can sit there and give you keys to win the football game, but at the end of the day it's really about us. We talk about tackling, we talk about heart, we talk about hitting, we talk about fundamentals. That's what it's about on defense this week. It's not about stopping anybody, it's not about individual matchups. It's about us. Who are we going to be? What's our identity?
"You're job is to go out there and force your will on your opponent, and that's what we're not doing on defense. That's what the big picture was for our defense this week. We can talk about all their great players and the individual matchups — Steve Smith, Mario Manningham, Eli Manning — whatever. It's about us. It's about us executing."
The Bucs' new defensive identity is being forged under the blanket of a new system, imported this year by Jim Bates after Monte Kiffin's departure. Tampa Bay, of course, has long been known for its defensive prowess, and struggles such as those at the beginning of this season have rarely lasted long. Morris believes the same will be true this year, because the team's new scheme shares the same fundamental core beliefs as its predecessor.
"The easy thing that people would do right now is blame the system," said Morris. " That's way too easy. The system has to have time to develop, the players have to buy in, they've got to believe it and they've got to go out there and play."
The Buccaneers' defense, of course, has been steadily evolving through the years, keeping up with an ever-changing league. What has never changed in Tampa is the primary directive for each player: Do your job and expect each of your teammates to do the same.
"We talk about having that urgency on defense," said Morris. "The reason we had so many missed tackles [against Buffalo] is that people didn't trust that the other guy was going to be there. We won't have as many missed tackles this week because they're going to trust where people are, where the help is coming from and that we're going to get there."
The Bucs will have to shore up their defense without the services of one of its usual stalwarts, however. Starter Jermaine Phillips was placed on injured reserve this week due to a thumb fracture and former starter Will Allen will take his place at free safety. Second-year man Corey Lynch, just plucked off the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad this week, will provide the depth at safety behind Allen and Sabby Piscitelli.
The Bucs' offense will be without several of its usual contributors, too. Running back Earnest Graham will not play due to a hamstring strain, and wide receiver Maurice Stovall will miss the game due to a knee injury.
However, starting wide receiver Antonio Bryant tested out his own sore knee prior to the game and was cleared to play after missing last week's contest in Buffalo. The Bucs added depth to the receiver position on Saturday by promoting WR Mario Urrutia from the practice squad and Urrutia will also be active.
The Bucs' eight inactives for today's game are: Graham, Stovall, C Jeff Faine, OL Marc Dile, T Demar Dotson, DT Dre Moore, DE Kyle Moore and designated third quarterback Josh Freeman. Graham, Stovall, Faine and Kyle Moore are out due to injury. Sea n Mahan will make his second consecutive start at center in Faine's place. Tight end John Gilmore, out since the middle of the preseason with an ankle injury, will make his 2009 debut.
The Giants' lineup was forced into several revisions by injuries, too. In fact, all eight players deactivated by New York are injured, and that does not include DE Justin Tuck, who was questionable for the game with a shoulder injury. Tuck is likely not at 100% health, as he will be replaced in the starting lineup by Mathias Kiwanuka.
Two other starting defenders are out for the Giants, including strong safety Kenny Phillips , who was placed on injured reserve this week. C.C. Brown, a former starter in Houston, will start in his place. The Giants will also be without starting right cornerback Aaron Ross, and Terrell Thomas will open the game in his place. On offense, Mario Manningham will start in place of the injured Domenik Hixon.
The Giants' eight inactive players are: Ross, Hixon, RB Danny Ware, CB Kevin Dockery, T Adam Koets, WR Hakeem Nicks, LB Clint Sintim and DL Chris Canty.
The Bucs and Giants will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will provide an update of the action at halftime and will follow the game with a detailed write-up as well as coverage of Morris' postgame press conference. Interested fans can also follow the Bucs on Twitter today at â€˜tbbuccaneers.'