Raheem Morris wants the Bucs' defense to form its identity. That's why he took over the play-calling from Jim Bates.
Progress was made Sunday in a 20-17 loss at Atlanta. The Bucs had six sacks and 10 tackles for losses before losing on a fourth-down touchdown pass from Chris Redman to Roddy White.
"The only person who's going to suffer the consequences is me," Morris said. "So you might as well put yourself in the fire, take it right between the eyes and do the best you can. "You've got to make it your identity, your plays, your snaps. That's what Tony Dungy did with those guys. Even though he had Monte Kiffin, he still was very involved on defense and able to pull the trigger if he wanted to. That's where I want to be. ... Right now, it is me calling the plays. We'll get a chance to see our identity, see how far we can come."
Eleven months ago, Morris was named defensive coordinator. But before he could serve in that capacity, Jon Gruden was fired and he was promoted to head coach. That doesn't change the fact that Morris' expertise is on defense and that he had some clear ideas of how to make the Bucs better on that side of the ball.
Was this a desperate move by a desperate head coach worried about getting fired? Morris, 33, insists it was not.
"In this business, you really can't think about that," Morris said. "In this business, you've got to coach until they tell you to get out of your office and that's my mentality."
So Morris pulled the ripcord on Bates, just as he did to offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski only 10 days before the regular-season opener, replacing him with quarterbacks coach Greg Olson.
The difference is that the Bucs aren't scrapping a large percentage of what Bates installed. A lot of the matchup coverage concepts -- more quarters, man-to-man and less Tampa 2 -- was the direction Morris wanted for his defense. Also, Bates has been given the opportunity to remain with the team in a consulting role, breaking down film and eventually helping Morris from the coaches' box.
"What we are is essentially becoming what Raheem wanted us to be when he was defensive coordinator," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "That's what we are. It does feel good because of our presentation of details are back. Some of the things that we were familiar with are back. To me, that's why everybody on the defensive side of the ball has accepted the change. It's because Raheem has made it feel like, 'This is what our identity is.' " You can argue whether Bates failed the Bucs or if the Bucs failed Bates. But there were several things wrong with the defense that Morris felt was only going to result in more points, more yards and more defeats.
The Bucs played a lot of match coverage and were too predictable. That was evident in the 37-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 22. Saints coach Sean Payton, one of the league's top play callers, frequently used three receivers to the right of the formation with an empty backfield and a tight end and running back on the other side. He knew he could isolate receiver Marques Colston on a seam route one-on-one on linebacker Barrett Ruud.
"Fast guy, big guy against a little guy, slower guy," Morris said.
On the Saints' touchdown drive just before halftime, Colston caught passes of 21 and 20 yards. The problem was that Ruud, who calls all the Bucs' defensive signals, had no way of checking out of the mismatch. Three weeks ago at Miami, second-year quarterback Chad Henne had no trouble dissecting the coverage during his game-winning drive in the final 1:40.
"You want to mix it up and make people have to think a little more, make people hit it on the run or hit it on the move rather than identifying it from the beginning," Morris said. The Bucs have given up nine pass plays of 40 yards or more this season in Bates' defense, which puts cornerbacks on an island for 60 plays a game. Morris would also like to mix in more Tampa 2.
TRENDING: Morris has to do a better job of making head coaching decisions. Last week, he lost two challenges and has had some poor clock management at the end of the first half.
On Sunday at Atlanta, he blew two decisions with the lead in the fourth quarter that cost his team. First, he ordered a fake punt by Dirk Johnson that turned the ball over on downs and changed field position. Then he tried a 51-yard field goal by Conner Barth that was wide right and gave the Falcons the ball on their own 41-yard line to mount the winning drive.
"I wanted to change the game and I did. I changed it in their favor, so that's completely on me," Morris said of the fake punt call. "It was a call by me, it was a call I made and it didn't work out for us. Luckily our defense was able to stand them up and get us off the field again but the field position definitely changed and it gave them a little momentum as well."
BY THE NUMBERS: 3.9 -- The Bucs held Atlanta to just 3.9 yards per play Sunday. That's a remarkable improvement for the 26th-ranked defense, which had been allowing 5 yards per rush this season.
--CB Torrie Cox has been placed on injured reserve due to a hip injury suffered during Sunday’s loss.
--P Dirk Johnson suffered a hamstring pull and has been placed on injured reserve.
--G Arron Sears has been placed on the reserve/non football illness list which prohibits him from practicing with the team. He is allowed to remain with the team though.
--CB Aqib Talib had to leave the game in the fourth quarter with a pulled hamstring.
--QB Josh Freeman had his highest quarterback rating of the season, 118.5, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
--WR Antonio Bryant had four balls thrown his direction; he caught three for 91 yards and a touchdo