TAMPA — Even the greenest quarterback can shake off the occasional sack. But when the pressure is incessant and the pounding relentless, the toll often is painfully obvious.
"You see it in the guy's demeanor," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "He's a little slower to get off the turf, he's adjusting his helmet. There's a lot of little signs. When you're constantly getting to a quarterback, it's really, really discouraging (for him)."
That's the sort of impact the Bucs want to have on Bears quarterback Kyle Orton on Sunday, and the remaining quarterbacks on their schedule, for that matter.
Consider what the Bucs subjected the Falcons' Matt Ryan to last weekend. He was sacked four times and hit on four other occasions. And those totals don't take into account the numerous other times he was flushed from the pocket, fleeing another rusher.
It was a positive sign for the Bucs, who recorded a pedestrian 33 sacks in 2007, 16th in the NFL. One of their primary offseason themes was intensifying the pressure on quarterbacks.
The Bucs certainly showed progress from Week 1 to 2 after the Saints' Drew Brees stymied the defense with his trademark trigger-quick release.
"That was really our first week putting things together in the pass rush," defensive tackle Ryan Sims said. "We got better each quarter, I think."
Sunday's task resembles the one the Bucs faced against the Falcons: Stop the run and put the ball — and the game — in Orton's hands. The hope is they can do to the fourth-year player out of Purdue what they did to Ryan, a rookie from Boston College.
How does a defensive player know when a quarterback has had it?
"You can look at the balls he throws," end Kevin Carter said. "When you start seeing little mistakes, (it's because) the quarterback isn't reading things the way he should, or maybe instead of looking downfield he's looking at the rush. Either way, his eyes are not fixed down the field, and he's preoccupied with getting hit."
Another tipoff: "You know it's going well (for the defense) when, after the play, you see him get back to the huddle and he's arguing with somebody," Sims said. "You can see the mood change."
When a team's pass rush is consistent, its reputation precedes the defense.
"What happens is (quarterbacks) watch the tape all week, and they see quarterbacks getting hit all day long when they watch you," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "So, when they go into the game, they're not very confident."
Even the most poised quarterbacks can shrink when the heat is turned up. Case in point: the Patriots' Tom Brady bracing for a beating from the Giants' blitz in Super Bowl XLII.
"He was turning his back because they were coming at him," Hovan said. "I remember one time (linebacker) Kawika Mitchell was coming up the middle, and you saw Tom turn away. He was sick of getting hit, man. That's the type of demeanor I'm talking about. That's when a quarterback starts getting out of his comfort zone, and it's like, 'Oh, man, here we go again.' "
The Bucs got creative with their pass rush against the Falcons, using the nose tackle to prevent Ryan from stepping up in the pocket to avoid speedy rushers Gaines Adams and Greg White. The contributions of Adams (two sacks) and White (11/2 sacks) were well-documented. But the Bucs got an improved push from their interior linemen, too, such as Hovan, Sims and Jovan Haye.
But the primary responsibility of each lineman against Chicago (1-1) will be limiting a running game that has been particularly effective. It's fifth in the NFC, just behind the Bucs.
"This is the NFL," Sims said. "If you don't stop the run, you will be embarrassed. That's where it all starts. But if you stop the run and hopefully buy some time and let the offense get ahead, you make (the other team) have to start passing. That's when it's fun, when you can make a team one-dimensional."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected]