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Saints Wary of New Look Bucs Defense

    <span>              <span style="text-decoration: underline;">              </span>Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Raheem Morris took part in a conference call with New Orleans media members on Wednesday morning and was asked point blank about the change in defensive philosophy the Bucs have had over the course of the last month.  

Morris, flashing a sense of humor, stated, "I'm not going to tell you that. You're going to tell Sean (Payton)."

Shortly after the New Orleans Saints traveled to Tampa Bay and defeated the Buccaneers in late November, Morris took over the defensive play calling from defensive coordinator Jim Bates.

While the results haven't necessarily been reflected in the win column, the Bucs appeared to be playing at a faster speed and making more big plays than they previously were making. In fact just last week in their 24-7 win at Seattle, Morris' defensive charges held the Matt Hasselbeck-led Seahawks to the fewest points the team has allowed all season.

"It's about the core beliefs," said Morris. "They (the Bucs' defense) were flying around on the field (last Sunday). Seattle came out with a great plan and a high-tempo offense. They had us on our heels early. Our guys were able to settle down. We have a great leader in (middle linebacker) Barrett Ruud. We got to the spots we needed to get to and we were able to stop them, which was great. That's how you want to go and how you have to be. We've done a better job on defense. It's all about these guys going out and hustling and hitting and responding to the challenge from their head coach and defensive coordinator. I'm proud of those guys and what they've been able to do. We just need to continue over these final two games."

Tampa's defense was so stout, (particularly in the third quarter when they allowed only 20 yards of offense to the Bucs), that they also created five turnovers: two interceptions by CB Elbert Mack, one pick off each for safety Tanard Jackson and linebacker Geno Hayes, and a fumble recovery by Hayes that Hasselbeck coughed up. Although Seattle was able to cobbled together 380 yards of offense, it was the Bucs' ability to hold the Seahawks out of the end zone but once on 72 plays that proved to be the difference in their impressive victory.

Morris, who took a lot of heat earlier this season from the Tampa media, brought a needed reprieve from criticism directed his way following the victory. But the rookie head coach quickly shot down any credit for his part in the win.

"I refuse to take credit for what any of those men are doing on defense," said Morris. "Those guys are going out and playing harder, faster and better. I don't want to take anything away from what these guys have been able to do together. That includes Geno (Hayes), and Barrett Ruud has completely picked up his game. Guys like (cornerback) Aqib Talib and (safety) Tanard Jackson are playing at an even higher level. It's fun to watch a guy like (linebacker) Quincy Black go out and absolutely dominate a tight end. We're seeing different guys come out and play like Dre Moore and Kyle Moore and Adam Hayward. All those guys are contributing and getting the opportunity to play. It's really more about what they've been able to do and not as much about myself. If you want to give anybody credit give the coaches credit. Those guys have really picked up their games as well."

Although Bates is still involved in the game-planning for the Bucs, the assumption that the Bucs would revert strictly back to their fabled "Tampa 2" defense, which features intricate mixes of safeties playing deep but flying into the action late, coupled with either tight man-to-man coverage or zone coverage, has proven to be misguided.

"We called a bunch of different defenses (on Sunday)," said Morris. "The Tampa 2 was one of them. We called some Quarters, some 3-4 and some other things. We want to be known as a team that plays fast and hard. If we can do that you can call it whatever coverage you want to. You guys know my roots and background. I'll be whatever you want to call me if we can get wins like that."

The harsh reality for the Saints this Sunday is the Bucs own the eighth-rated pass defense in the league and have a new-found confidence that they can win on the road in hostile environs.

"They're playing a lot better defensively than when we saw them the first time around," Saints Head Coach Sean Payton said. "That's the challenge for us, really."

Of course the challenge the Bucs face will be a stiff one this Sunday in New Orleans, as the Saints feature the top-ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 419.6 yards per game and a whooping 34.5 points per game.

Although the Saints have clinched the NFC South title and a first-round bye, the Saints still seek to clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs and can do so with a win in either of their last two games, or with a loss or a tie by the Minnesota Vikings.

"I don't think it (changes the dynamic of the upcoming game)," said Morris. "I don't think Sean Payton is the type of guy to rest people. He's all about staying hot. Drew Brees is probably the same type of guy. Those guys want to stay in a rhythm going into the playoffs. I think they're going to want to take it out on us. They might be a little more angry. We'll have to deal with an angry Saints team. We'll go in there and be ready to go. We look forward to that challenge. If you want to define yourself and see how well you're playing on defense you go play the Saints and they'll let you know pretty quickly. There is no doubt in my mind they're going to have more yardage on us than we expect. We just have to keep them out of the end zone."

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