When Bucs defensive coordinator Mark Duffner was asked Wednesday which of his players was most deserving of a Pro Bowl nod, he quickly named defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
And while Pierre-Paul, whose team-high 11.5 sacks are tied for ninth-most in the league, certainly stands out as the team's top defensive performer, he's been more than an elite pass rusher. He's also made a tremendous impact in defending the run.
Last week's game, a 28-14 loss to the Saints, was a good example. Pierre-Paul logged eight tackles and a fumble recovery, and his first three tackles were key stops against the run.
On the Saints' first two offensive plays, Pierre-Paul came off blocks to stop New Orleans running backs for back-to-back gains of 1 yard. On a first-down play in the second quarter, he shared a tackle for a loss on Saints running back Mark Ingram.
Of the six tackles Pierre-Paul made against the run on Sunday, four were gains of 2 yards or fewer. As a team, the Bucs held the Saints to 100 yards rushing, which is 25 yards under their season average.
"I think it's hard to not mention Jason Pierre-Paul and the season he's had for us," Duffner said. "He made some plays in the game the other day, not just on the defensive line, but on the perimeter: perimeter plays and chase down. Excellent pursuit plays."
Said Pierre-Paul of his coordinator's compliment: "I think that's pretty cool that he thinks highly of me, and I appreciate everything he says. I'm going to continue being me and keep playing some ball."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter also pointed out Pierre-Paul's impact in the run game, mentioning that when the Bucs last played against Pierre-Paul as an opponent when he was with the Giants, it was actually how well he played the run that stood out.
"We had more of a plan for him in the run game than we did in pass protection," Koetter said. "I just think he's been a really complete player this year. The thing that JPP [can do], he can bend, man. For a guy who is his size and has his length, he can really bend, and that makes him tough to block in the run game. He can get under blocks, he can get over blocks, he can get off blocks."
Even though he didn't record a sack Sunday, Pierre-Paul's eight total tackles were a season-high. He also recovered Carl Nassib's strip-sack fumble of Drew Brees early in the third quarter.
As for the Bucs’ secondary, safeties Justin Evans and Isaiah Johnson did not return to practice Wednesday as Tampa Bay started preparation for this week's game at playoff-contending Baltimore.
Both players missed last week's game against the Saints.
Evans, who has missed three of the past four games, wore a boot on his right foot Wednesday.
Johnson, who was knocked out of the Carolina game two weeks ago, worked out on his own in a non-contact capacity.
Safety Andrew Adams continued to fill in for Evans on Sunday, playing all 64 defensive snaps at free safety.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson was absent with his lingering thumb injury, and there's been no indication that he's made any significant progress to expect him to play against the Ravens.
Otherwise, the Bucs entered the practice week rather healthy considering it's Week 15.
Offensive tackle Demar Dotson (knee), cornerback Carlton Davis (knee) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (shoulder) all were limited participants.
All but Davis played last week. Dotson played all 70 offensive snaps while McCoy played 55 defensive snaps.