The Buccaneers take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, so to get ready for the key divisional matchup, I was thankfully given the time to talk to Chris Roling of Who Dat Dish, a New Orleans Saints’ website you can find by clicking here. You can find Chris on Twitter by clicking here.
Here’s what he had to say about this weekend’s game.
Leo- I am reading and seeing lots of positive comments about the New Orleans defense. But just how improved is the defense over last season’s awful display? What positive progress was shown during Week 1?
Chris- The difference is huge. Parys Haralson stepped right in and provided a quality pass rush, as did Junior Galette. Kenny Vaccaro is all over the field making plays, and even though Brodrick Bunkley went down with an injury at nose tackle, rookie John Jenkins stepped in and played well. It’s hard to not be better than the worst statistical unit in history from a week ago, but this defense looks like it could be middle-of-the-pack—which paired with the offense, is obviously huge for 2013.
Leo- How did the 2013 iteration of the offense compare to 2012 with the return of head coach Sean Payton? Was there a noticeable change from last season?
Chris- Through one game the biggest difference is more balance with running the football. Last season Brees was forced to do much of the work on his own, which made the offense one-dimensional. As good as Brees is, his line wasn’t good enough last year to keep him upright long enough in a predictable passing offense. This year the trio of backs look to be getting more handoffs and that will go a long way in keeping defenses honest.
Leo- The Buccaneers shut down the non-quarterback scramble running game of the Jets on Sunday, and it seems like the Saints didn’t really get their running game going against the Falcons. Do you believe the Saints can move the ball on the ground against Tampa Bay? Do they even want to try?
Chris- Not sure New Orleans will make a serious attempt to get the ground game going, but do enough of it just to keep the offense balanced. Some of the running game last week was replaced by short completions to guys like Darren Sproles. The statistics won’t jump off the page, but one way or another the running game will be at least present in spirit.
Leo- On the other hand, Steven Jackson didn’t carry often against New Orleans but seemed to have at least a couple plays worth of success. Will the Saints be able to stop Doug Martin, considering the continued struggles on the offensive line for Tampa?
Chris- Steven Jackson was interesting because he ripped off one long run for the majority of his stats, and it happened to be one of the slowest long-runs in history. That’s actually a bad thing for the Saints. Atlanta for whatever reason elected to abandon the run game, which made it easy on New Orleans. Tampa Bay will do no such thing if they’re smart, and no, New Orleans won’t be able to stop Doug Martin—not that many defenses can.
Leo- From an outsider’s perspective, how do you believe the presence of Darrelle Revis will impact the Saints’ gameplan on offense? Do you believe Drew Brees will test him, or can he find success distributing the ball to open receivers?
Chris- Brees is one of the more cerebral quarterbacks in the NFL, so don’t anticipate him testing Revis much outside of in the first quarter t see where he’s at play-wise. Brees is going to find the open man no matter who is covering what. That’s why a guy like rookie Kenny Stills out-played both Marques Colston and Lance Moore in Week 1—Brees doesn’t care about names, just finding the right place to fit the football.
Leo- What do you think happens on Sunday when these teams meet for the first time this season? What is the key storyline, and what’s the final result?
Chris- This is a tough one. Have to think the last-second loss to New York was emotionally draining and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tampa Bay come out flat. Geno Smith looked good against the Bucs’ defense, so Brees should do well. The key storyline is Doug Martin—can the Saints slow him down? The answer to that question will ultimately decide the game. Saints winning a close one seems to be the safe bet here after watching both performances from Week 1.