Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium will feature the league’s No. 1-ranked defense, but it’s not Tampa Bay’s.

Those bragging rights belong to the Chicago Bears, who rank No. 1 overall in that category and are allowing just 252.1 yards per game this season. Last Sunday, Chicago held Carolina’s potent offense to just three points and sacked Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme eight times.

The Bucs are all too familiar with the man that heads up the Bears defense – Lovie Smith, who served as Tampa Bay’s linebackers coach from 1996-2000 before being hired as a defensive coordinator in St. Louis and as the head coach in Chicago during the 2004 offseason.

“Just, me as a player, obviously coming in and coaching me. Now being a good friend of mine, it’s always special,” Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks said of Smith. “It’s almost like when you play a former player that you used to play with. He’s done a tremendous job of getting his guys to believe in the right way to do things. They’ve bought into the leadership that he’s providing. They’ve bought into it and obviously it’s working for them.”

Some believe Tampa Bay’s offense could benefit from facing Chicago’s defense, which runs a Cover 2 scheme that is similar to the Bucs’ defensive system. However, head coach Jon Gruden noted that the Bears’ version has some differences, including personnel.

“There’s a perception out there that their defense has the same playbook we have,” said Gruden. “They don’t run the exact same defense. They put their own spin on it. There are some similarities in every defense that you see. They have great linebackers, great. Everybody talks about [Brian] Urlacher and rightfully so, [but] I’m as impressed with [Lance] Briggs as I am with any linebacker I’ve seen this season. He and Urlacher are a great combination. Mike Brown is as good a safety as I’ve seen. Their corner play is tremendous right now. [Nathan] Vasher’s having an unbelievable year. And just watch the front four run the passer. They’re phenomenal. I mean, they’re dominating on every film you pick up. So it’s going to be a real challenge. Certainly structure-wise for us there are similarities, but there are plenty of things that they do differently than we do.”

Tampa Bay’s offense, which ranks 21st overall and has scored 66 points over the past two games, realizes that moving the chains and scoring points could be a difficult feat to accomplish on Sunday.

“They’re a great defense, the number one defense in the NFL right now,” said Bucs QB Chris Simms. “But again, nothing that we haven’t seen before, especially after playing a team like a Carolina a couple weeks ago, with that great front four. We know we have to be on our A-game. They’re definitely a very well-rounded defense, so we’d better be ready.”

Tampa Bay had the league’s top-ranked defense through the first half of season, but the Bucs have surrendered a total of 1,119 yards (373 avg.) and 96 points over their past three contests. That has caused them to fall to No. 3 overall.

“They deserve to be where they are ranked,” Brooks said of the Bears defense. “You respect that. And for us we just got to make sure we tighten up our screws on defense. And make sure we go out there and give our best effort to stop the Chicago Bears offense.”

One of the things the Bucs defense must tighten up is their play on third downs, where they’ve allowed opposing offenses to convert 23-of-39 (58.9 percent) of their attempts over the past three games. The players feel they’ve identified the problems, so now it’s a matter of correcting them on the field.

“We will, we will,” Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said of correcting the defense’s third down woes. “Last week, it was the big plays. It wasn’t necessarily giving up a slant on third down, [it was] giving up a 40-yard pass when [QB Michael Vick] scrambled a little bit. That happened way too many times. I think they had nine big plays in the passing game on third down. That’s not what we’re about at all.”

It won’t just be Tampa Bay’s offense that is competing against Chicago’s defense on Sunday. The Bucs defense plans to make a strong case of its own for being the best in the league.

“Everything in the NFL is a competition and everyone wants to be better than the next guy, whether it is the defense, or kicking field goals, or it’s running the ball,” said Brooks. “So it is definitely a little pride thing. You want to put a better performance on the field than the other defense and that is just the NFL. Everything is competition from top to bottom so we want to be the better defense this week.”

Banged Up Bucs Prepare For Bears
The 7-3 Buccaneers spent Wednesday practicing and preparing to take on the 7-3 Bears, but they took the field at One Buccaneer Place without three of the four players listed on their official injury report.

Safeties Will Allen (knee) and Dexter Jackson (hamstring), tight end Anthony Becht (knee) and left tackle Anthony Davis (ankle), are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium.

Jackson was the only one of those four players to practice on Wednesday and hopes to be able to play vs. the Bears.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” said Jackson. “I’m just recovering, trying to rehab every day – sometimes twice or three times a day – with [Head Trainer] Todd [Toriscelli]. Right now I’m just training to get the conditioning part back, just trying to stay in shape.

“I feel like I’m very close. I’m going to go out today at practice and see where I’m at. I’m going to test [the injured hamstring] and see how it feels. It was a tear so we have to make sure it’s healed before I go back out.”

Should Jackson not be able to go, Kalvin Pearson will once again start at free safety for the Bucs.

Wheeling And Dealing
Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks is one of 15 NFL players (past and present) scheduled to appear on the 10th anniversary installment of the popular game show, Wheel of Fortune, from Jan. 23-27.

Each player will be paired with a fan, and the teams will spin the wheel in an attempt to win cash and NFL-themed prizes. The NFL players’ winnings will be donated to their favorite charities.

The Wheel of Fortune shows will be taped on Tuesday, Dec. 6 and will air Jan. 23-27.

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