The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense has struggled mightily through the first nine games of the 2009 regular season.
The Bucs rank 31st in the NFL against the run, allowing 167 yards per game in that particular area. That includes the 199 yards the Dolphins rushed for en route to a 25-23 win over the Bucs last Sunday.
On Monday, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris suggested the team didn't have the personnel up front to shut down opposing teams' ground attacks in defensive coordinator Jim Bates' system.
"We are just not made right now to knock people back. That's just not how we are cut," Morris said Monday. "We don't have big, intimidating linebackers or big, intimidating linemen.
"We don't have the big people, the big personnel, to get the knockout runs, the big person up front who absolutely dominates a block and gets a tackle for a loss. We'll get there. We'll find those guys. We'll go out there and get them. Right now we got to play with the guys we have."
Morris, who is the youngest head coach in the NFL at 33, has publicly criticized his players through the media in his first year on the job. On Wednesday, Morris was asked to elaborate on his comments from Monday's press conference.
"We have a group of young guys that are getting better each day," said Morris. "I know [the media] thinks I tore them down the other day, but I really didn't. I just speak frank. It was a great opportunity for me to let those guys know, ‘Outside influences are going to try to bring us down. We have to stay together, and part of doing that is speaking frank to each other.' We criticize each other and I criticize myself. We have no problem with that."
Criticism certainly is fair considering the fact that the Bucs currently have the 29th-ranked defense in the NFL after watching former defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's defenses finish 11 of his 13 seasons ranked in the top 10.
The players that spoke in the locker room at One Buccaneer Place Wednesday said Morris addressed his comments from Monday's press conference with the team, and that they didn't necessarily have a problem with what he said.
"That's one thing Raheem has always been about," said Bucs defensive tackle Ryan Sims. "He has no problem telling anybody what his problems are. He's always been a man and tells you face-to-face what's going on and what he thinks.
"Of course you don't [like hearing it], but nobody likes losing. Raheem is just trying to find a way to win."
Added Bucs linebacker Geno Hayes: "We didn't take it any way that some people outside of the organization are taking it. He didn't have to clarify anything with us. We knew exactly what he was saying and what he was talking about. We understood where he was coming from and we didn't hold anything against him."
Some outside One Buccaneer Place took Morris' comments from Monday's press conference to mean the Bucs would consider revamping their front seven in the offseason due to problems the defense has had throughout the season. Morris attempted to clarify his comments today.
"My team understands," said Morris. "Barrett Ruud will tell you he's not a big, 250-pound linebacker. That's not what we are. We're run-fit guys. We're guys that have to have fits, be smart and play fast. We've always been that. We've always been a little bend, but don't break. That's Buccaneer football.
"I was suggesting we didn't have the players that day [in Miami]. We didn't have the guys to do it that day. We've got to get better. We've got to find ways to get better and we've got to find guys to get better."
Morris attempted to convey to his defensive players the importance of overcoming some shortcomings by making up for it in other areas of their games.
"We have a solid defense, as Coach Morris said," Hayes said. "We have to be on point with our fits and our responsibilities. We might not be the biggest ones, but we can be the smartest ones on the field.
"Any time change comes it's going to be a slow process of trying to build up. It's a process right now. We're just coming out on the bottom end of it while we are trying to figure out what we're going to do next year."
Things won't get any easier for the 1-8 Bucs defense Sunday when they face the number one-ranked offense in the NFL, which belongs to the undefeated New Orleans Saints.
The Saints are averaging 37 points per game and have scored a league-leading 43 touchdowns. New Orleans is averaging 151 yards rushing per game, which is fifth in the NFL. That's not necessarily good news for a Bucs defense that has allowed over 200 yards rushing to Buffalo and Carolina, and just under that mark in losses to the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins.
The Bucs still are in the process of evaluating personnel, and while they have identified which areas teams are attempting to exploit, Bates said Tampa Bay hasn't given up on its players or the goal they share, which is winning.
"These guys are playing with great effort," said Bates. "You look at the tape and see it. You don't see guys loafing around. They're working hard. We'll evaluate it at the end of the season and see where we are. That includes everything as far players and coaches. The main goal is to improve as much as possible and win as many games as we can down the stretch."