TAMPA — Saints quarterback Drew Brees dropped 51 points and tossed four touchdown passes on the Packers on Monday night like he was playing a video game.
The guy with the joystick is coach and play-caller Sean Payton, but the Bucs believe they have a way to control the NFL's passing-yardage leader (3,574).
"You saw on Monday night when you don't rush Drew Brees what happens," Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan said. "(The Packers) had two sacks, and those were on blitzes and coverage sacks, to be honest with you. … It's going to be imperative that we get a push up the middle on this guy. He doesn't like pressure in his face."
And for the most part, nobody gets in Brees' face besides his dentist. Despite attempting 424 passes — second only to Arizona's Kurt Warner's 433 — Brees has been sacked just nine times, third-fewest in the league.
But the Bucs' defensive line is nearly as hot as the Saints' passing game, having racked up nine of its 24 sacks in the past two games, against the Vikings and Lions.
"That's one thing we've been able to do against New Orleans every time is create pressure," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "Drew does a good job getting rid of the ball whether it's to a check down, throwing it away, some of the plays he checks to, quick drops to max protection.
"But fortunately for us, we've been one of a very few teams to create some pressure. It may not be in sacks. But if we can create an uncomfortable pocket, that's an advantage towards us."
Other than Hovan, who is in his fourth season with the Bucs, no defensive lineman has been with the team more than three years. The pass rush is led by Gaines Adams, a first-round draft pick in 2007 who leads the team with a modest five sacks. Jimmy Wilkerson, a first-year free agent from Kansas City, has caught fire; three of his four sacks have come in the past two games.
"Well, they're talented up front," Payton said. "You look at the emergence of a Gaines Adams and the tackles that are playing in the base, and Greg White is another guy who has come in and had success. It's two-fold. Those guys up front are doing a great job rushing the passer, and it generally means in the back end they're doing a good job in coverage."
That wasn't the case in the Bucs' 24-20 loss at New Orleans in the season opener, when Brees struck for three big passing plays: a 39-yard touchdown to David Patten, an 84-yard bomb to Devery Henderson and a 42-yard scoring strike to Reggie Bush.
A little more pressure on Brees may have prevented those plays. Generating that rush is the responsibility of first-year Bucs defensive line coach Todd Wash, who was promoted from defensive quality control coach this season.
"With (Adams), what you see is every day he's working on his pass rush," Wash said. "I think in college, he used nothing but speed. The last couple weeks, he's gotten home a couple more times, and he's gotten home with technique. And that's the part we're starting to see. Speed is not going to work on every snap. It's worked some this year. But his technique within his pass rush is really starting to come along.
"Jimmy Wilkerson is a great surprise for us. We knew he was a high-motor guy, but once again, he's a very good technician within the pass-rush game, and he can also play basically three spots along the front. That's what we've asked them to do."
Hovan said that though Brees is having an MVP season, the Bucs' pass rush is heating up at the right time.
"It's all momentum at the end of the year," Hovan said. "If you're hot, if you're defensive line is hot, watch out."