DE Greg White and the Bucs' pass-rushers know how important it is to put pressure on the Saints' Drew Brees
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense had 11 sacks through its first four games of the 2008 season, suggesting that it was getting good if not yet overwhelming pressure up front. The Buccaneers also won three of those four games and stifled potentially dangerous passing attacks against Atlanta and Green Bay.
Then the power went out on the Bucs' pass rush. Over the next three games, Tampa Bay failed to record a single sack and allowed Kansas City and Carolina to put up decent passing numbers.
Now the Bucs' pass-rushers seem to be on a roll again, and this time everyone is hoping that trend continues.
"We've just got to keep it going," said Gaines Adams, the starting right end and perhaps the team's most dangerous rush-man. "We're establishing the pass rush right now; we've just got to keep it moving."
Indeed, Tampa Bay has registered 13 sacks over the last four games, including a season-high five versus Minnesota two weeks ago and another four last Sunday in Detroit. The pass rush was one of the determining factors at Ford Field, as Buccaneer linemen came very close to adding another four or five sacks against Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton.
With Gaines Adams coming on strong at the end of his rookie season, 2007 breakout pass-rusher Greg White finally having an entire NFL season under his belt, Kevin Carter returning for another year and a number of versatile players providing support, the Buccaneers thought they had the makings of a strong pass rush in 2008. Now that the group's midseason slump is in the past, that appears to be the case for the stretch run, perhaps because the seven men who usually make up the D-line rotation on game day have settled into roles that suit them.
"It's good camaraderie, I guess, us hanging out," said White. "It's good. We've been just playing around with each other, going out there and being smart pass-rushers, if you can believe that, knowing when to do stunts and when not to."
The Bucs' defense ranks 11th in the league in sacks recorded per pass play, despite not having a single player in the NFL's top 20 in QB takedowns. Adams leads the way with 5.0 sacks, White has 4.5, Jimmy Wilkerson has added four and Carter has three. Five different Bucs linemen have recorded a sack in the last two games (Adams, Carter, White, Wilkerson and defensive tackle Chris Hovan) suggesting that the group as a whole is heating up and better results are on tap for the last five weeks.
Wilkerson had actually caught Adams and passed White in the team's sack race during the Detroit game, but after Wilkerson got his second and third takedowns of the past two weeks, Adams and White each added one to surge back ahead.
The whole group will be happy if the lead continues to change hands.
"Honestly we're happy for everybody," said White. "Personally we'd all like to have a lot of sacks, but if we can't we'll taking Jimmy getting sacks, Gaines, or K.C. or Hov [Chris Hovan] or whoever's out there, because it opens it up for the rest of us. If he gets a sack they've got to pay attention to not just me but him too."
If the Bucs are peaking with their pass rush right now, they picked a good time to do so. Getting pressure on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is both critical and very hard to do. Brees has been sacked just nine times all season and the Saints' offensive line ranks third in the league in sacks allowed per pass play.
"You need to get pressure on this guy quick and in his face," said Hovan. "It's going to be imperative that we get pressure up the middle on this guy. He doesn't want any pressure in his face. He is a great quarterback and we have to do every little thing that we can to get to him and it's really going to determine the momentum right now.
"They do very well on protection. But another thing is, if Drew gets pressure in his face he gets it out. He reminds me a lot of Brett Favre without the back peddle. He is so instinctive. I have a lot of respect for this guy."
Brees' phenomenal season – he could break Dan Marino's 23-year-old record for passing yards in a season – has fostered a lot of respect around One Buccaneer Place.
"This guy is a different kind of quarterback," said Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. "We had good pressure in New Orleans. Sometimes the guy gets rid of the ball; the guy gets rid of the rock, man. This guy's phenomenal. This guy's one of the best in the world at what he does. Sometimes you have a heck of a rush and he still slithers and slides and throws it sidearm or throws it left-handed. He's a hard guy to get to. He knows where the hot receiver is, he knows how to change protections. Blitzing him, getting there, is easier said than done. It will be a big key to the game, though, I know that."
Tampa Bay's pass rushers know how important their contribution to the outcome will be this weekend. If they can keep the pressure rising, as it has been the last few weeks, the Buccaneers' chances for victory will be much greater.
"We need to get more pressure so obviously we've been working on that, and it's coming along," said Adams. "We've got a long way to go and we've just got to keep rolling."