Safety Tanard Jackson has lots of respect for the 9-0 New Orleans Saints. But he can't help but get excited knowing quarterback Drew Brees is going to keep him busy on Sunday.
Jackson has three interceptions, a forced fumble and fumble recovery during that stretch while the Bucs have struggled to stop the run.
Perhaps that's why Jackson said he's looking forward to playing the Saints and Brees, the league's fourth-rank quarterback in passing yards.
"I told Ronde (Barber) earlier this week I love playing this team," Jackson said. "As good as they are this year, they're on a roll, an unbeaten team and we're having a down year, but I love playing this team. You get to make plays on some balls. You know they're going to throw 45, 50 times a game. We just have to do our job. It's a challenge for us -- definitely. But I think we're up for it."
Jackson was suspended for the first four games of the season under the league's substance abuse policy. He said being away from football helped change his preparation habits.
"Things have been going my way as far as that. I've been able to make some good reads on the ball as far as the quarterback's eyes," Jackson said. "The fumble recovery (in Miami), that's everybody out there making a play and me having an opportunity to be around the ball. Like I said before, I think my approach is a little different. I'd been away those four weeks, and being able to get back to what I love to do, being back with my teammates, I would say my approach to the game and my preparation is a little different now."
Jackson also said the new defensive system under Jim Bates allows him more freedom to make plays on the football.
"No question, we're free a lot of times in the back end of this matchup defense, which allows us to make plays on the ball, it allows us to read the quarterback's eyes," Jackson said. "We've been getting some pressure up front and that helps a little bit, too, when you've got some guys in the quarterback's face, forcing him to make some bad throws and some bad decisions. So it works hand-in-hand. We need both to make those plays."
Of course, Brees is the master of looking defenders off with his eyes before delivering a strike.
"That's what he does," Jackson said. "Fortunately, we've had the opportunity to play him twice a year, so we've got a good feel for him and what he does. He does like to do that. He's probably the best in the business as far as looking at a receiver and coming back the other way. It's a credit to him. He's a great quarterback in this league with great weapons. We just have to play disciplined football and be where we're supposed to be and try to create some turnovers, which I think we've had success with the past three weeks."
The Saints will go into Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Bucs with a depleted cornerback corps even with the addition of three-time Pro Bowl pick Chris McAlister on Wednesday.
It wasn't known Thursday if McAlister will be able to pick up enough of the defense to help out Sunday, which could leave the Saints with just three cornerbacks healthy and available for the game with the Bucs.
Right cornerback Tracy Porter is definitely out of this week's game and probably several more after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee last Sunday. Left cornerback Jabari Greer could miss his second straight game with a left groin injury.
Greer did not practice again Thursday and will be questionable at best when the final injury report is turned in Friday. If he can't go and McAlister, who hasn't played in a game since last October, isn't ready only Randall Gay, Malcolm Jenkins and Leigh Torrence would be available.
They could be helped, however, if free safety Darren Sharper can play against the Bucs after missing last week's game at St. Louis with a sprained right knee. That could free up Usama Young to swing over to cornerback and help if needed.
Young, who was a cornerback for his first two NFL seasons, was switched to free safety this season. He made his first start there last week in place of Sharper and came up with an interception.
While McAlister would be a bonus if he can play, the Saints might be able to get through this game even if Greer isn't healthy enough to suit up.
Gay, who started in place of Greer last week, said the Saints will be ready regardless of what happens.
"Injuries happen every week, that's why you don't keep just two cornerbacks on your team," he said. "You keep multiple corners and the people that come in need to step up and make plays. That's what I'm going to try and go out there this week and do."