This Sunday, the number one ranked offense comes to Tampa. Quarterback Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints are coming, and the Buccaneer defense faces its toughest test of the season. The Buccaneers are ranked second in the NFL, allowing just 174.6 yards through the air, and 274.7 in total defense. They will be stretched to their limits by the black-and-gold No. 9.
Brees is being widely touted as this year's league MVP. It's not hard to understand why. 3,574 passing yards. 22 touchdowns. A passer rating of 99.9. In short, the man is having a superb season. If the Saints had a stronger defense, they would be very much in the thick of the crowded NFC playoff race. But don't count them out yet.
The Saints are coming off an impressive 51-29 win against the Green Bay Packers last Monday night. New Orleans tied a team record for points scored and touchdowns in a game with seven scores.
"They have a great quarterback. It starts right there," said head coach Jon Gruden. "He's in one heck of a scheme...Drew is a great player."
Buccaneers defensive tackle Chris Hovan agrees.
"Drew Brees has had an MVP year. They talk about Kurt Warner in Arizona, and this guy in New Orleans is really leading his team to victories. They are dangerous."
Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib struggled in his first game. That fateful game was opening day, Sept. 7—in the Superdome. The Bucs fell to a 24-20 defeat that day, with Brees firing three touchdowns. Talib was beaten deep by Saints receiver David Patten for a touchdown, but he has since emerged as a playmaker for Tampa Bay and leads the team in interceptions with three.
"We have to keep all of the routes in front of us and let nothing behind us," said Talib. "We have to tackle well. They get a lot of yards after the catch. We're going to try to disrupt their timing and try to get some pressure on them."
Talib feels that he will be more prepared for the Saints in this return fixture.
"I've learned a whole lot," said Talib. "Stay deeper than the deepest."
The Tampa-2 is built on quarterback pressure, and the Bucs recognize that is what they need if they are to win this game.
Through 11 games, Brees has only been sacked nine times. The Buccaneers bring a pass rush into the game with nine sacks in the last two games.
"You saw on Monday night what happens when you don't rush Drew Brees," said Hovan. "They had two sacks, and those were on blitzes and coverage sacks. You need to get pressure on this guy quick, and in his face.
"It is imperative that we get pressure up the middle on this guy. He doesn't like pressure in his face. He is a great quarterback, and we will have to do everything that we can to get to him. It could really determine the momentum in the game."
A Buc success story of this year is defensive lineman Jimmy Wilkerson. A free agent buried on the Kansas City depth chart last year, Wilkerson has hit his form in the last few games, with two sacks last Sunday against the Lions.
"Brees is a smart quarterback, one of the smartest in the league," said Wilkerson. "He knows when to hold it and when to throw it. We've got to get in his face and get our hands up because he's not a very tall quarterback. If we can disrupt him...we have a good chance to pick off some passes and force him to run."