One aspect of a football team that typically comes into question when it is struggling like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are is effort and motivation.
Rest assured, the 1-8 Buccaneers will bring both of those things to the football field when they host the 9-0 New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
The Saints and Indianapolis Colts are the only two teams that remain undefeated on the season. The Bucs are hoping to prevent their division rival from becoming just the third team in the history of the NFL to go undefeated during the regular season.
"That's always fun. It's the easy part that keeps guys motivated," Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said of playing the Saints. "They're undefeated and now it's our turn to go beat this team. I'm sure [New Orleans head coach] Sean Payton is telling those guys we've beaten them three out of the last four times we've met. It's a division game and we don't like them and they don't like us. There's no secret about that. It's going to be a lot of fun to play the Saints. It always is."
Defeating the Saints won't be easy. With the exception of two games, the Saints have defeated all of their opponents by double digits.
Quarterback Drew Brees is a big reason for New Orleans' success. He's completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 2,559 yards and tossed 19 touchdowns this year.
Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson coached Brees at Purdue and has been impressed with what the former second-round pick and Pro Bowl signal caller has accomplished with the San Diego Chargers and Saints.
"It's a neat story because he really wasn't recruited by anybody," said Olson. "Purdue was the only school to offer him anything. He's come a long way in terms of his physical development. He came to Purdue at 170 pounds and by the time he left he was about 225. He's about 215 now. The mental part of the game you knew he was special right away. Same goes for his accuracy. The biggest question mark people had was his height, but certainly he's answered that. I'm real proud of him and his accomplishments. I think he's a fantastic player and person."
Brees is just one part of a Saints potent offense that the Bucs defense must account for. In addition to Brees, the Saints have the fifth-ranked ground attack in the NFL, led by Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.
These three players along with a talented stable of receivers has helped New Orleans establish itself as the No. 1-ranked offense in the NFL.
"What impresses me is how they disguise and give you different looks to get certain plays," Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes said. "Coach Payton has done a good job with that for a long time and Drew Brees is a great quarterback and he can make the reads and make the right throws."
So how can the Bucs defense, which ranks 29th in the league and 31st against the run, slow down the Saints' explosive offense? The answer could be Tampa Bay's offense, which ranks 28th in the league.
"This is a team where we need to keep their offense on the sidelines as much as possible," said Bucs left tackle Donald Penn. "They have a good defense and a awesome offense. The more we're on the field the better off we'll be."
The Bucs believe they can limit the production of the Saints offense by retaining possession of the football. That's what the one-win St. Louis Rams did last week en route to a 28-23 loss to the Saints, which was New Orleans' closest margin of victory on the season.
Rams RB Steven Jackson rushed 26 times for 131 yards (5.0 avg.) and one touchdown. Bucs RB Cadillac Williams was given Wednesday off for some much-needed rest, according to Morris. Perhaps Williams needs the rest because the Bucs plan on giving him a heavy workload come Sunday.
"We definitely know that we are going to have to run the football," Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton said. "They have a tremendous offense. We have to keep them off the field. We also have the ability to score points as well. We'll do that."
But moving the ball against the Saints defense, which ranks 21st in the NFL, won't necessarily be easy. Safety Darren Sharper has intercepted seven passes and returned three for touchdowns. The play of the entire defense, particularly the secondary, is one of the main reasons why the Saints have scored a league-high 43 touchdowns.
To put that number in perspective, the four 1-8 teams in the NFL have combined for just two more (45) touchdowns than the Saints. The Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders have scored seven TDs each. The Bucs have produced 20 touchdowns through nine games.
The good news for the Bucs is Sharper (knee) was limited in practice Wednesday, and starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer (groin) and Tracy Porter (knee) were held out of practice. Porter will definitely miss Sunday's game while Greer's status is up in the air.
That could give Bucs rookie QB Josh Freeman some opportunities to make big plays in the passing game. Olson has worked closely with Freeman, who has been impressive in his first two starts in the NFL. To be the best one can benefit from learning from the best, and that's exactly what Olson has attempted to do with Freeman this season.
"Drew Brees, I mean he is one of the top quarterbacks in the league," Freeman said. "We watch. Coach Olson coached him in college, so we watch quite a bit of Drew Brees stuff. We hear a lot about Drew Brees because they still keep in talk, so coach Olson is trying to give me tips about how Drew works in practice, how he works throughout the week, and just his commanding presence on the field. He is definitely one of the top-notch quarterbacks in this league."
The Bucs are unlikely to make the playoffs this season. It would be just the sixth time the team doesn't participate in the post-season since 1997.
One of the Tampa Bay teams that failed to make the playoffs was the 1998 Buccaneers. That club went 8-8. Although it didn't make the playoffs, the Bucs notched one of the biggest wins in franchise history by handing the undefeated Minnesota Vikings their first - and only loss - of the regular season on Nov. 1, 1998.
The Bucs will do their best to help history repeat itself at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
"You look at any team and when they play the best they're going to give their best," said Penn. "If you look at the number one team in college football they always get everybody's best shot. I think New Orleans, ever since they got to 5-0, they've been getting their best shot from every team they play. We're going to give them our best shot."
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.