The Saints come marching into Raymond James Stadium this Sunday to face off in their second divisional game of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last week, the Saints faced Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in each team’s first divisional game, and won the game with just 50 seconds left in the 4th quarter. The Saints have once again established themselves as one of the elite offensive teams in the league behind Drew Brees and his accurate throwing arm. Aside from losing their first game against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, they’ve won every game thus far. The Saints will come to Tampa with a four game winning streak, the last two being away games, and will hope to leave with a victory and a lead in the NFC South division. Although they have dominated in passing yards ranking 2nd in the league, they’ve struggled getting their rushing consistent, and have found themselves making critical mistakes on defense. If those mistakes happen to continue through their week 6 game against the Buccaneers, the youngry Buccaneers can take advantage of an average defense and put some early points on the score board. The Saints have also found themselves unfortunate in the first quarter this season, and have surrendered an average of 9.5 points to their opponents. On the flip side, they have averaged allowing 8.5 points total to the opposition in the second half. I take pride in watching the second half for the Buccaneers because I am a strong supporter of how Coach Raheem Morris makes adjustments for the second half, which may result in the majority of the Buccaneers 4th quarter comebacks. Being that both teams have a common trait in how their games play out, this game could be a toss up and could come down to second half adjustments, making this more of a coach vs. coach game as compared to offense vs. defense.
Saints or Just Drew
Drew Brees is the leader and miracle worker of this offense. The Saints have had some struggles on defense, but Brees’s ability to put up big points have somewhat erased everything critics have to say about the Saints as a complete unit. The good news for the Buccaneers is that this isn’t the same explosive Super Bowl offense of 2009. Yes, they have remained an elite team in passing, but that is solely because of Drew Brees being able to give every man the ball. There are no specific receivers really standing out as a primary threat, aside of tight end, Jimmy Graham, who caught 8 passes for 129 yards against the Panthers. Graham also led in receiving in the previous two games against the Texans and the Jaguars. It appears that Brees has a favorite target in his tight end, who has been the most productive receiver, and may follow a similar strategy against a bruised up Buccaneer defense who is now without a few of their primary starters.
Another thing we can’t ignore when it comes to Brees is the guy knows how to change a game in the 4th quarter. He has 18 career 4th quarter comebacks and 2 this season. I think that says a lot considering the Saints don’t find themselves behind often, and when they do, Brees is more than capable of turning a point deficit into a victory.
Seriously? The New Guy?
I totally respect the Saints in their decision to part ways with Reggie Bush, who found himself underperforming behind less known running backs. I was even more impressed that the Saints not only drafted Heisman Trophy Winner, Mark Ingram, but also signed Darren Sproles in free agency. I have to admit that before the season began, those moves really made me nervous for the Buccaneers as a divisional rival to the Saints. However, I would have thought that at maximum, Sproles would be a 3rd down back, or just a guy to throw in the mix to rest the other guys. Although Sproles hasn’t put up huge numbers, he’s leading the running backs and is also providing Brees with a reliable receiving target. I knew Sproles had plenty left in the tank, and had hoped that the Buc’s would have taken a shot on signing him, but instead we are facing him as a divisional rival. Mark Ingram hasn’t done anything fantastic for the offense, but has played as well as any average rookie running back. Pierre Thomas seems to have been lost in the rotation, and Chris Ivory has been injured all season and may return next week. Looking at those names, who would have thought that Sproles could be and would be their number one guy to give the ball in rushing situations?
Aside from playing the Buccaneers twice a year, Jonathan Vilma is somewhat familiar with one of our greatest passing threats. Especially the passing threat that I predict to be targeted often in this next game. Vilma played with Buccaneers tight end, Kellen Winslow, in college atMiamiand is familiar with how aggressive and physical he can be. Often, this has been one of the more exciting match ups when the two teams face off, yet still there is a sense of respect and professionalism between the two athletes. Winslow has had a lack of passes thrown to him this season as compared to last season, but has still been productive when completing his catches. Expect Freeman to target his favorite target of last season in this game, and Vilma to be close by to try to contain his former teammate.
Where are the Turnovers?
The Saints once found themselves being one of the most successful teams in the entire league in turnovers. In 2009 when the Saints won the Super Bowl, they finished their season with 38 turnovers, yet only recorded 4 this season. Turnovers are a huge part in their success as a unit, but have been for the most part nonexistent in this season. This is a relief for the Buc’s who have really struggled against their most dominate rival in the NFC South. Let’s hope that Freeman doesn’t get over confident with his arm and throws accurate and catchable passes.
- I know I say it every week and will probably continue to throughout the season, but I am a firm believer of a run first offense. Especially because the Buccaneers have found most of their success behind using play action, which is only effective once establishing the run. Although this will seem like a tremendous challenge without Legarrette Blount, Earnest Graham is familiar with the Saint’s defensive schemes and should find at least moderate success in running against them. The Buc’s should also consider activating Mossis Madu to their active roster. He may not be the leading rusher or ever put up fantastic numbers, but could still provide the much needed speed and change of pace this offense needs until Blount’s recovered. Plus they will be without an additional back now that they have released their 6th round pick, Allen Bradford. Bradford was expected to clear waivers and was signed to the Seahawks and has reunited with his coach from college. I was very unhappy with this move but am happy that Bradford found a home with his former coach.
- No Penalties!!!! The Bucs must have some kind of love affair or guilty pleasure with penalties. Maybe they don’t realize how destructive penalties are to their chances at success, but hopefully they received a wake up call and are starting to realize that penalties bring negative yards.
- Take chances! The Saints have given up some big deep plays in all of their games. They resigned safety Roman Harper, who is great in run support, but struggles defending deep passes. Open up the field with a play action pass and throw deep to Mike Williams, who needs to have a big game. If he isn’t open, Arrelious Benn can make big plays when given the ball.
- Spread the receivers. The Saints aren’t terrible in pass defense, but don’t have good depth in the secondary. Throw in an extra receiver like Preston Parker, and take advantage of a weaker pass defense.
- T-Jack could be Back. Tenard Jackson may start his first game is over a year. This could play out good or bad. Many of us have mixed feelings on if Jackson should even be allowed to ever wear a red and pewter jersey again, but based on the votes many of you have participated in regarding Jacksons return, it appears many of us still have faith in what Jackson can offer the Buccaneers in terms of talent and production. It seems we all still acknowledge the talent provided by the elite safety.
- Stabilize the pass protection in the offensive line. The Saint’s haven’t been so productive in pressuring the quarterback this season, and the Bucs have a tough interior line. Giving Freeman a chance to think instead of forcing a throw can really aid the offense in converting much needed first downs.
- Put up points early. The Saints have averaged 9.5 points allowed in the first quarter. We need to double that! Although it seems like I’m aiming too high, let’s consider their points allowed and weak pass defense. The Bucs need to put themselves on the board early because Brees knows how to get back into the game when behind. Especially against a divisional opponent who he’s familiar with.
- Have you read any of Mark McKenna’s Midweek Gameplan articles? If you haven’t, you’ve missed out on some excellent insight! I have to agree with McKenna in saying that the Bucs have become predictable. I saved this point for last because I think it’s the most important when playing against a rival. You can’t be predictable against a team that knows you better than the rest of the league. The Buccaneers need to take some chances this game if they expect to win. The Saint’s may struggle in pass rush and pass defense, but if the Bucs are predictable, they could find themselves in a similar situation like their game against the Niner’s. San Franciscowasn’t a great pass defensive team, but they exposed how predictable the Bucs were and shut their offense down. I don’t feel the Buc’s were outplayed, but rather outcoached. This can’t be excused in a division game. Not only must the Bucs win, but they most not allow themselves to become one-sided or predictable.
Saints 30 – Buccaneers 24
I really hope I’m wrong. Coach Morris has made it clear that he wants to go out and win the division. Now’s your chance. Don’t be outcoached by Sean Payton, who is one of the best coaches in the league.