TAMPA — The story begins with a play that looked like so many others during the Bucs' victory Sunday at Cincinnati.
In the third quarter, the Bengals came with an all-out blitz, which typically yields one of two results.
"Either they're going to make a pretty big play or we're going to make a pretty big play," right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said.
Turns out, it was the latter.
Josh Freeman, throwing off his back foot, got off a pass to rookie receiver Mike Williams just milliseconds before a brigade of pass rushers — linemen, linebackers, even a safety — converged on the Bucs quarterback.
On the other end, Williams went up to make the reception in the end zone but was yanked to the turf by cornerback Leon Hall. Flags flew, pass interference was called and the ball was placed at the 1. The Bucs scored on the next play.
"It's do or die sometimes with those blitzes," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said.
And the Bucs had better get used to seeing more of them. NFL defenses are blitzing more frequently largely because some prominent teams have used them extensively with great success.
Many of those teams happen to be on the Bucs' schedule, including the Bengals, whom the Bucs defeated, in part, because they were able to overcome the aggressive blitzes. Freeman estimated Cincinnati blitzed more than 40 percent of the time, a high rate.
"It's a little bit a product of who we play, but it's the vogue thing to do now," Bucs center Jeff Faine said. "It's a copycat league. Teams are picking up on it and doing it."
One of the teams that helped inspire this phenomenon, the Saints, invades Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. They used an assortment of blitzes to revive their defense last season en route to a Super Bowl championship.
Clearly, the Bucs were going to be confronted by a litany of blitzes this season. But knowing blitzes are coming and combating them are very different.
Blitzes can vary in how they are disguised and where the pressure comes from. But the idea is always the same: make the quarterback uncomfortable and force mistakes.
"They want to unsettle what you're doing and create doubt. And it's like everything else: You have to prepare for it," offensive line coach Pete Mangurian said.
Much of the offseason was spent doing that. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson and his staff spent many hours huddled in their offices breaking down the details of some of the better blitzing defenses in the league. They are now putting those lessons to use in formulating plans to attack them.
"The Jets were one," Olson said of the team that ranked first in total defense last season. "Even though we're not playing them, we just wanted to study them because we knew that teams would try to emulate them and do what they did.
"On top of it, the New Orleans Saints and (defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams has been known for his blitz package. So with them being in our (NFC South Division) we, obviously, broke down all our opponents. It's the Jets, the Steelers, the Bengals, the Ravens and the Saints — teams that other teams are looking at."
The Bucs received a stiff test in the Bengals, who used coordinator Mike Zimmer's all-out blitzes on several occasions. On one, the Bengals sent all of their linemen, linebackers plus safety Chris Crocker toward the quarterback.
Because the Bucs had just seven players available to protect Freeman (five linemen, a tight end and a running back), they were outnumbered by Cincinnati's eight-man assault.
Either Crocker and company would overrun the Bucs and sack Freeman, or Freeman and his receivers would diagnose the defense and exploit the one-on-one coverage before the inevitable unblocked defender broke through. At least twice, the Bucs made the Bengals pay, the pass interference penalty and Williams' tying touchdown catch during the fourth quarter.
There are few things more gratifying to an offense than gutting a defense when it brings the house.
"It's up there," Trueblood said. "There's a lot of satisfaction in it. The only thing more satisfying is running the ball down someone's throat. But picking them apart when they blitz, oh, that's fun."
But the job is far from done.
The Saints certainly will have something new to offer Sunday as will the Ravens and others who remain on the schedule. And Freeman, Williams and others will have new looks to adapt to as the season progresses.
"These (defensive) coordinators, they're not going to show the exact same blitzes from week to week," Olson said. "There's always a new wrinkle."
About the only thing certain is that in today's NFL, there will be more blitzes to come.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org