The Buccaneers are anticipating another battle against the Carolina Panthers running game. In the last two meetings the Bucs have allowed 566 yards rushing. The Bucs improved their run defense last week, and now will be tested at Carolina. Head coach Raheem Morris is said to be taking this game personally.
Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris is going to have his rejuvenated defense tested this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. With Morris taking over the defense last week after demoting Jim Bates from defensive coordinator duties, the Tampa Bay defense had their best outing of the season with six sacks and eight quarterback hurries. The run defense was also vastly improved. This Sunday it will be a big challenge with an opponent that has had a lot of success against the Bucs defense in the last two meetings. In the most recent two games against the Carolina Panthers, the Buccaneers have allowed 566 yards rushing.
"Literally they ran over us there is no doubt about it," Morris said. "The last 15 snaps or whatever it was and they ran the football every time, except for a bare pass, to go ahead and win the football game. ... All you have to do is remind your team of that. We are going to go out and practice hard, and prepare to stop the run to win a football game."
In order to combat the Carolina ground game the Buccaneers will frequently bring a safety close to the line of scrimmage. Starting strong safety Sabby Piscitelli will be that player regularly. Piscitelli will have to play close to the line of scrimmage against Carolina's stable of backs. The Panthers feature two first-round picks at running back in DeAngelo Williams (2006) and Jonathan Stewart (2008). Both players have had some of their best games as professionals against Tampa Bay. Stewart's only 100-yard game of 2009 came against the Bucs in Week 6.
"Raheem is taking it personal, even starting back to last year with the Monday night game," Piscitelli said. "Those two running backs have had two great games for both of them. That is something that we take personal. We have to step up now, and look in the mirror and take the fight to them. We have to be physical at the point of attack, and shut down that run."
The Panthers ran for 299 yards against the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football in December of 2008. In the first meeting of this season, Carolina had 267 yards on the ground. In the Monday Night Football game, Williams ran for 186 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. This year in the first meeting on Oct. 18 Williams ran for 152 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns. In the game last December, Stewart had 15 carries for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Stewart had 110 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown in October.
Stewart also fumbled a ball away on the Bucs three-yard line after a hit from Buccaneer safety Tanard Jackson. In the game Jackson intercepted Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme and returned the ball 26 yards for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Carolina finished the game off with a 16-play, 80-yard drive that consumed 8:04 off the clock. Williams scored a one-yard touchdown to give the Panthers a 28-21 victory. Williams (ankle), Stewart (achilles), and blocking fullback Brad Hoover (ankle) didn't practice on Wednesday due to injury.
"They're a great running team with two great running backs," said middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. "It's the same things they've been doing the last two years. Even with [quarterback Jake] Delhomme out they're not going to change their game plan; they'll run it with or without him."
The Panthers have the fourth rated rushing attack in the NFL and are averaging 151.5 yards per game on the ground. The Buccaneers have the 30th ranked run defense in the NFL. They were last entering last Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, but the Bucs defense rebounded under Morris direction to hold the Falcons to 76 yards rushing. That moved Tampa Bay ahead of Oakland and Buffalo in run defense.
One of the players that led the resurgent run defense was Ruud. Against the Falcons Ruud led the Bucs with 11 tackles, a tackle for a loss, and a forced fumble. The production was not lost on Morris.
"Obviously he was a different player. He had 11 tackles, a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss," said Morris. "He had a couple of splash things that we hadn't been seeing from him. I gave him a little bit more of the keys. He was able to make some checks out there. He was able to take a little more control of the defense and do some things that we hadn't seen in the past, and I knew he could do it."
Morris said that he met with Ruud, cornerback Ronde Barber, and Niko Koutouvides the night before the game and they went over the defensive calls for the next day. The players and Morris discussed what plays they liked and when to use them. Ruud was asked how Morris calling plays for the first time as an NFL coach.
"He did a great job," said Ruud. "It started with the Wednesday installation just as far as communicating how he wanted coverages, schemes, disguises and how he wanted to mix things up. We had a meeting, just he and I, where he explained what he wanted and what I could check to in different situations. The communication was great all week and I felt he called a great game. I think he kept Atlanta on their toes. Give the Falcons credit because they tried to mix things up, but I thought we kept them off balance pretty well.
"We're mixing up calls more, blitzing more and doing different coverages. As a middle linebacker I actually like it and like having a little more control and the ability to check to different defenses to put us in different calls because it kind of keeps me on my toes more. I'm a little more locked in to what everybody's job is."
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