The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been in the center of the national sports media spotlight this week as turmoil has set in following a Week 1 loss to the New York Jets.
But the NFL, and the NFC South in particular, still has a long way to go before it’s decided, and the Buccaneers can experience either a positive surge of confidence or a negative landslide of turmoil based on their Week 2 performance against New Orleans.
So what needs to happen for the Bucs and their fans to be buoyed by the confidence that comes with a home opener win against a division rival? Here are the crucial aspects of the Bucs’ gameplan if they want to come out on top of the Saints.
On offense, the Buccaneers must take advantage of the return of fullback Erik Lorig, and get the power running game going. Last season, most (if not all) of the Bucs’ biggest plays in the running game came with a leading fullback and a pulling guard. Last week we saw neither of of these things on display.
Doug Martin must be given as many chances as possible to dominate the game and set the tempo for the Bucs on offense. The Saints don’t have the same skill up front on defense as the New York Jets have, and the Buccaneers must take advantage of that fact. So the Buccaneers must run the ball well between the tackles, using the fullback as a lead blocker to pave the way.
But Martin can’t (and won’t) win the game for Tampa Bay on his own. The passing game has to be better than it was during the first week of the season.
That starts with a better performance from the offensive line, who have to play better to protect their quarterback. Josh Freeman is just not good enough when pass rush forces him to rush his decision-making and move his feet. There is far too much money invested in the offensive line in Tampa Bay for Josh Freeman to be constantly dancing in the pocket to avoid pressure.
But likewise, the playcalling cannot keep Josh Freeman in the pocket waiting for a receiver to come open. Freeman has only two receivers he can trust, and standing in the pocket with no option to run means the defensive backs are able to key in on Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, leaving Freeman with nowhere to go.
So the Buccaneers must do one of two things against the Saints. They must either:
- Get rid of the ball quickly, taking advantage of the size and skill advantage that Williams and Jackson have over the corners for New Orleans
- Spread the field more, using four or five receivers (or tight ends and running backs split out wide). This will keep the defense honest against the pass, and make them pay for focusing too heavily on Jackson and Williams.
It’s clear that there are inherent flaws in Josh Freeman’s game. Peyton Manning can’t run, so the Broncos don’t call for him to run. Likewise, the Bucs should put Freeman in position to succeed by allowing him to do what he’s best at doing. He’s not a cerebral quarterback who reads the field well from the pocket. He’s instinctual, he works well in the no-huddle and hurry-up offense, and likes to get rid of the ball quickly to his big receivers.
A repeat performance of the game against the New York Jets would likely do the trick for the Buccaneers, but there are special considerations for this game against the Saints.
First of all, the Saints have a worse running game than the Jets, and it’s not even close. Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory are better than Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. The Jets’ offensive line is better than the Saints when it comes to blocking for the run. The Bucs will have no problems stopping the run against New Orleans.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop their running backs. The Saints have the dynamic Darren Sproles coming out of the backfield as one of the most unusual tailbacks in the league, catching 6-8 passes for game and contributing in the red zone despite his diminutive size.
So just like the Jets were able to hit a few dump-off passes in the flats last week, the Saints will aim to do the same, and do it more frequently.
The Jets also beat the Buccaneers with their tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. frequently during Week 1, which will be the gameplan for the Saints as well. Jimmy Graham is the most skilled tight end in the NFL, and he’ll be very tough to cover for the Buccaneers’ defense.
So how to the Bucs cope with the Saints running backs and tight end? They’ll need to make use of their big nickel formation. The big nickel brings an extra safety onto the field, taking a linebacker away. So instead of Dekoda Watson, who is not a talented coverage linebacker, the Buccaneers can bring on Ahmad Black to play free safety.
That will allow Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron to both play closer to the line of scrimmage, which means they can take responsibility for key offensive weapons like Graham and Sproles. Barron was touted as a talented coverage safety against tight ends coming out of college, so he needs to put that into action against the Saints.
The Buccaneers have the matchup advantages to land a win against the Saints on Sunday, but they’ll need to avoid mistakes and execute better on offense to stand a chance. Otherwise, we could see a replay of 2012′s blowout loss in New Orleans.