TAMPA — One week after allowing Carolina's Cam Newton to rush for a season-high 50 yards, the Bucs defense now has the challenge of containing another mobile quarterback in Seattle's Russell Wilson.
While you won't confuse the two — Newton is 6 feet 5, Wilson just 5-11 — the second-year Seahawks quarterback poses a legitimate dual threat, one the Bucs hope to account for better Sunday than they did in last week's 31-13 loss to the Panthers.
"He's deadly. He can beat you with his arm or his feet, so we've got our work cut out this week," said safety Dashon Goldson, who intercepted Wilson as a 49er in their first meeting last season but then saw him pass for four touchdowns in December as Seattle routed San Francisco 42-13. "He leads his team. He does a good job of finding guys and making things happen with his feet."
Wilson's 61 carries this season are the most by a quarterback, and his 339 yards trail only Oakland's Terrelle Pryor. In terms of effectiveness running the ball, Wilson has gained 19 first downs, which is three more than Bucs running back Doug Martin this season on less than half as many carries.
What separates Wilson on another level is his ability to run and throw in a single play. Bucs coach Greg Schiano said he believes Wilson is the league's best on-the-run thrower, able to utilize his strong arm even when he's on a designed rollout outside the traditional pocket.
"I think he's most dangerous (when) they do a lot of boot-naked game moving the launch point," Schiano said. "When he gets out, he can throw it deep and accurate on the run, better than just about anyone I've seen."
Wilson showed his versatility as a rookie last year, finishing third among quarterbacks with 489 rushing yards, behind only Washington's Robert Griffin III and Newton. Wilson's challenge to opposing defenses goes beyond his statistics, to the threat he poses at all times.
His ability to pump-fake well on the run means Bucs defensive backs have to focus on staying in pass coverage even after Wilson has taken off running, a difficult task in a live game even when you know it's coming.
"His arm strength is freakishly good, almost scary good. He's scrambling around and a flick of his wrist, he has it 50 yards downfield," rookie corner Johnthan Banks said. "When he's running, he'll pump it and make you freeze. We have to contain that guy and try to get us a win."
Wilson's scrambling ability complements a strong run game built around Marshawn Lynch, who ranks fourth in the league with 601 rushing yards. In his short pro career, Wilson has been that much tougher at home — 11-0 at CenturyLink Field, with 22 touchdown passes against four interceptions in his games there.
Bucs linebacker Dekoda Watson faced Wilson twice while they were at Florida State and North Carolina State, respectively, and while Watson won both meetings, he remembers well the elusive quarterback who threw for five touchdowns in a 45-42 Seminoles win in 2009.
"He's going to make special plays, without a doubt," Watson said. "If we can try to control Wilson, that can really help us. At the same time, we can talk about it, but it has to be done on the field."
Most of the Bucs haven't faced Wilson before, but defensive tackle Gerald McCoy spent time with him at last year's Pro Bowl and left impressed by a player he hasn't had to go up against until now. It's only half the difficulty of facing Seattle's offense, but it's the half the Bucs are well aware of this week.
"We've got a guy this week that can hurt you with his feet. He's the ultimate pro," McCoy said. "I talk about No. 3 because everything runs through him, but if you don't stop 24 (Lynch), you're going to have a long day."