Since the loss to the Eagles, The Pewter Plank has certainly started looking to next season. While that’s fine for writers and fans to do, the team must stay focused on the task at hand, which is to win as many football games as possible. There is certainly a discussion to be had as to whether losing games to get a better draft pick (see: Suck for Luck) is viable, but considering the end of the season for the Bucs last year, keeping the wheels on the track should be job one for Coach Schiano and the coaching staff.
The arguments in favor of missing out on the playoffs are predicated on maintaining momentum going into next season, and to do that, the Buccaneers will have to continue to compete until the final minute of week 17. The home stretch begins with a trip to the Bayou to face the Saints, so here are five keys to ensure that the Buccaneers trip to the Superdome will provide some hope for the future.
1. Contain the big play for all 60 minutes.
The Buccaneers do not match up well against the Saints passing game. Even in a down year, Drew Brees is already over 4000 yards passing, and the Saints passing offense is still capable of dominating the Buccaneers sketchy pass defense. It would be foolish to ask the Buccaneers to stop the passing game of New Orleans.
Let’s face it, it’s simply not going to happen.
However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to request that the Bucs contain the big play. The Saints are lacking in true big play receivers, the Saints passing game is predicated on Drew Brees’ incredible accuracy, and not the talent of his receivers. It’s obvious that Coach Schiano likes to run a press-man coverage on the outside, and while that’s certainly a viable option, I believe that a bit more of a shell coverage would suit the opponent this Sunday. At the very least, work with Mark Barron to ensure that he is aware of his responsibilities to limit big plays over the middle.
We know that Ronde will do what he has to do, but maybe his role should be a bit deeper downfield this week, to ensure the Saints don’t beat the Buccaneers deep. Bend, don’t break, will be a key. The Saints have thrown the most interceptions in the league, so allow Drew Brees to make a mistake by making him earn scores, and pick and choose plays on which to play more aggressiv coverages. As the Saints get closer to the endzone, the field is condensed, and there are more opportunities for Drew Brees to miss a defender or otherwise make a mistake.
2. Generate a meaningful pass rush.
Drew Brees has one weakness he will never be able to overcome… He’s short. If the Bucs can disrupt the pass blocking schemes of the Saints, it can lead to opportunities to bat down Drew Brees pass attempts, or force him to scramble. Brees is a very talented passer (obviously), so allowing him time to sit in the pocket will be the Buccaneers downfall. We see moments of brilliance from the defensive line which would be quite useful against the Saints, as Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett are both capable of winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and disrupting Brees’ offense. This will be important, as blitzing has not been very successful for the Buccaneers this season, and taking players out of pass coverage will be a huge opportunity for the Saints.
3. Run on any down, at any time.
The Buccaneers have tended to abandon the run any time the down and distance isn’t in their favor. A missed pass on first down generally leads to a pass on second and third. The Buccaneers need to lean on the time-consuming and highly productive running of Doug Martin in this game, especially considering the inconsistencies that Josh Freeman has shown over the past two weeks.
While it is certainly understandable to manage Martin’s workload, he should at least be given an opportunity to build some offensive momentum early in the game, and allow Josh Freeman to ease into the game. And until the Buccaneers playoff hopes are totally eliminated, they should put forth every effort to win, and that means using your best players as often as possible. This means using Doug Martin and…
4. Allow the wideouts to make plays.
… the wide receivers liberally. Get the ball into the hands of the playmakers, and allow them to do what they do best. I have grown to dislike the back shoulder fade that the Buccaneers throw 3-4 times per game, as it limits the playmaking ability of the most talented players on the field. Instead, the Bucs offense should throw to Jackson on slanting and crossing routes, where his size and strength will facilitate not only making a catch in traffic, but fighting for extra yardage. It seems that, at times, the Buccaneers only have very high percentage routes, or only low percentage routes.
There is a distinct lack of intermediate routes, and when those routes are run, it’s usually Underwood, Clark, or Stocker, who are the least likely to make a significant play (on in some cases, a catch). While Freeman is not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, and his accuracy in the tight windows often found over the middle of the field is certainly lacking, he is still capable of delivering a throw from time to time to allow his two top notch playmakers on the outside to make some plays.
5. Don’t give up yet.
Injuries are piling up, and the outlook for playoff position is bleak. However, this Buccaneers team needs to prove it’s different from the train wreck we witnessed last season, and finish strong. The Buccaneers were visibly disgusted and upset with the loss to the Eagles, and those emotions need to be channeled into an attitude of improvement rather than frustration and lack of belief. The Buccaneers still have the slightest of chances to make the playoffs, and it starts with a win in New Orleans.
A lackluster performance leading to a loss would not only end those hopes, but would chip away at the foundation built for the future. A season 0-fer against the Falcons and Saints would be frustrating, so at the very least, the Buccaneers need to prove to the Saints, and themselves, that they’re capable of winning and will be prepared to improve going into 2013.
Follow @ThePewterPlank for the latest Buccaneers news.