TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face Drew Brees twice a season, so they know it takes more than a sturdy defense to slow down the New Orleans Saints quarterback.
A revamped secondary led by cornerback Darrelle Revis figures to be one of the keys to the team's chances for success when the NFC South rivals meet Sunday, however the Bucs also are hoping their sputtering offense can do its part to help contain one of the NFL's top passers.
That's where Doug Martin comes in.
The Pro Bowl running back was limited to 65 yards rushing in a season-opening loss, and the Bucs likely will need more production out of him to beat the Saints.
"We've got to block better. We've got to run better. We've got throw better and catch better because those all fit together," coach Greg Schiano said Wednesday.
Martin rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie a year ago, when he also finished third in the league in total yards from scrimmage behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Detroit's Calvin Johnson. He carried 24 times and scored one touchdown in last week's 18-17 loss to the New York Jets, who were determined to not let the Bucs get going on the ground.
Martin was held to 3 yards or less on 18 carries. He had only three runs longer than 5 yards, including gains of 17 and 7 yards to set up a field goal that gave the Bucs a 17-15 lead with less than a minute to go.
Schiano expects other teams, including the Saints, to make concerted efforts to stop the run.
"You have to make people pay when they're going to try to take away Doug Martin," the Bucs coach said. "You can't always pound your head into a wall. You've got to make them pay."
Josh Freeman was unable to take advantage of the Jets' commitment to contain Martin. He did throw an early touchdown pass to Mike Williams and complete seven passes to Vincent Jackson for 154 yards, but Tampa Bay converted less than 40 percent of its third-down opportunities and held the ball under 28 minutes while being outgained a team led by a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start.
"We missed open guys, and then we dropped some passes," Schiano said. "We have to protect better; we (allowed) three sacks, but we also were hurried. If people are going to do that, you're going to have to be able to throw the football effectively, consistently, accurately, and move the ball down the field. We did at times, and at other times, we didn't."
It didn't help that the Bucs opened the season without guard Carl Nicks, whose return from toe surgery was delayed when he was diagnosed as having a MRSA infection during the preseason. The ex-New Orleans standout, who signed with the Bucs before last season, practiced Wednesday for the first time in a month.
"He was limited, but he was out there doing some stuff," Schiano said, adding that it's too early to predict if Nicks will be able to play against his team this weekend.
Nicks was cautious, too, but added: "I'm going to do everything in my power to play."
That's good news for Martin, who flourished last season despite playing behind an offensive line weakened by the loss of both its starting guards. Nicks missed the final nine games, while Davin Joseph sat out all of 2012 with a knee injury.
Nicks, an All-Pro two years ago with New Orleans, noted that he and Joseph, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, have yet to play together in a regular season game.
At least one person is not relishing the prospect of Nicks returning this week.
"He's a monster. He's such a big physical presence, and I know what he brought to our offensive line," Brees said of his former teammate.
"You tell the running backs and anybody running the football from the backfield: 'Just find that big boy and just trail right behind him. He'll lead the way. ... I know it's been tough with his toe and that kind of thing," Brees added. "But tell him if he just wants to miss one more week, just to make sure that it's all good, go ahead and do that."
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