In the 14 games the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played against the New Orleans Saints since the Big Easy arrival of quarterback Drew Brees in 2006, the Buccaneers' defense has recorded a total of 12 sacks. Obviously, that's less than one sack a game on Brees, and indeed in exactly half of those matchups the Saints' passer didn't go down even once.
Eight of those 12 sacks are bunched into three meetings, two in 2007 and one in 2011, and the Buccaneers won all three of those games. Sacking Drew Brees isn't a confounding conundrum for Tampa Bay alone – New Orleans was third in fewest sacks allowed per pass play last year, a typical ranking for the Brees-led Saints – but it is something the Bucs may need to do on Sunday in order to come away with a big divisional win.
That's easier said than done, of course.
"They have good personnel inside, and they do a good job of protecting the pocket that way," said Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan. "They're not worried about guys running up and around them, above the pocket. The other thing, as you know, he doesn't take sacks. He gets rid of the ball. And they usually have enough variety in their passing attack that he can get rid of the ball if, in fact, you do get him outnumbered and you have guys running at the quarterback. He's got the ability to get rid of the ball before you can get there, and that's what makes him who he is."
The good news: Tampa Bay's defense started the season with a five-sack effort against the Jets, a mark they reached in only one game all last season. While four of those five sacks belonged to linebackers, Sheridan says they were the product of a group effort that included very good pressure from the front four.
"If you look at the plays that we did get the sacks, I thought we were creating pressure with our down guys," said Sheridan. "They may have been chewing up the protection and allowing some of the second-level guys to come clean. Maybe our numbers didn't show it, but I thought we had a very aggressive, up-the-field push on the pocket last week. Those guys did a good job."
The Buccaneers are led up front by a pair of former first-round picks, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and third-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Neither one had a sack last weekend, and in fact they were credited with only five combined tackles. But Clayborn hit the quarterback twice and McCoy was a force up the middle, and both contributed to the overall good numbers of the pass rush in a less obvious way.
Clayborn did so by, as usual, playing all out on every snap.
"The one thing you can count on is he's going to go hard," said Sheridan of his relentless end. "He really plays hard. He really strains his gut during the down, whether it's chasing a ball carrier down or rushing the quarterback. And even though we're always coaching him on technique and how to actually execute things better and be more productive, the one thing you don't have to get him on is, 'Go hard,' because he does do that."
McCoy helps the entire pass-rush by providing pressure up the middle, which could be especially useful against a quarterback like Brees who lacks ideal NFL height and relies on his incredibly quick decision-making and release. Sheridan figures the Saints are probably planning their protection schemes with McCoy in mind.
"He is definitely somebody that has to be game-planned against, because he can be unstoppable," said the coach. "So, whatever his numbers might or might not have been, he definitely is a nightmare for offensive teams. You better figure out how you're going to try to block him in pass protection and how you're going to take care of him in the run game as well. Gerald is a potentially dominant player week-in and week-out."
- Rookie CB Rashaan Melvin took a step towards getting back into game action on Thursday, and that's a timely development for a Buccaneer defense that is suddenly running short on depth in the secondary.
The Bucs have five cornerbacks on the current depth chart: Melvin, Darrelle Revis, Leonard Johnson, Johnthan Banks and Michael Adams. However, Adams had surgery to repair a knee injury on Wednesday and is expected to be out until after the Week Five bye. Melvin missed the season opener with his hamstring injury and was limited to start the second week of practice, but on Thursday he returned to full participation.
Fullback Erik Lorig was also full-go on the practice field on Thursday, for the second day in a row, while tight end Tom Crabtree remained on the sideline. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn was added to the list on Thursday with a hip ailment and was limited on the practice field. Below are the full Thursday injury reports for both teams.
CB Michael Adams
DE Adrian Clayborn
TE Tom Crabtree
Did Not Participate
FB Erik Lorig
CB Rashaan Melvin
G Carl Nicks
S Isa Abdul-Quddus
Did Not Participate
NT Brodrick Bunkley
Did Not Participate
WR Marques Colston
G Jahri Evans
DE Glenn Foster
Did Not Participate
LB Junior Galette
CB Jabari Greer
LB Curtis Lofton
CB Patrick Robinson
T Zach Strief
DE Tyrunn Walker
Did Not Participate
CB Corey White
Did Not Participate
LB Martez Wilson
Guard Carl Nicks was able to take the field again today as he rounds back into playing shape, having overcome his foot infection and toe injury, but he may not be any closer to suiting up this weekend. Nicks did not see too much action on the practice field Wednesday, and Schiano said his Thursday participation was about the same.
The Saints had three players miss practice on Wednesday…and five on Thursday. Rookie defensive end Glenn Foster, who practiced in a limited fashion to start the week despite an ankle injury, was held out on Thursday. Cornerback Corey White was added to the injury report after not practicing, but it was due to an illness, which isn't often game-threatening.
*Buccaneer players spent a good portion of their media availability time on Thursday discussing a players-only meeting held on the Monday of the season's opening week. Long-snapper Andrew Economos, the longest-tenured Buccaneer on the current roster, organized the meeting with help from several other veteran leaders, and described it as an opportunity to establish a focused, positive mindset for the entire team.
"I see the potential on the team," said Economos, who first signed with the Buccaneers in 2006. "Training camp is always a hot and tiring place, and we were coming off that and I just wanted to get everybody together so we knew what our focus was going to be as a team, going forward for the season.
"Myself and a few other guys spoke and it was kind of a pep-rally type thing. We got a lot of talent in this room and we wanted to get it together, get our focus together. You go from 90 to 53, and now that you've got the team set you want to get them together and speak [about] one direction, and that's what we did."
Quarterback Josh Freeman said it wasn't the first players-only meeting the 2013 Buccaneers have held, alluding to an earlier one called by new safety and team leader Dashon Goldson during the offseason. He said the timing was right for another such get-together before the start of what could be a very promising season.
"Eco called the meeting, and it was a very good meeting," said Freeman. "It's very rare, because when you get in the swing of things, a defense is working on the other team's offense, vice versa, and you don't really get to spend any time with everybody on the entire team. So, just sitting down, just kind of having an entire-team round-table discussion, anybody can get anything off their chest. The [tone] had nothing to do with panic, had nothing to do with, 'Get it together,' nothing to do with anything of that nature. It was all team-bonding sort of stuff."
Schiano said he was aware that the meeting was going to occur and he was fine with it, believing it's a healthy thing for the team's leaders to get together and discuss important matters. Cornerback Darrelle Revis could see that the motivation for the meeting lay in the potential that the team's leaders saw for the current squad.
"They wanted to share some things as a team, as us moving forward as a team," said Revis. "They're trying to capitalize on this year, it's a big year for us as Buccaneers, and we want to capitalize on it as much as we can."
- More immediately, Revis hopes he and his fellow defensive backs can capitalize on a lot of footballs in the air Sunday against the Saints.
Revis' first game as a Buccaneer was pleasing in some ways, if not the bottom line, thanks to a last-second field goal that sent his new team to 0-1. Individually, Revis had a pair of passes defensed and allowed only one short completion on passes that targeted the players he was covering. He was in and out of the lineup throughout the afternoon as he and the Buccaneer coaches carefully managed his first game action in almost a year.
That game was against a rookie quarterback, the New York Jets' Geno Smith, who may or may not prove to be an NFL star in the long run. This week's challenge, at least on paper, is significantly greater, as the Saints' Drew Brees has averaged 303 passing yards and 2.2 passing touchdowns per game during his seven-plus year run in New Orleans. To Revis, who thrives on the pressure of top matchups, that's good news.
"I think playing against a passing attack like this, that we're going to face on Sunday, you're licking your chops for this type of game," said Revis. "We know what we're going to face, and we've just got to cover those guys, play tight coverage, and make it difficult for Drew.
"I think [there are] big opportunities for the secondary, playing against elite quarterbacks like that. We know they're going to put the ball in the air, we know it's a part of their game plan. Drew Brees…class act guy, Super Bowl Champion, future Hall-of-Famer, so we know he's going to come at us and we're licking our chops to get some hands on some balls and try to make some plays."
Revis is considered the ultimate cover cornerback and he made a reputation in New York covering the opposing team's top receiver all over the field. For New Orleans, that would be Marques Colston, who had five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown in the Saints' season-opening win over the Falcons. Of course, the Saints have incredible variety in their passing game, so the Buccaneers might be better off deploying Revis in other ways.
"Even in some of the zone coverages we're going to try to use Darrelle, because he's got talent, and you can tilt your coverages a little bit even when you're not manning guys up," said Sheridan. "They've got excellent players all over the place. [Running back Darren] Sproles is a total match-up nightmare, as is [tight end Jimmy] Graham, and they've got other quality receivers and they rotate them through, and he gets the ball to all of them. But yeah, Colston, obviously, is their big target, from a wide receiver standpoint."
Of course, taking on the opposition's top man and successfully shadowing him for 60 minutes is always going to be the one thing that sets Revis apart from most other NFL cornerbacks.
"That's my comfort zone, that's where I feel most comfortable," he said. "So, not just me, it's this whole secondary. I think that we [have] got some good players that can cover in Johnthan Banks and Leonard Johnson and that's what we're trying to do. We're just trying to put all those tangibles together and just try and go out there and be a great secondary."